Growing the North is Moving Innovation Forward

Randy Vanderveen Photography

Growing the North, northwest Alberta’s prime industry development conference is just around the corner.  Starting with a Taste of the Peace showing local food industry producers and chefs, the Growing the North Conference is all about exploring, much like an adventure.

Being exposed to new ideas is only half the adventure, the other half is delegates working the conference to network with a range of experts on industry topics and community leadership.

Most delegates at this conference will do very well with their personal and operational (internal workplace responsibilities) networking opportunities (see Harvard Business Review table below).  It’s like see old friends and get re-acquainted.


A much more difficult form of networking is at a strategic level.  This targets industry developments and trends at 20,000 feet, putting them into a context of a future scenario, and seeing what it all means today at the community level.  The experienced GTN Conference knows that and in doing so, uses the conference to (1) understand how what is happening in an industry can lead to future likelihoods and (2) building a strategic network from the pool of conference delegates, can help form an action team to do  actionable items today.

“The key to a good strategic network is leverage: the ability to marshal information, support, and resources from one sector of a network to achieve results in another”. It’s about building of strategic leadership to set a course for action.  Once the leadership network  gets a direction, then the personal and operational networks come into play.

“The word ‘work’ is part of networking, and it is not easy work, because it involves reaching outside the borders of a person’s comfort zone.”

Growing the North is an event where networking is encouraged.

How to get the most of industry trends and future opportunities?  When most groups undertake planning exercises, for example strategic plans, they often focus their attention on the short-term with a view to seeking improvements to the present situation: improvements like achieving efficiency, reducing costs, solving an issue and exploring opportunities, all very much in the present day.  GTN encourages its’ attendees to look at major trends and extrapolate a number of scenarios of the future.  Having positive and negative scenarios side-by-side, helps business or community leaders see how their decisions could lead to positive and negative outcomes.  It can help answer the question,

“How do the decisions I make today, support what I want to see or achieve in the future?”

GTN provides outlooks into possible futures.  Couple that, with people who share those outlooks and also more importantly want to do something about the future, and you have the ingredients to form a strategic network on an action item of mutual interest.

internet of thingsFor example, the topic on the Internet of Things (IofT) presentation by TELUS will showcase what tomorrow could look like in respect to technology. Many of these technologies are yet to be developed.  And their future innovators and entrepreneurs have yet to be educated or begun exploring their future career paths or business ventures.  And as a business or municipal leader interested in business development, you can set the stage for that innovation and entrepreneurship to occur today.

Many of these technologies are yet to be developed.  And future innovators and entrepreneurs have yet to be educated or begun exploring future career paths or business ventures.  And as a business or municipal leader interested in business development, you can set the stage for that innovation and entrepreneurship to occur today.

If you are attending Growing the North, let’s meet and share ideas on innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities in your business and community: it’s about moving ideas forward to better influence and manage change.

What does innovation success look like?

Innovative Technology

Does winning the Innovator of the Year Award mean success in the innovation eco-system?  I think it does.

Congratulations to Integrity Technologies’ owner Lindsay Wadsworth on winning the Grande Prairie Chamber’s 2015 Innovator Award.

Lindsay (left) accepts award from GPRC CRI Director, Bruce Rutley

Lindsay like many innovators has a passion for solving problems.  He is successful because he saves companies time and money.

Lindsay recognized that real-time communications coupled with GIS mapping was needed by industry and government managers for potentially dangerous situations such as remote construction sites and fighting forest fires.

He built an innovative technology-based system called Sight Surveillance, a real-time personnel, asset tracking and logistics solution.  It is used in situations where decisions require communications and transfer of data are seriously limited because of location and geography. Sight Surveillance removes those barriers and helps field operators communicate and share intelligence to make better and quicker decisions in the field.

By solving the problem of accessing real-time communications in remote and isolated locales, Lindsay’s system provided clients with the potential to dramatically improve workplace safety and reduce costs by knowing where the assets were operating and at what level they were operating at.

How is Success Measured?

