The tech sector in Alberta grew to maturity on the back of the province’s exceptional oil and gas industry, but it has ventured far beyond, into other areas of provincial strength such as agriculture, finance and logistics. It is enabled by a robust talent pipeline, with academic institutions in the province providing a steady source of talented individuals and novel ideas. The most prominent of these is the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute in Edmonton, which has a long track record of research into artificial intelligence (AI), its applications and commercialization.
The tech sector also benefits from Alberta’s entrepreneurial spirit, which sees a higher than average number of people engaged in the private sector, leading to innovation and growth.
Invest Alberta is a provincial agency that works with global investors to help them start up or scale up in Alberta. It connects them with industry, government partners and economic development organizations. It reports that the province experienced a record-breaking year for venture capital investment in 2020 and is home to over 3,000 tech companies. “With startups clustering around established tech firms that have relocated to the province, Alberta has grown into a global tech hub,” writes the organization. “And investment is following. As the tech sector continues to mature and gain critical mass, Alberta is the place to be.”
With this momentum, Alberta’s innovators and entrepreneurs are developing technologies to solve the world’s greatest challenges.
Number of technology companies in Alberta
More than ½
of Alberta’s labour force is under the age of 45
Tech start-ups in Alberta
Amount of venture capital funding that Alberta-based companies received in 2021
Sources: Government of Alberta, Alberta Enterprise, University of Alberta, Calgary Economic Development
Turning Hemp into Cars
Over the past 20 years, Alberta has developed a thriving hemp supercluster and research capability. The province is now a global leader in the production of sustainably grown hemp and responsible for 40 per cent of Canada’s hemp production.
That foundation recently enabled a $72 million CAD investment by INCA Renewtech to build a state-of-the-art, 200,000-square-foot fibre processing and composites manufacturing facility in the town of Vegreville, just east of the capital of Edmonton.
INCA will purchase 54,000 tonnes of hemp biomass per year and process it into highly refined fibre. Short fibres will be transformed into INCA BioBalsa, a substitute for the balsa wood used as a core material in the construction of boats and wind turbine blades. The long fibres will be sent to INCA’s factory in Indiana, where they will be turned into panels for the RV industry and plastics for the automotive industry. Winnebago and Toyota are commercialization partners for these products.
The factory will be next to InnoTech Alberta, the Government of Alberta’s premier research facility for hemp composites, genomics and agronomics.
In the far south of Alberta, not far north of the United States border, you will find the Foremost UAS Test Range, which contains some of the most accessible air- space for research, development and training in North America.
The range consists of 700 square nautical miles of restricted airspace, giving manufacturers and operators of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones) the opportunity to effectively and safely test their technologies.
Drones range in size, and can transform how organizations access and survey land, move goods and build new infrastructure.
The presence of the test range has led to the growth of local expertise in aviation and aeronautics, with technicians and pilots living in the area or coming to test their equipment.
The Beyond Visual Line of Sight Innovation Centre (BVLOS) is an important part of that economy. It is focussed on raising awareness of the benefits of drones to the Canadian economy, and the underlying need to ensure safety through airworthiness principles and practices.
The Holy Grail of Hydrogen
As the world’s demand for clean energy grows, a lot of attention has turned to hydrogen, a clean-burning energy carrier that will help decarbonize the transportation and industrial sectors, among others. Alberta has a number of competitive advantages when it comes to the production of hydrogen, including long-standing expertise and inexpensive, readily available feedstock.
Alberta also has an innovative tech sector that is pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Calgary-based Proton Tech is one such company. It has a patented process to produce hydrogen that is low impact, low cost and carbon-emissions free. The company injects oxygen into depleted oil and gas reservoirs. Chemical reactions oxidize the residual oil and generate clear hydrogen, which is then captured. Proton has licensed the technology to Clear Hydrogen UK, which has a 5,000-tonne-per-day facility under development.