When you think of Alberta’s economy, your mind probably turns to oil, beef — and advanced technology? Big time. Put together clean energy, info-tech, biotech and nanotech, and the province’s innovation sector generated $16 billion last year, second only to conventional energy.

To explore Alberta’s growing innovation economy, we took our monthly #RBCDisruptors series to Calgary this week and profiled three local entrepreneurs and what they’re up against. Our panel included Arlene Dickinson, former star of Dragon’s Den who is building a business accelerator and venture fund to finance food and wellness start-ups; Kip Fyfe, CEO of 4iiii Innovations, his second wearable technology business; and Trent Johnsen, founder of Hookflash, a real-time communication firm whose customers include Google and Microsoft.

The economic context isn’t pretty. Two years into the oil slump, joblessness across the province is edging toward 10%, and more people are leaving Calgary than moving there. Venture capital funding is paltry, too, with barely 3% of the national total going to Alberta.

But in the face of low energy prices, the entrepreneurs felt it’s time for human ingenuity to launch the next Alberta boom. Here’s some of what they said is needed:

1. Recognize what you’re good at — and own it

Alberta needs to pick its spots. Clean energy is an obvious one, given the province’s engineering talent and deep knowledge of energy. Agricultural is another, especially coupled with healthy living. In fact, food and beverage shipments surpassed refined energy products last year in exports. Looking ahead, Dickinson argued, Alberta food and wellness products should be seen globally as the new standard for quality. “That is exactly what the world needs,” Dickinson said. She argued the same brand value should be attached to Alberta oil and gas. All of which means a lot more value-added processing will be needed in the province, along with better marketing abroad.

2. Push oil money to think beyond oil

There’s plenty of private wealth in Alberta, and a lot of business-building brainpower to go with it. That’s what every startup needs. But getting successful entrepreneurs and business executives who’ve made their fortunes in oil and gas to look to other sectors is a challenge. They like to know what we buy, and buy what we know. And as oil prices creep back, there will be more and more opportunities for that oil wealth to stay in the patch. The provincial government recognized as much this year, announcing a new 30% tax credit for investment in alternative industries — areas like IT, clean tech and health tech. Even more could be done to bring together angel investors, matching them with entrepreneurs and matching their investments with additional government- and bank-generated capital, as is the case in Quebec.

3. Use the economic downtown to engineer a talent upturn

It’s a common theme across the country, the war for talent. Once a champion, Alberta is now on the losing side, with the oil exodus continuing. Some of the labour migration is inevitable. But even in boom times, creative coders and dreamy entrepreneurs were making their way to places like Vancouver and San Francisco, where the software startup scenes are more vibrant. Case in point: Garrett Camp, the Calgary-born engineer who moved to Silicon Valley, co-founded Uber, wrote most of its code, and is expanding his new venture, Expa, in San Francisco and Vancouver. Calgary may not win him back, but it can use the downturn to woo a lot of other talent. Housing is at last affordable, office space is plentiful and the lifestyle options — mountains, rivers and wide-open spaces — compete well with anything Portland, Seattle or Austin has to offer. Then there’s immigration. As the federal government steps up Canada’s economic immigration program, Alberta has a chance to make its case to the world’s best and brightest. It offers great universities, relatively low taxes, liveable cities and increasingly diverse communities, all at 40%-off sale compared to Vancouver and Toronto.

4. Infect Alberta’s universities with Alberta’s business mindset

One complaint shared by all three panelists was the relative inability of Alberta’s universities to commercialize their research. In fact, they all said they’d look elsewhere for R&D. That may be a tad unfair to the schools, but not entirely so. Take the University of Alberta. It’s been quietly building top-drawer expertise in artificial intelligence — something campus entrepreneurs should be able to turn into massive business opportunities, whether it’s using machine learning to cut the oil sands’ carbon emissions or improve the efficiency of the province’s hospitals. But to get there, such campuses will need an IP culture that encourages professors and their students to turn academic ideas into commercial gold.

5. Use Calgary as an international gateway

With mountains to the west, prairies to the east, arctic to the north and badlands to the south, Alberta can seem detached from much of the startup world. Not so. Trent Johnsen is building his company with open-source partners from around the planet, and he rarely needs to leave home. His connectivity is superb, and time zones play to his favour. Kip Fyfe works from the small town of Cochrane, where he prefers to keep people on staff and have them close at hand — but he’s never felt far from the U.S. or the world. Through two ventures, he said, nearly all of his sales have been international. And if he needs to get to key markets for athletics wear, he’s just 45 minutes from the airport and a quick flight to the west coast. That’s about to get even better. A $2-billion expansion of the Calgary International Airport opened this week, calling itself “the most advanced airport terminal in Canada.” Innovation from the moment you land.

As Senior Vice-President, Office of the CEO, John advises the executive leadership on emerging trends in Canada’s economy, providing insights grounded in his travels across the country and around the world. His work focuses on technological change and innovation, examining how to successfully navigate the new economy so more people can thrive in the age of disruption. Prior to joining RBC, John spent nearly 25 years at the Globe and Mail, where he served as editor-in-chief, editor of Report on Business, and a foreign correspondent in New Delhi, India. Having interviewed a range of prominent world leaders and figures, including Vladimir Putin, Kofi Annan, and Benazir Bhutto, he possesses a deep understanding of national and international affairs. In the community, John serves as a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs, C.D. ‎Howe Institute and is a member of the advisory council for both the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute and the Canadian International Council. John is the author of four books: Out of Poverty, Timbit Nation, and Mass Disruption: Thirty Years on the Front Lines of a Media Revolution and Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future.

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