The board of Edmonton's innovation agency has decided to part ways with its founding CEO three years into her term.
Edmonton Unlimited said Catherine Warren is no longer with the organization as of Jan. 22. She will be replaced by Launa Aspeslet, who will serve as interim CEO. Aspeslet, an executive with Hepion Pharmaceuticals, has been a director on Edmonton Unlimited's board but will pause in that role until a permanent CEO is found.
Edmonton Unlimited board chair Lindsay Dodd, who is also CEO of Cashco Financial, told Taproot the organization's board was re-constituted in the spring of 2023, with seven of its nine members coming in fresh. It decided Edmonton Unlimited needed someone new at the helm.
"The board came to the conclusion that we wanted a new set of leadership skills and experience to take Edmonton Unlimited to the next level of growth and success in the community," Dodd said. "Catherine did absolutely nothing wrong."
Dodd said Warren built Edmonton Unlimited "from nothing" by integrating the remnants of Startup Edmonton and several other organizations into a new entity. She oversaw the creation of the agency's headquarters, which opened at Jasper Avenue and 101 Street in May 2023, and she worked to attract $50 million in program funding, he added.
Dodd also said Edmonton Unlimited is healthy and has found its place in Edmonton. "Catherine's made great connections at all three levels of government," Dodd said. "Now's the time to build onto that foundation. How do we get Edmonton innovators onto the world stage and being successful in growing companies here?"
Before she was recruited to lead Innovate Edmonton — which emerged from the dismantled Edmonton Economic Development Corporation and later rebranded as Edmonton Unlimited — Warren was the CEO of Vancouver Economic Commission. She has more than 20 years of experience as a media-tech and investment consultant, as well as an entrepreneur.
Warren was hired to head the innovation agency in December 2020 after a five-month talent search. At the time, Warren told Taproot she saw herself as a convener and community builder. "It is incredibly impressive and visionary for the City of Edmonton to make this kind of investment in innovation at this time."
Former Innovate Edmonton board chair Naseem Bashir said then that Warren had the "right blend of start-up business, high-impact investment and city-building acumen."
Bashir is not on the current Edmonton Unlimited board.
Dodd said the decision to replace Warren was informed by questions of how to get more of what is already here as well as getting things that have not been thought about yet.
"We've seen so many organizations, certainly in the startup community, the founders do very well to scrap their way to get the thing viable, and vibrant, and going, but they're not the one who's going to scale it up, because it requires a different set of skills," Dodd said. "Startup founders often step aside in order to make way for new leaders to come in and grow the organization, and that's what this organization is going through."
Dodd said Edmonton Unlimited must now go and find its next leader. The work has already started. He said the group will go to its community to ask for its help to define what the next leader needs to be for the ecosystem.
"We're starting that outreach right away," Dodd said. "That's going to take a little time, and then we go to market (to find a new CEO)."