Before this year comes to an end, we’d like to introduce you to Stephen Cook, who has been doing a great job of curating our relatively new Regional Roundup.
Since taking the roundup over from Taproot co-founder Mack Male in October, Stephen has been keeping a close eye on what’s going on, economically and otherwise, in the 15 municipalities that make up the Edmonton Metropolitan Region.
It’s a lot to keep track of, but Stephen uses his journalism chops to pull it off every week. A recent graduate of the Master of Journalism program at Carleton University, he has written for the Edmonton Journal, The Canadian Press, and The Globe and Mail, covering such topics as municipal affairs, provincial politics, crime, court, and international human rights. He currently works at CBC Edmonton.
We launched the Regional Roundup in August with a title sponsorship from Edmonton Global. Every Wednesday, it brings together the headlines and happenings in Beaumont, Bon Accord, Devon, Edmonton, Fort Saskatchewan, Gibbons, Leduc, Leduc County, Morinville, Parkland County, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, Strathcona County, and Sturgeon County, with a view to informing the region about itself so the players can more easily work together.
We’re thrilled to have Stephen on our roster of roundup curators who pay attention to what’s going on and distill it to its essence to make sure you are informed. Here’s the whole crew:
Arts — Fawnda Mithrush
Business — Paul Cashman
City Council — Mack Male
Food — Sharon Yeo
Health Innovation — Catherine Griwkowsky
Media — Linda Hoang
Music — Emily Rendell-Watson
Regional — Stephen Cook
Tech — Mack Male
Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss an edition. You can get up to two of these roundups for free if you join as a Taproot Reader.
If you become a Taproot Member, you can get as many roundups as you like, along with other perks. Plus you’ll be helping us pay for high-calibre local journalism from our curators and the freelancers we commission for original stories. We’re building what comes next — join us.
In the spirit of doing a better job of telling our own story, here’s an update on how part of our business has evolved since we started.
From the very beginning of Taproot, we’ve worked to avoid being dependent an advertising-supported business model. We started with membership as our first revenue stream. Membership is an effective way to align incentives – the better we serve members, the more of them we should be able to attract!
When we introduced our Roundups last year, we added sponsorship as our second revenue stream. We were inspired by popular newsletters from around the world that offer organizations an opportunity to display their brand inside each edition, to help make the newsletters sustainable. Sponsorship offers us another way to align incentives – the better we serve the community that sponsors care about, the more of them we should be able to attract!
The sponsors you see in our Roundups are supporters of the work we do and their financial contributions help to make our publications sustainable. The benefit they receive, in addition to ongoing brand awareness, is to be associated with something that (hopefully) is making a positive impact in the community they care about.
We have three types of sponsors. Title sponsors make the largest financial contribution and so receive the largest benefit, with their logo in the top and bottom of each edition, on our website, and special mention on social media. Our Cultivators are the square logos you see inside each edition. And on occasion we will promote relevant events through ad hoc sponsorship.
To be clear, none of our sponsors get any say over the content of the roundup. Our curators and editors determine what the lead story is and which headlines and events are included in each edition. We maintain editorial independence, which benefits readers of course, but also sponsors. It’s in their best interests to have a publication that the community trusts.
Our first allegiance is and always will be to the reader. If readers can’t trust us, we’ll fail at our mission to help the community understand itself better. In order to serve readers though, we need to have money coming in. We hope that we’ve struck the right balance with sponsorship.
If you have questions about this or if you’d like to learn more about sponsorship, send us an email at email@example.com.
Broad tax cut instead of targeted incentives reflects ’old way of doing things’
A prominent Edmonton tech entrepreneur says the inaugural budget of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s government is short-shrifting startups and scaleups with its “nearsighted” focus on established businesses.
James Keirstead, president and CEO of Levven Electronics, criticized the UCP government for its plan to cancel targeted tax incentives like the Alberta Investor Tax Credit, choosing instead to reduce corporate income taxes.
is going back to the old way of doing things as opposed to targeted programs
that can drive diversification,” Keirstead said “A broad-based tax decrease
doesn’t help drive the economy. It’s really nearsighted.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this but I kind of agreed more with the way the NDP were doing things … and I’m a staunch Conservative,” he added.
