In a recent article, James Lochrie – a national tech leader – points out the amazing transition happening in the Calgary innovation ecosystem as we move from primarily “energy tech” innovation to a more broad-based collection of startups that cross industry boundaries. His points are spot-on and prompted me to muse about something I am passionate about — the art and science of pivoting a business model. Throughout my years in Silicon Valley during the dot-com boom, and my subsequent time in the “Silicon Hills” of Austin, Texas, I came to learn that high-tech success comes from extreme perseverance and the knowledge that your business plan never survives first contact with the market!
It’s one thing to pivot a single company, but how do we pivot an entire ecosystem? And, in particular, one that has been built up over the decades to sustain an energy/resource sector? The answer isn’t simple, but I think it revolves around pivoting from a position of strength and core competencies. So, as we analyze what Calgary has built over the past few decades, let’s allow our past successes to inform both our strategy and tactics – so we aren’t building our technology ecosystem from scratch, but rather by leveraging the powerful and deep skills and assets in our energy sector. With that statement, let’s celebrate the areas of expertise we’ve cultivated here in Calgary that have broad applicability across industries.
- Large industrial engineering and geomatics businesses
- Managing complex, large-scale projects with substantial investments and risks
- Securing financing to fund and grow large, asset-based businesses, as well as provide for the needed ongoing financial services to sustain them
- Building, deploying and managing information technology to support the above
If we see these core competencies being at the center of a longer-term transformation strategy, I believe Calgary can begin to plant the seeds of innovation which yield larger, more successful tech companies.
It’s not that other technology sectors won’t thrive. As James points out, Benevity is a prime example of a very successful company not linked to energy sector core competencies. But I would bet that the more we leverage the core to expand into adjacent sectors & verticals, the faster we can “innovate outward” … which in turn creates more success stories such as this one…
Our competencies need to be viewed as the building blocks for creating highly innovative products, services, as well as taking our capabilities, skills and know-how to the next level. Only then will the next RIM, Nortel, Wave, SMART Technologies or Newbridge Networks be spawned from the burgeoning new ecosystem in our great city.