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Idea Exchange: Bridging the gap from lab to market with UCeed

By Mitali Pradhan, November 18 2020—

An exploration of the role of initiatives such as UCeed, in accelerating innovation in Alberta, took place in a Zoom webinar at the end of October.

This event was  part of an ongoing event series called Idea Exchange. The first aim of Idea Exchange is to showcase the incredible work contributed by students and researchers to address societal issues and acknowledge the innovators in Calgary. The second aim is to demonstrate how a community of supporters contributes to driving learning experiences, research and partnerships that position Calgary as an innovation powerhouse. A strong community of supporters helped set a record with the Energize campaign which closed as the third largest successful campaign in Canadian history with over 30,000 donors raising over $1.14 billion towards igniting discovery, creativity and innovation on campus. 

The newest initiative as a result of this support is UCeed — a pre-seed and seed-stage investment fund to convert research and innovative ideas into companies. UCeed provides students with engaging hands-on experience and serves as a bridge between research breakthroughs and Calgary’s start up community. The program supports innovation to drive economic growth and is powered by local investors. Philanthropic partners, including the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the River Fund at Calgary Foundation, recognize the economic and social value of the UCeed program and have provided $10 million to commercialize health research. UCeed is the first pre seed and seed stage investment fund in Canada for ventures centering on Child Health, a focus area for the University of Calgary. 

Alice Reimer, Site Lead of the Creative Destruction Lab (CDL)- Rockies, led a panel discussion regarding ways UCeed can accelerate innovation in Alberta by attracting, developing and retaining talent and ideas. 

“The best engine of economic development that mankind has ever invented is the entrepreneur,” stated Derrick Hunter, CEO of Bluesky Equities. “If you want economic development, you liberate your entrepreneurs. There’s something like 12.5 million Canadians that work in the private sector and every one of those employers was a private company that at one point was started by an entrepreneur.” 

John Wilson, President and CEO of Innovate Calgary and a panelist, stated that in the last 50 years, the nature of business and economies has changed. While business has always been a mix of intangible and tangible assets, in recent years the balance has moved more towards intangible assets. Universities play a large role in cultivating these intangible assets, which have their foundation in innovative ideas. 

“The foundation is research excellence,” stated Wilson. “UCalgary is now ranked number six in Canada for research spending and we are the highest ranked young university in Canada. Building on research excellence, we are creating an innovation culture. Put simply, the more people we have in the game, the more we learn from each other and the more successes we produce.”

Wilson described UCeed as a program of evergreen funds to help early stage ventures through the challenging early years. Currently, there is a funding gap for companies where investors are not willing to make risky investments early in the development of the company. UCeed is designed with the goal of helping companies bridge this gap and giving the best and brightest individuals from Alberta the opportunity and tools to start their companies and compete on a world stage.

There are four phases to UCeed. First, Innovate Calgary sources and evaluates the opportunities. Secondly, a “Dragon’s Den” style event is hosted each quarter where “dragons” are the advisors. In each quarter, investments in the order of $100,000 are made in one-to-three companies from each fund. Following this, companies are provided with support in the form of programming and mentorship. The portfolio of investments is actively managed and it is expected that after 10 years, the investments will be evergreen and the returns will be sufficient for the program to continue without additional grants. 

Vincent Chahley, Chairman of Venturian Oil, also stressed the importance of incorporating diversity into the value proposition and having students from a variety of faculties as well as gender diversity in teams.

“If we harvest the skillset of the business community, UCeed, Haskayne, and CDL, we will be one of the best student funds in North America,” stated Chahley.

Students can get more information about UCeed online.

Idea Exchange discussions are posted online for viewing.

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