Success can be measured from many viewpoints and stages of development.  From viewpoints it could be financial, the bottom-line question are we making money or being able to successfully forecast and bid future jobs.  Improvements to workplace safety can be another form of success that is shared by both the private and public sectors. For governments, encouraging industry to be more competitive and resilient to change and thereby increase business growth opportunities is another way to measure success.

For an innovator or SME measuring success is about advancing an idea through the innovation process.  Milestones in Lindsay’s case included:

  • understanding and solving a customer’s problem
  • developing a concept drawing of how something should work
  • having it engineered and a proto-type built
  • and having it third-party tested in field conditions.

Lindsay accomplished those and more, he has successfully got his innovative product being used by clients.

Lindsay attributes part of his success to being able to access GPRCs Centre for Research & Innovation, a regionally based innovation service provider in his community and AITF (Alberta Innovates Technology Futures).

The Importance of an innovation Ecosystem

How important is having access to an innovation ecosystem? In some cases it is critical.  Most communities know the value of having strategies and resources for research, commercialization and entrepreneurship.

Dan Herman and David Fransen in a recent Globe & Mail article talk about successful approaches to innovation including: expanding the focus beyond start-ups to scale-ups; recruiting & developing high-tech management talent; building effective research-and-development support systems; better enabling & supporting industry-academic partnerships; and my favorite, pursuing disruption – “such as Peter Diamandis’s X-Prize Foundation is an example of how the world’s best and brightest can be induced to take on seemingly impossible challenges”.

Success can look like initiatives that inspire innovators and entrepreneurs with just the right leadership to show the way forward.

A Strategic Plan

For businesses like Lindsay’s, successful innovation has to be strategic.  Businesses and people fortunately do not have unlimited resources to do ad-hoc innovation in every which way and on every idea. A person needs to be energetic and purposeful in moving their innovation forward.  Being successful at innovation usually means having a process that is mapped out ahead of time and where possible having innovation process incorporated into how the business operates.

So success can be many things from a whole array of perspectives.  One of the biggest showcase of success for me is seeing that smile of a young entrepreneur’s face when he is on stage being applauded by his peers and knowing that he is successfully moving innovations forward.

Canadian SMEs Going Global – Is this you?

trade commission hi res
Every now and again we run across some very wonderful things to share that our Canadian Government is doing to help our Canadian SMEs.  This is one of them.

If you are looking to do business beyond the border then it is time to investigate the Government of Canada’s CTA program.

Canadian Technology Accelerators (CTA) provides Canadian technology SMEs with access to entrepreneurial resources and global business opportunities in key global markets through competitive 4-6 month programs delivered by the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service (TCS).

At first glance you may think this doesn’t apply to you.  I suggest you take another look.  Ask yourself these questions:

Are you a small to midsized Canadian Company from the (ICT) Information Communication Technologies, Life Sciences or Sustainable Technologies industry?

(If yes, keep reading and answer these 3 questions):


Initial traction in the market?

Differentiated technology?

Potential to scale the business?

If this sounds like your company begin to realize the added benefits of participating in these programs; such as:

Introductions to experienced mentors and advisers

Access to industry leaders, venture capitalists and other key resources

Networking events with potential partners and investors

A soft landing address in key markets, reducing go-to-market risk

Office space among inspired and like-minded global entrepreneurs

The CTA programs offered are individually tailored to your specific local market and industry conditions. Each CTA has flexible capacities, models and application requirements.

There are 2 program models to choose:

In-market: Offer 3 to 6 month in-market experience and an accelerator office space for soft-landing.

Virtual: Offer short term in-market exposure (1-2 weeks) and provide companies access to webinars, mentorship and industry experts to help companies engage in local markets.

Of course, there is an application process. And for further information look to the Government of Canada website, Canadian Trade Commissioner Service. If you are interested you must complete and submit an online application form which are available on the TCS website.

Want to explore a bit further before applying?

Check out these fantastic resources and dig deeper with EDC’s (Export Development Canada) online magazine “Exportwise” and; scan  “CanadaExport” the official magazine of the Canadian Trade Commissioner Services. This online digital offering is teaming with great information ranging from in depth feature articles to ‘Ask the CTS’.