The investor tax credit was among a handful of
measures introduced by the NDP that will be “eliminated ahead of schedule,” according to
budget documents. Other ousted tax credits impact scientific research, experimental
development and interactive digital media, such as video game development.
Keirstead said tech companies use money from
these programs to hire talent and reinvest in their own and other businesses.
The government also plans to cut budgets for economic
development, trade and tourism and Alberta Innovates. Many Alberta universities
and colleges will lose funding, which Keirstead said will have a “knock-on
effect” to businesses in the form of fewer talented graduates to hire.
Keirstead predicts the discussion over whether
Alberta should have done more for diversification will continue to rear its
head with every oil-and-gas bust.
“The stop-start of investment … is a sure-fire way to make sure we don’t become globally competitive,” he said.
‘Bright future’ seen for AI
Alberta’s artificial intelligence and machine
learning sector will get $40.5 million over four years, a sharp drop from the
$100 million over five years that had been promised by the former NDP government.
Brattinga, a spokesperson for Economic Development, Trade
and Tourism Minister Tanya Fir, said the ministry will fund $34 million and Alberta Innovates will
fund the rest.
The NDP’s pre-election commitment was an “unbudgeted promise,” said Brattinga, pointing to stable funding of $2 million a year for the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute as an example of the UCP’s commitment to the sector.
“The fact that we are still funding artificial
intelligence in Alberta shows that we do take AI and machine learning
seriously,” said Brattinga.
“We had to make a lot of difficult decisions as part of our budget. Artificial intelligence … is a good sector and we do see a bright future for it.”
Tax credit, tax cut, what’s the diff?
Brattinga said the budget’s goal was to create
optimum conditions for economic growth and investment in Alberta. Measures like
the corporate tax cut will benefit more than 100,000 companies in all sectors,
According to University of Calgary economist
Trevor Tombe, the UCP and NDP agree on the goals but use different approaches
to achieve them.
“Lowering the statutory rate or introducing
investor tax credits or allowing for accelerated write-offs — these are all
ways of lowering the tax on new investment,” which in turn should spur further
investment, he said.
The main differences between the targeted and blanket approaches are in who benefits, when, and at what cost to government, Tombe said.
The UCP’s corporate tax reduction is a
calculated risk balancing the loss of tax revenue against the value of potential
investment, he said. Budget documents show a reduced corporate tax rate will
have a net cost to the government of $2.4 billion.
“Investment will rise but government revenue will fall — and will fall by more than with some alternative approaches that would also have lessened the tax on investment,” Tombe said.
On the plus side, Tombe said, lowering a tax rate is simple. “(With) the investor tax credits, you need to apply, and they need to be administered, for example, whereas just changing the statutory rate, it’s the simplest possible thing you could do.”
Horrible message, but…
Cory Janssen, co-founder and CEO of AltaML, said the Alberta Investor Tax Credit was a great idea but noted the program wasn’t perfect. He is willing to give the new government a chance on tech, saying he has had conversations that give him confidence in future replacements to the cancelled programs.
“I do think
perhaps it was underestimated what the backlash would be and the message it
sends to the market,” Janssen said about the cuts and lost tax credits.
“This is clearly a horrible message to send to technology … but we shouldn’t view this government as anti-tech.”
Start Alberta honours tech startups making an impact
When Anthea Sargeaunt co-founded her water monitoring company, 2S Water, she wanted to fix a problem: the lack of real-time monitoring at water treatment facilities.
Two years later, as Sargeaunt is getting ready to take the
Edmonton company’s unique water quality sensor technology to market, she is
being honoured by peers from across the province as the most promising startup
entrepreneur of the year.
Sargeaunt is thrilled that the company’s “under the radar” research and development work
is being acknowledged.
“We are on a mission to protect the world’s water, and we do that through monitoring and providing the data that people need to protect their water,” says Sargeaunt.
