University of Alberta student Nabaa Alam spends the day with Dave Mowat.
Words: Lana Cuthbertson and Aminah Syed
On a sunny Tuesday morning in July, ATB Financial’s Qasim Rasi found himself at the edge of a pond near Ardrossan, staring a giant robot in the face.
He was with a group of ATB colleagues, including relationship manager Richard Switzer and Jody Larson, along with a handful of other innovation people, observing Alberta entrepreneur Jeremy Leonard’s invention. The machine on display, called Mighty Dredge, was lumbering around the edge of the water, sucking up liquid, cleaning it, and spraying it out again. The device is controlled by a laptop from afar.
“You can send in this robot and it cleans up standing water masses you have. Its implications are beyond its use in tailings ponds. It can be used for cleaning oil spills or even with the Fukushima reactor issue,” Rasi said.
There were even discussions around using Mighty Dredge to help clean up a recent oil spill in the North Saskatchewan River.
Along with his team at ATB, Rasi tries to maintain a provincial ecosystem of experts and resources that helps Alberta’s entrepreneurs. The team aims to connect innovators with funding, government resources, international markets and contacts and technology experts. Relationship manager Richard Switzer identifies entrepreneurs who need help and then connects them with Rasi.
Rasi said when they listen to Alberta’s entrepreneurs, his team finds two consistent issues: limited access to international markets, and to the right expertise necessary to elevate their products’ technology.
“When we look at manufacturing in Alberta, its contribution to GDP is enormous. There’s about $70 billion in sales and 140,000 Albertans employed by the sector,” Rasi said.
“So it makes sense to develop programs that help address those two issues, which we’ve done.”
Rasi and his team brought people from Alberta Economic Development and Trade who represent the Americas and Asia, Export Development Canada, Build in Canada Innovation Program and others to meet Leonard, learn about his company, Canada Pump and Power, and observe his new invention in action.
“Our thing is going above and beyond to make sure entrepreneurs do well. If they do well, they’ll go ahead and contribute to Alberta’s economy, hire people who will start livelihoods, get mortgages. If Alberta does well, ATB does well. It’s a coupling effect. It differentiates us from other financial institutions,” Rasi said.
Jeremy Leonard with his Mighty Dredge exemplifies how ATB’s strategy to support entrepreneurs and startups in the manufacturing sector is starting to work.
“Manufacturing is a broad sector—from sensor makers to sprinkler manufacturers to giant metal tank fabricators to food packagers and solar panel makers—they're all manufacturing. It's a huge industry and we have a lot of exciting stuff that happens in Alberta,” Rasi said.
ATB’s strategy, Rasi said, has been to approach organizations that already exist in Alberta and connect them with both customers and noncustomers who are creating new products. One group of organizations, like trade commissions, can help manufacturers reach new markets. Another group, innovation specialists like post-secondary institutions and research organizations, can help entrepreneurs get past their expertise barriers and improve their products.
Rasi’s team held a catalyst event a few months ago to bring these partners into the same room at ATB Place in Edmonton with some Alberta entrepreneurs.
“We had all these amazing partnerships in a very short period of time,” Rasi said.
“So now we have to operationalize all these partnerships and relationships. We have to show people what it means.”
What it meant to Jeremy Leonard this summer was, suddenly, the kinds of people from the kinds of organizations that could help him succeed were at the pond, watching the Mighty Dredge.
“Our approach is, we're here to help you and we will find you new opportunities. It shows that we go above and beyond to deliver,” Rasi said.