We’ve heard it for years. Calgary needs to diversify. Alberta needs to diversify. Every time things get tough, it becomes the number one mantra.

And over the years, we Albertans have certainly ridden the ups and downs of our oil-based economy. Really, who can forget the bumper sticker “Please God give us another oil boom, we promise not to piss it away this time.”

But in my opinion, this recession has been different. We’ve gained a strong undercurrent of innovation in this province that is bringing with it a wave of new technology.

I was wowed by the winners of the Energy New Venture Competition hosted by the University of Calgary on Feb 28. In this case, energy really did mean energy – not just oil. We are starting to diversify and are seeing energy in a 360 degree view that takes into account the latest technologies from around the world.

As a member of the board of the competition, it is great to see the level of interest in new ventures. We received 75 applications and the winners were impressive – it’s worth checking out their websites below.

Concept Stream:

1st place: MycoRemedy – Kelcie Miller-Anderson (Calgary)

2nd place: Pursuit Technologies Ltd. – Steve Fitzel, Dave Jellett (Calgary)

3rd place: Geometric Energy Corporation – Scott Dooley, Timothy Bjorndahl, Samuel Reid (Calgary)


Venture Stream:

1st place: Cold Bore Technology – Jamie Clarke, Brett Chell, Tyler Sanden (Calgary)

2nd place: Vintri Technologies – Jeff Boyle, Brendan Boyle, Phil Roberts (Calgary)

3rd place: WattBox Solar – Patrick Leslie, Frank Laxshimalla (Calgary)

I also had the opportunity to be a guest speaker at the competition and got to see first-hand the voracious appetite in the city for technology around energy. I am really excited to be part of this and wanted to share my main learning from the Q&A session.

When I speak, I typically get lots of questions about how to scale and pivot, what are some of the biggest lessons I’ve learned and how do I hire a marketing or a sales person. All of those questions are tertiary.

The number one question new entrepreneurs never ask but should is, “How do I build a business bigger than myself?” What I’ve learned – with a little bit of time and grey hair – is that you are only a leader if someone follows you.

So the most important starting decision is: Who do you partner with? Who is your number two?

I think that most successful startups have typically been partners. It is usually teams of two people who complement each other.

So I believe the single biggest decision an entrepreneur will make is who is the second person who will follow in your vision? If you can get that right, life is a whole lot easier and it is just that much easier to attract great talent when you already have a strong team with a solid vision. But if you get that wrong, you have a failure to launch.

One thing that came out of the Energy New Venture Competition is that many of these start-ups have great vision. They have a commitment to technology around energy and the incubation of startups that will diversify our economy is truly starting to occur.

It’s exciting to see the rise of tech advancement in Calgary and I can’t wait to see what next year brings.