If you are looking outside of Canada to expand your company then the CTA is an excellent opportunity.

Questions?  The Centre for Research & Innovation can be a part of your resource team in growing your business. We can help navigate the government services to connect you to the most appropriate provincial and federal trade officer and export organizations.


Moving Your Idea Along

The process for commercialization of an innovation/invention is not linear but there is a definite order within the process with occasional cross over and revisits. There are also some GO – NO GO instances where decisions need to be made.  For instance the CRI prefers to model the commercialization process based on 4 themes; Innovation & Ideas, Technical Feasibility, Market Feasibility and Financial Viability. So far I have stayed within the theme of Innovation & Ideas (So You Have a Great Idea) and briefly discussed Technical Feasibility.

Now it’s time to visit Market Feasibility.

Who exactly is going to buy your innovation/invention? Not just who would use it – that could be misleading.

There are no short cuts here and lots of guessing but the internet makes this a whole lot easier than it was before. A good look at your competitors may help you with this. Be aware that your competition is anything that people will spend that same dollar on. The first automobile’s competition was not another vehicle but a horse or anything else that people used to get from point A to point B.

Even if your goal is to sell your idea to someone else to manufacture and market you still need to understand who is going to buy your innovation/invention. How can you convince someone to buy your idea if you have no idea who will buy it from them?

In So You Have a Great Idea I used a picture hanging tool as an example. Let’s use that same tool to illustrate this. Anyone that wants to hang a picture is our potential customer. But our picture hanging tool comes with a self-leveling mechanism that makes the cost a bit much for only hanging one picture. At this point we need to identify customers that would be willing to pay more than the usual cost of a conventional picture hanging tool (hammer & nails). This could be an art gallery. Then we need to ask the question are there enough of these customers to justify going ahead with our idea? And just as important what is so good about our tool that they would be willing to give up what they currently use to buy ours?

These are all questions that can be researched and enough information gathered to know if it is still worth pursuing and all before any significant time or money is spent. The key here is to be honest and realistic. This is not an excuse to get bogged down in the research but meant to be one of those checks to see if it is indeed worth the effort. According to in their article Get Your Product to Market in Six Steps ‘Finding out how to get your product to market is often more relevant to your success than the features and benefits of your invention.’

The CRI and our partners have a wealth of experience to draw on and once you have done the basic work of clarifying your idea and the marketplace for that idea it’s a great idea to give us a call or send us an email.

We can help with everything we have talked about here as well as the next steps.



Time to Rethink Patent Pending?

Patent Sign 1
Over the last few years I have been involved in a few successful patent applications but personal experience doesn’t always represent the whole picture so when a client reflected on a different experience with the patent process I figured I’d better do some research on the subject. I called the patent lawyer we often refer clients to. Nathan Woodruff was very helpful and I definitely learned some things. For instance, I was under the impression that either your application was accepted and you received your patent or it was rejected and you were done. Not so our patent lawyer tells me. In fact a significant amount of the applications are rejected on the first examination. The next step is then to respond to the Examiner – and this process can be repeated more than once, and often is.

patent1Nathan suggested you could compare the process to selling your home. You as the seller are quite optimistic about the value of your home (idea), whereas the buyer (in this case the patent office) is quite pessimistic about that same value. After you go through the process – like multiple offers and counter offers – you often reach an understanding or agreement and potentially the patent application is approved.

The other thing that I now have a better understanding of is this whole notion of ‘patent pending’. In Canada you have up to 5 years to request an examination of your application. Responding to the Examiner just leaves your patent application in this pending state. I suppose one of the positives with this pending state is your idea or invention will not be published for the world to see. This may be important as you work on testing or perfecting the technical aspects or even your marketing strategy but ultimately you will not have the protection that a patent was designed to offer. You will not be able to defend or protect your idea/invention from those potential copycat competitors.

Something else you may want to keep in mind as with a lot of things, the longer it takes the more it costs. I am certainly wiser and I sure appreciated being able to call on an expert.

What’s your Action Plan for being Innovative?

weldingWhy be Innovative?