“We want to change the world.”
The Start Alberta Tech Awards recognize individuals and organizations that are making a significant impact in the province’s tech and innovation sector. Awards in nine categories were presented at an Oct. 23 ceremony at the Timms Centre for the Arts in Edmonton.
Both Sargeaunt and her business partner, Anthony Nelson, have been involved with other ventures before, but she believes 2S Water is the one that will be an Alberta success story.
2S Water is developing a sensor suite that will instantly
analyze water for more than 100 different contaminants, making sure a community’s
drinking water is clean before it goes to the tap. It also makes sensors for
Sargeaunt and Nelson are aiming to scale it into a “unicorn,” one of those rare startups valued at more than $1 billion. She says the recognition from Start Alberta will be a big boost to the company’s growth.
“I’m very inspired about what we can do in this field,” Sargeaunt says.
Ryan Tucker is equally optimistic about the future of G2V Optics, which won a Start Alberta Fast Growth award for highest annual revenue growth in the under $5 million category.
“I feel like things are going crazy for us right now … so it’s a celebration,” says Tucker, CEO of the Edmonton-based business. “It’s also validating to know that our solution and our way of approaching things really is special.”
G2V Optics makes smart lights for researching sunlight applications, including solar cells, solar fuel and water splitting. Its high-tech lights are also used to help plants grow under natural conditions by simulating how geography changes sunlight.
Tucker attributes the company’s rapid growth to an increasing demand for the technology, as well as the successes experienced by customers, including renewable energy researchers and horticulture companies growing cannabis or rare produce.
High-tech lights, bright future
By combining agriculture and artificial
intelligence, Tucker believes the Alberta company is perfectly located to grow
“Over the next 12 to 24 months, we’ll be
deploying more intelligent lighting solutions to grow things to a level that’s
never been done before,” Tucker says.
This is the second year for the awards. Start Alberta is an online community for Alberta’s tech companies, offering a place to showcase technology, stories and successes. Its members include tech companies, investors and venture capital firms.
Other Edmonton winners are:
Fast Growth over $5 million: Jobber, which makes software for home services businesses
“Together with Mover, we’ll continue to provide customers with fast and reliable migrations to the cloud, with best practices and security and more connectors to more source systems, ultimately making the move into Microsoft 365 as seamless and cost effective as possible,” wrote Jeff Teper, corporate vice president of Office, SharePoint, and OneDrive at Microsoft.
“We have been partnered with Microsoft for years, so it just makes sense, we can achieve more together,” Mover co-founder Eric Warnke told Taproot. “Out of all the potential acquirers, Microsoft was the top of the list, they’ve treated us well since Day 1, we like the people and the culture.”
“We’re fans of the new Microsoft,” he added.
Warnke and co-founder Mark Fossen took advantage of a Startup Hackathon in January 2012 to build what was originally called Backup Box. The two demoed the utility at DemoCamp Edmonton 18 in March of that year. They participated in Vancouver’s GrowLab accelerator later that year and rebranded as Mover before being featured at Launch Party 3 in November 2012. Mover also participated in the Los Angeles-based Amplify accelerator the following year.
The company raised over $1 million in seed funding in the summer of 2013 from investors including Double M Partners, Yaletown Venture Partners, Amplify, Barracuda Networks, and angel investors Jarl Mohn, Rick Barry, and Dennis Phelps.
While the Microsoft acquisition will mean more frequent trips to Redmond, the company is staying put for now.
Mover’s website has long displayed a message in the footer acknowledging Edmonton as its home. Asked about building a startup here, Warnke said “it was hard in Edmonton, we didn’t raise a cent here.” He cited the introductions made at GrowLab and Amplify as critical for the company’s growth. They struggled to attract funding from local investors.
Still, Mover’s experience suggests that entrepreneurs can find success from Edmonton. “Edmontonians need tenacity,” Warnke said. His advice is to never give up.
Warnke was unable to talk about future plans for the product, but after the announcement was made it appears Mover is now free. More information about the integration of Mover into the Microsoft 365 offering is expected at Ignite 2019, taking place next month in Orlando, Fla.
