The Last Word

By Cheryll Watson, Vice President, Innovate Edmonton at Edmonton Economic Development Corporation

Buzz-word – noun – informal: a word or phrase, often an item of jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context. A quick scan of this magazine, billboards, speeches, social media ads, political announcements, almost everything these days, and you might come to the conclusion that “innovation” is a buzz word. This is a risk Edmonton cannot take. We have the opportunity to define what “innovation” means and we need to seize this moment.

Edmonton is one of Canada’s youngest cities with the highest discretionary income in the country. We are the most affordable major city to live in, we have some of the country’s best educational institutions, we provide a healthy ecosystem for entrepreneurs to take a risk, and this city has been quietly leading the way in three key sectors: artificial intelligence and machine learning, health and life sciences, and big data and analytics. But, we are competing with the world and the risk of falling behind and letting innovation become a buzzword, is real.

We have leaders championing this work in our city, taking innovative concepts and applying artificial intelligence, augmented reality and mobile interactivity to solve problems faced by established industries. For example, James Neufeld launched SAM, a global disruption monitoring tool that delivers alerts and situational awareness through the lens of social media. Unlike manual search tools, SAM is not limited to the knowledge or input of an operator. It uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to autonomously sift through millions of social media posts daily and identify disruptive events within minutes of their occurrence. The system actually thinks like a journalist. Once it detects an anomaly (i.e. mudslide, power outage, shooting), it triangulates location data and identifies corroborating posts while scoring the authenticity of each user, before triggering an alert. Scope AR is empowering traditional industries like manufacturing, energy and transportation to improve the employee training experience by leverage augmented reality (or AR). One of its platforms enables organizations to easily turn instructions, processes and training into highly interactive and animated content with AR. Showbie is an educational app for teachers, students and parents that organizes classroom assignments and feedback. It’s used by more than two million teachers and students worldwide. By going paperless, schools save significant dollars on copies and photocopy maintenance. I share these three examples but there are literally hundreds of Startup and scale up companies working in Edmonton. Edmontonians are changing the world one innovation at a time.

So, what can we do? We have a window to make change real for our city. With 25 per cent of current Canadian jobs set to be heavily impacted by technology we need to unite for solutions that benefit us all. This requires strong partnerships, investment in our own backyard, community alignment, government support and vocal leadership. Innovation is the direction Edmonton’s economy needs to go. It’s time to expand our focus. We advocated for Singularity U to happen in Edmonton, a game-changer for our city. A summit that provides the opportunity for leaders from all sectors to connect and gain a deeper understanding of how exponential technology will benefit nearly every aspect of our daily lives. It’s one of 15 international SU Summits happening across the globe, putting Edmonton on the global stage with cities like Sydney, Sao Paulo, Berlin, and Milan. Every article you’ve read so far should inspire you to think differently, get vocal about innovation and challenge those around you to become champions for Edmonton. Gone are the days of “quiet humility.” It’s time to define our innovative success.


As Vice-President of Innovate Edmonton, Cheryll Watson is assionate about contributing to the continued evolution of our technology and innovation ecosystem and amplifying our strengths as an entrepreneurial-spirited city. The Innovate Edmonton division of EEDC contributes to Edmonton’s economic growth and diversification through the creation of new tech-enabled companies, by helping high potential businesses scale and by inspiring action to fuel growth in our innovation and technology business community.

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