In business, the fundamental answer is to survive.  Whether it’s the rising costs of doing business or customers wanting more but not willing to pay more, or yesterday’s solutions don’t seem to solve today’s problems anymore,  organizations need to be competitive and one of the best ways to be competitive is to be innovative.

So how innovative does my company, team or yourself need to be?  Not too much: being innovative in the right way in the range of 3% of your resources has the potential to keep your company fresh and more competitive.  Too much innovation will disrupt your company’s routine and practices that were put in place to run the business efficiently and effectively.

Organizations need to be energetic and purposeful in moving forward new ideas.

Now is the Time-8

It is at times like this when some of our industries are experiencing a major ‘slowdown’, that we see companies as not being as competitive as they could be. We know that in good times, companies are often too busy to think and act on innovation. They are usually filling orders and struggling with manpower allocations.

Now is the right time for companies to look into ‘the right new ideas’ to be competitive.

For some companies, the challenge will be unless the company has an action plan for innovation, it will struggle with answering what are the ‘right new ideas’.

Alberta Innovates Technology Futures can help.

AITF is asking organizations in the Grande Prairie region to continue to lead new innovation initiatives to help businesses be competitive through Innovation Networks that lead and facilitate organizations that can help business explore and act on the ‘right new ideas’.  Innovation networks recognize that the region’s business health or competitiveness depends on strengthening its innovation capacity and creating more problem-solving and knowledge-based people and businesses. The region and province are shifting away from just possessing raw materials and looking to adding value to what it has through knowledge based factors.  Those knowledge-based value-adds are lowering our production costs and/or adding value to what the customer wants: hence making your business more competitive.

Now is the Time-11So as a business owner, how innovative do you want be?  Or another way to ask this is, how much innovation can your business handle without damaging the company or worst, bankrupting it?

Innovation to be successful within a business needs to be strategic.  You fortunately do not have unlimited resources to do ad-hoc innovation in every which way and on every idea.  So where do you get help?

Give us a call at 780-539-2718: you can explore and define what type of innovation will work best for your company and how best to establish your innovation action plan.

Now is the Time-14

An effective role for innovation networks to play in supporting innovation is to supply an environment in which innovation can flourish.

 When a company embraces innovation, you will be asking yourself many questions on your path to moving innovative ideas forward.  Regional Innovation Networks are all about moving innovation forward.

Looking to Get a Patent?

patentRecently I met a very focused inventor looking to get a patent on his idea. After our conversation I thought perhaps there are a few more potential inventors that could benefit from what we discussed. Let’s start by looking at things through the eyes of the Patent office. Basically the Patent Office will only award a patent for a ‘solution to a problem’. Therefore the first thing I strongly recommend is you determine what the problem is and why your idea is a solution. This is more than just a test for a patent, it is basic sales 101. The objective for most people is to make money from their ideas in whatever form that takes. If your great idea doesn’t solve a real problem chances are it doesn’t have the kind of value you are hoping for. (For a detailed explanation on what exactly a patent is check out the Canadian Intellectual Property Office explanation here.)

Patents can be very costly and are not the only way to protect intellectual property. It’s very important to do the research first.  Basically the Patent Office will apply three tests to your application to determine whether or not you will receive a patent. First is the solution to the problem new? There must be no other patents that suggest the same solution to the same problem. This is where the research is important. You can start by searching for Canadian patents on the Canadian Intellectual Property Website. I would also suggest searching on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website as well as Google Patents.

Next the Patent Office will determine if the solution is useful. This means the problem must be clearly identified in the patent application as well as how your solution solves that problem. Finally the solution must not be obvious. This is a little trickier to explain and adds a level of complexity to the process. (I suspect this is the reason over 90% of patent applications use a registered patent agent.) If teachings from 2 or more patents can be combined to arrive at your solution then it would be obvious. That being said inventions do not occur in a vacuum and there is always some background of previous patents (referred to as prior art). Most patents are granted for incremental improvements.

As always things are never as simple as they seem and often expert advice is needed. GPRC’s Centre for Research & Innovation has partnered with the firm of Thompson Woodruff Intellectual Property Law to assist inventors in our region. I encourage you to check out their web site as it contains some great information.