According to the ticker on Mover’s site, the company has transferred more than 115 billion files.
“It has been a fantastic journey these last eight years,” wrote Warnke on Mover’s blog. “We have met thousands of wonderful customers and moved more data than I ever imagined. It has been an honor to be trusted by you and your fellow customers.”
We’ve been sitting on some news for the past few weeks, and now it can be revealed — we’ve been selected for the first Edmonton cohort of the ATB X business accelerator program!
Since Mack and I started talking about Taproot in 2016, we’ve known we wouldn’t succeed without building a sustainable business to support the local journalism we seek to do. So many media startups have failed because their founders have not focused enough on the money side. We knew we had to avoid that trap.
Keeping an eye on the bottom line is necessary but not sufficient for building what comes next in local journalism. Lots of smart people are working on this problem, but no one has completely figured out how to ensure we can afford to pay enough people to pay attention to our community, not only as well as local newsrooms used to, but better. There’s no map — we have to find our own way.
We’ve gone pretty far on our own. This was very much a side project when we started; now it is Mack’s full-time job, and I contribute as much as I can while running the Alberta Podcast Network (another adventure in local media, because that’s what I do). Along the way, we have diversified our revenue streams and listened hard to our members, sponsors and customers to build a new way forward. We are on a path we could not have imagined when we began, and we think it’s going to take us where we need to go.
Enter ATB X, a support program for startup companies that helps entrepreneurs like us level up, through expert advice and peer mentorship. There’s no equity or funding involved; this is really about making sure we have the skills to make Taproot strong enough to achieve its full potential.
We’ll be joined by a fascinating variety of local businesses:
We look forward to learning from these teams, and to sharing what we know to help them, too.
Thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way, whether you’ve become a member or shared our stories or sponsored a roundup or given us a chance to spread the word. You’ve invested confidence in us; we’re looking forward to paying dividends.
We are proud to be among more than 170 news outlets participating in Covering Climate Now, a worldwide project to strengthen the media’s focus on the climate crisis.
Like our fellow participants in this effort pulled together by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation, we have committed to running a
week’s worth of climate coverage leading up to the United Nations Climate
Action Summit on Sept. 23.
Ongoing disasters tend not to get the concerted attention that
sudden ones do, and this effort is meant to address that weakness in how we
tend to inform people about what’s going on. We know there’s a lot going on
locally on this file, and we feel we can perform a valuable service by putting
it together in one place.
Taproot’s coverage kicks off with a discussion with climate-change communicator Chris Gusen on the Speaking Municipally podcast. Chris will go on to curate a climate change section in each of our roundups throughout the week of Sept. 16. Then he plans to pull all the threads together at the end of the week.
If you already subscribe to our roundups, watch for Chris’s
contributions, and feel free to share the newsletters and the podcast on social
media. If you don’t, now is a good time to signal your interest in this topic
and our effort to better inform our community. Sign up today.
But where the money will come from remains unclear
The Edmonton Economic Development Corporation
will come up with an extra $500,000 in its operating budget for TEC Edmonton,
even if it means taking the money from another program or finding
“efficiencies” elsewhere, says the agency’s chief executive officer.
“I’m not worried (about finding the money)
because it’s a clear priority,” Derek Hudson said in an interview with Taproot
Edmonton on Friday about topping up TEC Edmonton’s budget to make up for a drop
in funding from the City of Edmonton.
“It’s easy for us to find funding for clear priorities.”
The city has provided $1.5 million in annual
funding to TEC Edmonton through EEDC since 2014. Starting in 2020, the city’s
financial contribution will drop to $1 million annually.
On Aug. 19, Hudson told Edmonton city council’s
executive committee that EEDC — an arm’s-length corporation that gets roughly
$20 million per year from the city — will bump up its funding for the tech
business accelerator to make up the difference.
