TEC Edmonton knows a thing or two about partnerships. The organization was formed as a joint venture between the University of Alberta and the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, and was created to help accelerate the growth of early-stage technology companies in the province’s capital city.
So it should be no surprise that TEC Edmonton has turned to partnerships to help make that happen. In 2018, the organization announced two new partnerships: one with multinational pharmaceutical company Merck, and the other with TusStar, a technology incubator owned by Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, that has emerged as one of that country’s most successful incubators.
By securing these partnerships, TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb thinks it could have ripple effects that will be felt across the province.
“If it works out well, other companies could look at it and say, ‘We should be moving into Alberta too,’” he says. “And then we can continue to build the brand of the Edmonton region being one of Canada’s best health innovation environments.”
Tsinghua University also has a partnership with the University of Alberta, which is how TEC Edmonton was introduced to the people running TusStar. “They were looking for opportunities to develop more incubator partnerships in Canada,” Lumb says.
The partnership with TusStar allows entrepreneurs from both Canada and China to spend six months in the other country, learning to break down barriers like language, intellectual property policy, regulations and business etiquette.
“You have to go into China through partnerships,” Lumb says. “And because our clients at TEC Edmonton are technology- focused – younger, growing companies – partnering with an incubator like TusStar, through Tsinghua, makes a lot of sense.”
Meanwhile, the TEC Edmonton Merck Accelerator is the first major project to come out of the $3.7-million Alberta Merck Innovation in Health Fund.
This partnership allows early-stage health technology companies to access advice from the pharmaceutical company – headquartered in the U.S. with 69,000 employees around the world and more than $40 billion in revenue in 2017 – in order to innovate in the health technology field.
Factors that brought the partnership about included the large amount of medical research that is already happening at the University of Alberta each year, a good investment climate for life sciences companies, the existence of Alberta Health Services as a potential customer and data source, and TEC Edmonton’s substantial experience in commercializing technology.
“[Merck] has lots of outreach functions around the world. But they don’t do things like they’re doing with us,” Lumb says. “This is the first time they’re trying it anywhere. It’s an experiment for them, and so they’re really committed to making it work.”