From Calgary Economic Development
Calgary Economic Development’s New Economy LIVE series hosted its third event of the year, showcasing Calgary in the New Economy, our city’s economic strategy.
The event took place on November 13, 2020, just a few days before the kick off of Innovation Week. The virtual event explored how Calgary can become Canada’s leading business to business (B2B) innovation ecosystem, specifically leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to drive cost and operational efficiencies, better decision-making, and understanding of customers.
Hosted by Calgary Economic Development’s Research and Strategy team, attendees had free access to insights from an impressive C-suite panel. It also featured research presentations from Hubba Khatoon, Economist, Calgary Economic Development, and students from the University of Calgary’s Economics Talent Engagement Program. The students presented the results of a patent analysis study, which reaffirms that Calgary’s established sectors are continuously innovating, even in the face of two economic downturns in the past decade alone. The foundation for the event was Calgary Economic Development’s Data Analytics, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence in Calgary research report.
The panel and Q&A session highlighted Calgary-based companies that embody the vision of Calgary in the New Economy; embracing technology to solve the world’s greatest challenges:
- StellarAlgo, a startup that developed an AI-powered SaaS platform to allow live audience businesses, such as professional sports organizations, to better connect with their fans. Boasting customers like the New York Yankees, Portland Trail Blazers, and our very own Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, they closed a $1.5M seed extension this past summer.
- AltaML, an Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund recipient that created Calgary’s Applied AI Lab, which aims to provide paid internships to 240 Calgarians interested in developing their skills in applied AI. Over 550 applications were received for their first cohort of eight interns.
- Validere, an AI and Internet of Things (IoT) startup working on creating supply chain efficiencies in oil and gas for over 50 of North America’s leading energy companies. They closed a $20M Series A raise this past year.
The panel discussion was moderated by Jason Ribeiro, Director of Strategy, Calgary Economic Development, who lead the discussion with panelists on how Calgary can overcome a significant knowledge gap and perceived trust deficit of applying AI and ML to people-centric businesses.
Vincent Ircandia, Founder and CEO of StellarAlgo, noted their applications of AI and ML in the live-event industry have actually allowed brands to build more authentic and value-add relationships with their fans. He noted, “We are able to identify signals that weren’t possible five years ago with technology and machine learning to understand billions of fan touchpoints.”
Nicole Janssen, Co-founder and Co-CEO of AltaML, noted the companies they work with use machine learning for four main reasons: “Reduce costs, risk reduction, increase margin, or improve customer experience.”
When asked about the established energy industry’s uptake of AI and ML, Mark Le Dain, Vice President of Strategy at Validere, noted there is a common misperception that the sector is not innovating. He stated, “Companies in these large industries are exceptionally smart and embracing of technology. But the application of those technologies, specifically AI, is exceptionally non-trivial. The risk of being wrong is significant.”
When asked about the state of Alberta and Calgary’s AI/ML ecosystem, Janssen said, “There isn’t a CEO in this province that isn’t exploring machine learning.” However, she also shared a rallying cry.
“We need to be more coordinated. The talent coming out of the University of Alberta is world-class and we are being humble about it,” Janssen said. “Let’s get a little swagger.”
Le Dain echoed that innovation is not a zero-sum game and that companies need to be collaborating and communicating on the solutions and advances being made across the ecosystem.
During the Q&A portion of the event, all three panelists shared that their companies are hiring in Calgary and that the top skills they look for in their AI/ML-powered businesses are actually not technical. “Passion and empathy” are first and foremost for Ircandia, while Le Dain spoke about having “character, motivation, and curiosity.”