A university’s output of research and innovation can boost an entire region’s economy—but only if those inventive sparks can make the jump and catch fire in the business community. Since 2006, TEC Edmonton has helped that happen.
The transformation has been stunning. “In the 1990s, the University of Alberta had no defined strategy for encouraging spinoff creation,” says Chris Lumb, CEO of TEC Edmonton. “Today, it’s a North American leader in this area.”
More like a world leader. In 2014, Sweden’s University Business Incubator Index ranked TEC Edmonton as the world’s10th best university business incubator. Closer to home, the Startup Canada Awards named it “Incubator of the Year.” TEC Edmonton currently works with approximately 125 active clients. Those clients have generated $310 million in revenue since 2011, and they now employ over 1,800 people in and around Edmonton.
The organization is a non-profit joint venture between the university and Edmonton’s Economic Development Corporation, was built off of the earlier success of the U of A’s technology transfer office, created in the mid-1990s to help U of A innovators take their ideas to the marketplace. U of A Vice-President (Research) Lorne Babiuk observes, “We were one of the first North American universities to recognize the role that institutions like ours can play in regional economic development through successful commercialization of university research.” The partnership with EEDC leveraged that existing expertise and opened it up to the wider community. Now, anyone in Edmonton with a promising tech-related idea can approach EEDC for support. During its short history, TEC Edmonton has become our region’s hottest accelerator for early-stage technology companies, including many spinoffs from the university.
Many of TEC Edmonton’s U of A-related successes have already made waves. A biomarker for breast cancer, discovered by researcher and professor Ing Swie Goping could lead to a diagnostic test to help doctors personalize drug therapies for individual patients. TEC Edmonton also helped U of A researcher Richard Fedorak launch Metabolomic Technologies, which has already developed urine diagnostic tests for colon cancer (and is working to develop tests for other conditions). Results from clinical trials suggest the tests could save money—and lives.
Although Lumb gratefully accepts the national and international accolades, he insists that the real credit belongs to TEC Edmonton’s clients. “It’s all about the companies we serve. The entrepreneurs, who put their resources and reputations on the line to launch and grow companies, are the reason we exist.”
Meanwhile, Babiuk sees TEC Edmonton’s current success as a mere hint of what lies ahead. “We have come a long way,” says Babiuk. “Together we will do so much more, strengthening the university’s reputation as a commercialization leader and Edmonton as a centre of technological innovation.”