EQUAL PARTNERS, EQUAL SUPPORT
TEC Edmonton is a partnership, founded in 2006,
between EEDC and the University of Alberta with a mandate to help emerging tech
companies scale up. The top-up means that the city’s contribution will continue
to match the $1.5 million in annual support from the U of A.
Hudson said matching levels of support was an important
point noted by the TEC Edmonton task force, formed in 2018 to review TEC’s mandate and provide
direction for its future.
The nine-member group, which included
representatives from EEDC, the University of Alberta and industry, released its
business plan recommendations for “TEC 2.0” last month.
“Everyone on the task force felt that we really
wanted to emphasize that it was this equal partnership,” said Hudson, who was
one of the members.
“The objectives were to take the best of the
university and the best of the business community and maximize the economic
value that came from that,” he said. “The task force saw that fundamentally the
partnership between the two organizations was important and all of the other
recommendations that came out were based on that assumption.”
RESPECT FOR ‘FISCAL REALITIES’
His early inclination was to go hat in hand to
“My first thoughts were, ‘OK, then we’ll go to
the city and tell them how important it is and ask for the extra $500,000.’ But
when I thought about the city’s financial situation, I thought that would be
counterproductive and not recognizing fiscal realities,” said Hudson.
Instead, EEDC will find money in its ongoing
operating budget, which is typically set at the end of November, to make up the
“I think [council was] relieved that we didn’t
ask them for more,” Hudson said.
When asked how EEDC plans to make up the $500,000
gap, Hudson said the entire budget would be reviewed and priorities
The money could come from “some other program or
efficiencies in how we deliver things, or even efficiencies in working with TEC
Edmonton,” he said. “There’s all kinds of factors that go into us setting our
can’t tell you what that’s going to be and I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell
you ever what it is.”
is under continued pressure from city council to clarify its role in light of
the increasing congestion of Edmonton’s economic incubator space. Councillors
have asked how its mandate and funding squares with that of Edmonton Global, a
non-profit established by 15 regional municipalities to promote the capital
city metro region.
said the process of gaining greater coherence and clarity between various
city-funded players could “produce efficiencies” but stressed that what matters
is getting economic results and “not to talk about who does what.
“Behind the scenes, on multiple levels, the
EEDC people and the Edmonton Global people work together every day to try to do
good work,” he said. “If there’s confusion in the community and at the
municipal level we want that sorted out for sure, but our real focus is on
getting the results and using the unique aspects of each organization to play
Whatever happens on that front, Hudson says keeping the “unique
relationship” with the University of Alberta, with its prowess in artificial
intelligence, medicine, dentistry and pharmacy, is crucial.
“It’s one of the key
assets to the Edmonton economy,” he said. “We have an actual partnership
agreement between the university and the economic development agency. That’s a
treasure and we want to maintain that, and maintain that thinking, and so we
want to fund it at that level.
Edmonton’s official city population is 972,223 as of April 1, 2019, an increase of 72,776 over the last municipal census in 2016. The City of Edmonton said that represents an average growth rate of 2.6% annually.
"This is a great sign for Edmonton," said mayor Don Iveson as he announced the results of the 2019 Municipal Census at City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 5. "One of the highlights of our census is that we continue to have one of the youngest populations in Canada."
John Rose, the City’s chief economist said he is projecting a growth rate of 2.1% for 2019, which is still higher than Alberta’s 1.9% and Canada’s 1.3%. "Edmonton remains a centre of economic growth," he said. Rose is confident that Edmonton will hit the milestone of 1 million residents late next year.
Iain Mac Lean, director of elections and census at the City of Edmonton, said only 7,558 of the roughly 420,000 addresses in Edmonton failed to respond to the census. "We are proud of that number," he said. Using a mathematical formula similar to the one used by Statistics Canada, City officials extrapolated to account for households that did not respond to the census to arrive an unofficial total population of 992,812.
This year, 39.7% of households completed the census online, double what officials have seen in the past. Mac Lean projects the cost of the census will be just under $2.5 million.
