Alberta needs a stronger business drive

What is actually holding Alberta back from becoming the next Silicon Valley? A lack of resources? Or its own inhibitions?

This was a major issue for discussion at the Tech Futures Summit 2011, held in Banff from August 29-31 by Alberta Innovates '€” Technology Futures.  I was on hand to present some ideas on growing Alberta's economy through cloud computing, and found myself inspired by the breadth of inventiveness and intelligence coming out of this province.

What I found less encouraging were indications that many people here believe that a major high-tech industry cannot be built in Alberta, as many see this as a province that produces basic commodities, not final products. Others seem to suggest that without constant financial support from the government, it is impossible for innovation to take place.

I, and several other attendees, found myself asking: Why is this the case? If people can build high-tech industries in other areas '€” and do so without relying heavily on government funding '€” what's to stop us from doing the same here?

Developers and entrepreneurs need to adapt their mindsets away from thinking: "I want to invent something really cool, which I can then sell to an American company to manufacture and market." We need to focus more on what resources we have readily available, how to invite more investors to come up here, and what can we do to bring the entire population on board. It is doable '€” we have the services and experts and materials to make this happen. We just need the ambition!

It is also important to work through each step of the development process logically, and with the final business case in mind. Keynote Chris Trimble, author of The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge, offered a good analogy where he compared technology developers to mountaineers. Each year in the USA, around 10,000 people attempt to reach the top of Mount Rainier in the state of Washington, with half of them succeeding. And every year, at least two of those climbers die, usually while descending from the mountaintop. The problem, says Trimble, is that climbers focus so much energy and concentration on reaching the top, that they automatically relax and stop paying attention when they come back down, which leads to fatal mistakes.

Many developers are the same: focusing so hard on inventing a piece of technology, and not paying any attention to the after part '€” business plans, licensing, marketing, manufacturing '€” which brings that technology to market. Many businesses fail, not because their core idea is bad, but because there was no real execution carried out after they achieved innovation. That is how good ideas get lost.

The Tech Futures Summit presented a wide breadth of discoveries, as well as the policies behind science. But it was this call to action to build an innovative, high-tech Alberta that left the greatest impression on my mind, along with the desire to take action. Hopefully, it had the same effect on others.

Now, the question is: what is the first step to building an Alberta high-tech industry?  At Cybera, we think getting the infrastructure in place is an essential element and we are doing everything we can to make it happen.  Want to get involved?  Join us for our Summit in October and help guide the action.