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AI, machine learning and tech innovation are helping diversify and strengthen Alberta’s capital market

A look at Alberta’s burgeoning tech industry.

Startups
Photo: Pexels
Photo: Pexels

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Alberta’s tech sector is growing so fast, the number of participants in the province’s new pre-accelerator program will be two times higher than the initial target, predicted the CEO of Platform Calgary.

“We’ll work with more than 300 companies at various stages in a pre-accelerator, so when they come out of that they will be ready to start maybe talking to investors,” Terry Rock, CEO of Platform Calgary, told ASC Connect 2022.

Rock is referencing Alberta Catalyzer, a program developed and delivered by Platform Calgary and Edmonton Unlimited, and funded by Alberta Innovates.

Launched in January with an inaugural cohort of 35 participants, the expected target for Alberta Catalyzer was 180 startups for the year.

Rock, part of a panel discussion on innovation in the capital markets, also announced the launch of Platform Incubator, a new platform incubator that can accommodate up to 45 companies at a time, in an 18-month incubation program. 

“We’re really looking for organizations that have traction, that need a bit of seasoning, and we think 18 months is the sweet spot,” he said.

The goal of the incubator program is to help companies solve specific challenges in growing to the next stage. The pre-accelerator program is for entrepreneurs looking to develop their ideas into plausible business plans.

“Most of the participants in the pre-accelerator don’t have revenue, and may not even be aware of the business,” Rock said. “We really want to save people time, get off that horse and get on a new horse if the business idea is not going to work.”

The discussion on Alberta’s burgeoning tech industry took place in October at this year’s ASC Connect conference, which is hosted by the Alberta Securities Commission (ASC).

Now in its sixth year, ASC Connect brings capital market participants together to discuss critical issues and evolving trends affecting Alberta’s economy and capital market. Approximately 700 people registered for this year’s conference, including c-suite executives, small business owners, entrepreneurs, corporate lawyers, brokers, advisors, investors, and other industry experts. 

Joining Rock on the panel were entrepreneur Nicole Janssen, the co-founder and co-CEO of AltaML, and Tonya Fleming and Yanny Young, both managers of the Innovation in Finance (InnoFin) team at the ASC (Fleming in the Corporate Finance division and Young in Market Regulation).

Calgary has been a hotbed of record capital investment in each of the past five years as it diversifies its industries. The developing tech sector has attracted global companies such as Mphasis, Infosys and Unity, which have all opened offices in the city, and local unicorns — companies that have a valuation of more than $1 billion — including Neo Financial and Benevity.

The panelists spoke about tech traction in the province, but also some of the challenges facing the sector such as education and awareness of the tech space and awareness of it as an asset class among investors and even brokers.

And, like other sectors, raising money in the tech space for women is a challenge, the panel heard.

“As a female, I can definitely say that the rumors are very true,” said Janssen, a recipient of the prestigious Alberta Women Entrepreneurs Award. “It is harder to raise capital as a female. That being said, I’ve always gone with the mindset of ‘please, please, underestimate me.’ I will sneak up behind you and run past you.”

Janssen’s company, AltaML, is an artificial intelligence company that “elevates human potential with applied AI,” she said. 

The company, with 130 employees and offices in Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and soon Houston, has partnered with the province to create GovLab.ai – a public sector accelerator for artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“That means any ministry, municipality or public organization can participate in this,” she said. All the learnings are shared, and any innovation in using machine learning to improve processes will be commercialized globally. This will help cement Alberta as a leader in using AI to find solutions for the public sector.

Other key takeaways regarding innovation in finance:

  • There’s no shortage of items that can be improved through applied technology, said Young. She is looking to help connect innovators and entrepreneurs to the right resources, “to help them find technical solutions and minimize their regulatory burden challenges.”
  • The self-certified investor prospectus exemption has recently been amended in response to market feedback. “What people are looking for is a balance between regulatory burden and investor protection,” said Fleming. The amendment removes investment limits if certain criteria are met.

To watch this session, or any of the other panel discussions, ASC Connect 2022 is available for playback at the ASC website.

Alberta Securities Commission

The Alberta Securities Commission (ASC) is the regulatory agency responsible for administering the province's securities laws. It is entrusted to foster a fair and efficient capital market in Alberta and to protect investors. As a member of the Canadian Securities Administrators, the ASC works to improve, coordinate and harmonize the regulation of Canada's capital markets.

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