This year’s census was the first to include gender options beyond male and female, with six choices total including an option for residents to choose their own term. “We all want to feel included in our communities – this means having a sense of belonging and feeling valued for your uniqueness,” Barb McLean, equity specialist with the City of Edmonton, told Global News back in March when the census launched. “Including more gender options in the census gives representation to residents in our city who have been invisible for a long time.”
The census "is a critical tool to advocate for our fair share," Iveson told reporters. "We are continuing to drive Alberta’s economy and these numbers are a very strong indicator of that."
The most recent federal census, conducted in 2016, determined the population of the Edmonton metropolitan region to be 1,321,426 and the city itself to be 932,546.
The Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board’s Growth Plan projects a doubling of the regional population to 2.2 million people by 2044, "a significant transformation that will result in a complex metropolitan region requiring deliberate and determined collaboration and leadership."
"Over the past 40 years, the Region has doubled its population from 500,000 people to 1.2 million people, while tripling its urban development footprint from 22,260 hectares to 69,930 hectares," the plan says.
Full results of the 2019 Municipal Census are available at edmonton.ca and in the Open Data Catalogue. Edmonton’s next municipal census is scheduled for 2020, with another federal census scheduled for 2021.
In early 2015, Edmonton’s City Council adopted the Open City Policy, an important document that articulates the City of Edmonton’s commitment “to bring to action the Open City principles of transparency, participation, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation.”
Yet policies don’t implement themselves, and that’s often where the heavy lifting needs to be done. For an organization as large as the City of Edmonton (with 14,000+ employees) it’s clear that writing a set of principles is a very different challenge than applying them to everyday work. Truly becoming “open by default” requires persistence. A little public pressure doesn’t hurt, either!
Edmonton Journal columnist Elise Stolte has demonstrated again and again her commitment to this work. Most recently, she shared a “win” involving the construction of the Valley Line LRT. Stolte asked the City for the non-conformance reports it files to track TransEd’s performance, but the City refused to provide them. She appealed to the City’s freedom of information co-ordinators and was again rebuffed. So she appealed to the provincial commissioner, who determined Stolte is right and the City should release the reports.
Unfortunately, she still doesn’t have the reports. Facing a leave of absence that will take her out of the city, Stolte concludes that “transparency cannot depend on individual journalists, especially now that newsrooms are smaller, and it can’t depend on this formal, legal structure with deadlines, extensions and co-ordinators.”
“A city that shares information freely is admitting it will never have everything perfect. When it shares, it’s inviting the rest of the community to come along. It’s an act of humility that builds bridges.”
We’re doing our part too. While live-tweeting Executive Committee on Monday, it became clear that councillors were going to move an important discussion about role clarity in Edmonton’s innovation sector to the November shareholder meeting, which is private. I tweeted my dissent to a few members of the committee.
For the record, I’m opposed to using the shareholder meeting – a private, closed meeting – to discuss the important issues of role clarity and collaboration between innovation organizations. That should be public. /cc @doniveson@ben_hen@MichaelWalters#yegcc#yegtech
The next day, Councillor Andrew Knack and Mayor Don Iveson agreed the discussion should be public.
On reflection, I support this too. The discussion needed more time and a motion will allow that. Plus it’s key to let our entrepreneurs know how important their continuing feedback is to the evolving work of @InnovateYEG, @TECEdmonton, & @Yeghealthcity. #yegcc
On Wednesday afternoon, Councillor Knack filed the following notice of motion:
“That EEDC work with TEC Edmonton, Health City, and other stakeholders and report back on the status of the recommendations in the YEG Innovation Compass Report. This report should specifically address opportunities to reduce overlap, clarify roles and governance, accelerate the technology economy, and better serve the municipal innovation ecosystem.”
Assuming his motion is carried at next week’s council meeting, a report will come back providing the public with more information and importantly, another opportunity to participate in the discussion.
I know I wasn’t the only one who reached out to members of council to let them know how important it is that this discussion be held publicly. And that’s the point. It’ll take the persistent effort of all of us to ensure that the City of Edmonton and City Council adhere to the principles of transparency they’ve articulated. We’ll keep at it.