CANMORE – Innovate Canmore is reconsidering its future as a non-profit organization after the provincial government pulled the plug on an economic diversification tax credit earlier this year.
CEO Brian McLure said originally Innovate Canmore incorporated as a non-profit because both the provincial and federal governments had funding programs available it could leverage to stimulate economic development in the tech sector.
“One of the things that has really been detrimental to us the last six months has been the dysfunction, or turbulence in the political system with the provincial and federal elections, both of which resulted in periods of time with all public funding being frozen,” McLure said. “The initial priority was for the provincial [tax credit], with the possibility of federal grants after that.”
After the spring provincial election and the UCP victory, the NDP initiated tax credit for innovation was suspended and reviewed. More recently, the government announced as part of Budget 2019 it would no longer provide the province-wide 30 per cent tax credit for those investing in the tech sector.
“I think overall it was somewhat disappointing for the innovation and tech sector,” McLure said.
Innovate Canmore set a goal to establish a community investment fund to incubate and support local tech startups. It is one of the main focuses for the organization, which opened up a location in the Shops of Canmore this year with access to the high-speed Supernet connection thanks to support from the municipality.
“Part of our business model is to establish a community investment fund and until we knew what was happening with that tax credit, we were unable to move forward with that,” McLure said.
The federal election also created uncertainty for Innovate Canmore’s board of directors when it came to possible funding. With the Liberals minority government now in power, McClure said they are waiting to see if it can access funding at that level, otherwise Innovate Canmore could restructure as a private corporation.
“We still continue to move forward and build out our business model,” he said. “If we are unable to get government funding, we will probably go private.”
Innovate Canmore’s structure focuses on two areas – the incubator program to support local tech sector startup companies, as well as a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education focus.
The latter has included working with the Canadian Rockies Public School division, Stoney Education Authority, Our Lady of the Snows Catholic Academy, artsPlace, the Bow Valley Immigration Partnership and Canmore Museum. It has included classes on computer coding for children and adults, summer programs and school programs.
“Our presence and what we have been doing has created a lot of conversations in town and action particularly in the education stream,” McLure said.
With respect to Innovate Canmore’s residency company focus, it has partnered with several local startups in currently in development.
“We have very highly qualified people with PhDs in machine learning and neuroscience at the moment and they have all expressed a desire to work within this model,” McLure said.
Innovate Canmore will also be in front of Canmore council in December to pitch the idea of a technology campus in partnership with the University of Saskatchewan and its locally based Global Institute for Water Security.
“We are also having conversations for a presence [on the campus] for medical space and the UofS’s Global Institute for Food Security,” he said.
Local developer Neil Tanner, who recently opened the Shops of Canmore, has also been part of those conversations.
Tanner said he is keen to be part of a major economic development project like the one being pitched by Innovate Canmore for a campus and innovation hub, which would include a residential component.
“I know I can deliver what the University of Saskatchewan wants in collaboration with them,” Tanner said, pointing to the Banff Centre as an example of what could be created in Canmore. “It brings a clean industry and good solid long-term jobs [to the community].”
It is an exciting proposition for McLure, given that Innovate Canmore started as an economic diversification concept out of the Bow Valley Chamber of Commerce when it officially launched only a few years ago.
“What we are trying to do here is phase one of a long-term program to demonstrate it is feasible and reasonable for us to consider a serious presence in the tech sector,” he said. “From Innovate Canmore’s perspective, the presence on a campus of a post-secondary institute … that is a very important synergy.”
With potential tenants and a developer interested, McLure’s next step is to find a location in Canmore and present the concept to council for consideration.