News / Edmonton

'The new wave is already happening': 2018 a pivotal year for tech in Edmonton, experts say

Last couple of years saw a significant growth in artificial intelligence, health innovation and tech entrepreneurship in Edmonton

Using artificial intelligence, Mike Flannigan developed a tool to predict extreme wildfires. He says 2018 will an important year for Edmonton's tech industry.

Kevin Tuong / Edmonton Freelance

Using artificial intelligence, Mike Flannigan developed a tool to predict extreme wildfires. He says 2018 will an important year for Edmonton's tech industry.

This year, Edmonton will establish its role in technology more firmly, where the economy is very strongly influenced by technological innovations.

Over the last couple of years, three aspects of technology had a breakout moment in Edmonton: artificial intelligence (AI), health innovation and tech entrepreneurship.

With Google DeepMind for AI setting up base here, the formation of Health City Initiative for health innovation and the accelerated speed with which startups started forming as well as coming to Edmonton, tech has become an important driver of the economy in the city, says Chris Lumb, CEO of TEC Edmonton.

“In tech circles we are now known for artificial intelligence, we are known for health innovation. People who know the natures of economy know that we have one of the highest rates of entrepreneurship participation and business ownership of any major country,” Lumb said.

Mike Flannigan is a professor in the department of renewable resources. He helped develop a program using AI to better predict conditions that led to rapid spreading of wildfires last year.

Flannigan agreed that AI is of significant importance to society as all new tech will be influenced by it. And Edmonton and the University of Alberta are at the centre of this new wave of technology.

“The new wave is already happening, it will be more self evident to the society at large at the end if this year,” he said.

Lumb said this year in Edmonton, there will be a lot more happening in tech that will cement the industry's role in Edmonton.

An exhibitor examines a prototype of a personal rover at the Canadian Conference of Artificial Intelligence in Edmonton. The city is increasingly receiving international attention for its technological innovations.

JOHNATHON ULAN

An exhibitor examines a prototype of a personal rover at the Canadian Conference of Artificial Intelligence in Edmonton. The city is increasingly receiving international attention for its technological innovations.

Brad Ferguson, CEO of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, agrees.

“I think we have done a great job on startups in the city,” he said.  “I think you are going to see in 2018 a real focus on the scale of companies.”

Ferguson said this year will see the startups become more established and will see companies going from “20 to 200” people.

Mayor Don Iveson believes the reason the future of technology is “bright” in Edmonton is because of the “talented people with the skills to be globally relevant in technology”.

“We also have that entrepreneurial mindset, startup culture, relatively low cost compared to other large cities,” he said.

Iveson noted that a lot of established tech companies like BioWare have chosen Edmonton to set up base here. Furthermore, the city’s investment in Startup Edmonton “has started to produce some really exciting companies that have started to get noticed”.

According to Lumb, a lot of multinational companies that have invested in AI are increasing their investments. He also said they is also consideration of setting up an artificial intelligence accelerator workspace downtown.

In health innovation, he said a major pharmaceutical company, Merck and Co., has signed an agreement with TEC Edmonton to bring in a significant amount of investment for health innovation and young startups.

He confirmed they are also opening a new incubation space for health technology companies.

“There has been about six million dollars worth of financing for young health-tech companies in the last year and we’ll see that continue,” Lumb said.

He emphasized that for a stable economy, it was important to have both existing companies and new technology companies that support the former by providing the technology to help it grow.

“We are getting on the map significantly more than we were a year ago and I hope that a year from now people are going, ‘Wow! Look what’s going in Edmonton, that’s really cool,’” he said.

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