The leading voice of Edmonton's innovation community will move into its first home this fall, in a street-level, loft-style office at the heart of downtown.
The new public space at 10107 Jasper Avenue will serve as a hub for Innovate Edmonton's operations, program delivery for its three divisions, co-working, and events.
"It's going to be a whole new era. We are ourselves a startup and people have been working from home, so when this finally comes to fruition, we are so thrilled to be getting together at last," CEO Catherine Warren told Taproot.
The Mercer lease will be extended until October 2022 to support Innovate Edmonton's operations in the leadup to the move, but its future home will provide more room for the recently expanded Scaleup Edmonton, Accelerate Edmonton's programs and fund, and other growth opportunities within the ecosystem.
Warren is hoping the added attention and visibility of a street-level location will draw in Edmontonians who are walking by.
"We're making a showpiece for the city, but we're also helping to demystify innovation and put it a bit more in the public realm ... to just make sure everyone really understands and appreciates the magnitude, volume, and diversity of innovation in our city," Warren said.
Puneeta McBryan, executive director of the Edmonton Downtown Business Association, added that she hopes the new office will serve as "a nucleus" for innovation and economic diversification, and become "an anchor for the ongoing revitalization of Jasper Avenue."
Warren's predecessors initially pitched the idea of an "Innovation Hub" in 2018, but it was not well-received by entrepreneurs, who were worried about inadequate consultation and a predetermined outcome. The plan was eventually shelved, and city council decided to dissolve the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation to create a new city-funded entity that would focus on making innovation a major economic driver in Edmonton.
"With the changes brought about by COVID, and as a new organization, we have a fresh opportunity to feature and support existing innovation spaces in the city and to create gravitational pull for innovators, startups, investors, accelerators, scale-ups, downtown universities and more," Warren told Taproot during an interview in early 2021 after Innovate Edmonton launched in December 2020.
The process to find the right spot took about five months, Warren said, with 11 potential locations under consideration. Innovate Edmonton looked at sustainable development, accessibility, downtown revitalization, and innovation placemaking as it made the decision about where to land. Throughout the process, more than 200 members of the innovation community were consulted for input on the design and amenities.
The features include a 100-seat programming room, mobile art installations, a video and podcast production studio, and a pitch gallery. In addition to supporting local innovators, Innovate Edmonton said the space will also host events for international startups and investors who are interested in what the city offers.
"We're aiming to position Edmonton as a city for global innovation, known for innovators that tackle great global challenges like the climate emergency, public health, food security, digital inclusion, and reconciliation," Warren said.
Members of the ecosystem echoed Warren's enthusiasm about being to gather and share ideas in one cohesive space, after being unable to meet in person for the majority of the pandemic.
"Startup communities thrive on the interactions among the participants," Zack Storms, co-founder of Startup TNT, said in a release about the announcement. "With this new inviting, visible gathering point, located between the venture-backed scale-ups on 104th Street and the world-leading researchers at Amii, Innovate Edmonton will bring new life, new energy, and new innovators to our core."
Rent will be paid out of the organization's budget of $5 million per year. If any additional funds are required, Innovate Edmonton will seek support from the private sector or other orders of government, Warren said at Tuesday's news conference. Innovate Edmonton has also secured naming rights for the building and plans to engage Edmontonians as the new space is renovated and finalized.
If all goes according to plan, Innovate Edmonton will move by October 2022 — just in time to host Edmonton Startup Week.