By Vama Saini, September 15 2023—
After securing $2.5 million in funding from PrairiesCan, the University of Calgary’s Aerospace Innovation Hub (AIH) is set to transform Alberta’s aerospace sector and position Calgary as a prominent global aerospace innovation hub.
The AIH primarily aims to strengthen Alberta’s aerospace sector by integrating its existing elements. The University of Calgary is a frontrunner in aerospace technology development and research, while Alberta enjoys a thriving aerospace ecosystem. However, there’s a lack of a dedicated space for collaboration. The AIH seeks to be that central hub, attracting startups and stimulating innovation in Calgary.
Adam Cragg, the executive director of the University Innovation Quarter, shares its mission, goals and strong support for aerospace researchers and startups.
“Our mission is to ensure that innovation is accessible to all, transcending the boundaries of privilege,” said Cragg.
The AIH follows the model of successful innovation hubs at U of C, such as the Life Science Innovation Hub and Energy Transition Centre. These hubs have already provided support to startups through grants, personnel and corporate partnerships. The AIH aims to replicate this success within the aerospace sector by adopting a problem-solving approach and collaborating with prominent aerospace partners to address industry challenges.
“A corporate partner plays a vital role in bridging the divide between research and industry impact,” said Cragg. By receiving problem sets directly from these partners, we gain insights into the real challenges they face as businesses. We then relay these issues to startups, fostering a problem-driven approach to innovation.”
The AIH implements a multifaceted strategy similar to the Life Sciences Fellowship program, featuring its own fellowship initiative that offers aerospace and manufacturing startups $200,000 in non-equity grant funding. This support empowers entrepreneurs to dedicate two years to their projects without financial constraints.
Additionally, the Equipment Concierge Program provides access to high-quality equipment, positioning Calgary as a prime hub for aerospace and manufacturing innovators. This initiative facilitates cost-effective collaboration between industry researchers and university resources.
“This helps entrepreneurs allocate their funds where they truly need to, without having to invest in equipment that sits underutilized at the university,” said Cragg.
Collaboration is central to the AIH’s success. Through an Aerospace UCeed fund, the AIH aims to support early-stage tech firms, fostering student entrepreneurship.
“Each hub is linked to its own UCeed fund, which closes the funding gap between grants and private investments, thereby aiding students in advancing their startups toward securing investments,” explained Cragg.
Cragg stresses the importance of promoting startup success and democratizing innovation. The AIH taps into its network of 115 experts across various fields to aid struggling startups, nurturing a culture of knowledge-sharing and resource utilization.
“We’ve provided startups with nearly 14,000 hours of expert guidance in recent years,” said Cragg. “Instead of depending solely on personal networks during difficult times, these experts are accessible to assist startups in their ongoing growth journey.”
Moreover, the AIH provides members access to resources across all hubs, ensuring that startups have what they need for success.
“We employ a multi-hub approach. For example, if necessary, you can utilize the podcast studio at the Social Innovation Hub or access a 3D printer at the Life Sciences Hub. This ensures our members promptly obtain the equipment they need and bridges the divide between academia and real-world application,” explained Cragg.
In alignment with a rapidly evolving aerospace industry, the AIH focuses on collaboration, student engagement and proactive problem-solving. This adaptability ensures the hub’s continued relevance and impact in a constantly changing environment.
“Through promoting collaboration and engaging with students, developers and industry to tackle their challenges, we can greatly contribute to and stay in step with the aerospace landscape,” said Cragg.
Cragg emphasizes the AIH’s ambition to replicate the successes of the Life Science Innovation Hub, which generated hundreds of jobs in just three and a half years. Its long-term goal is to establish permanent employment opportunities, foster economic growth in Alberta and continue to attract innovation to Calgary.
“The AIH can enrich our community by bridging on-campus and off-campus activities, creating opportunities for innovators of all backgrounds to contribute to our ecosystem,” said Cragg.
For upcoming information about the AIH, please visit Innovate Calgary.