Join us every month as The Agency connects you to some of the most exciting people and companies putting Calgary on the map as a global centre of innovation.
In our first Tech Connections article, we take a look at Innovate Calgary’s Social Innovation Hub – a groundbreaking initiative between the University of Calgary and Innovate Calgary – which will open its doors to members this April.
Building a more inclusive and resilient social economy
In Calgary, innovation is most often associated with the energy industry or, increasingly, with life sciences and agriculture. But a groundbreaking initiative from Innovate Calgary’s Social Innovation Hub (SIH) – a partnership between the University of Calgary and Innovate Calgary – is trying to change all that.
On the sunny second floor of the Alastair Ross Technology Center, the cross-disciplinary team at the SIH is growing a vital tech ecosystem – one that focuses on social impact, embraces principles of inclusion, and establishes Calgary’s identity as more complex than an oil and gas capital.
Hub members are looking at everything from tech-enabled training for mental health professionals (Brief Crisis Therapy Institute), to a digital platform that facilitates job referrals (Joberfer), to online learning tools that advance gender equality (Shift to Learn). The Hub provides responsive support to these companies, helping them launch and scale while staying true to their social priorities.
The SIH model is designed to create resilient, stable and deeply useful companies that will strengthen Calgary’s economic and social position by creating opportunities for two-way learning between tech and social innovators. While social innovators learn best start-up practices from tech entrepreneurs, they help traditional tech companies better by providing opportunities to build on their Environmental, Social and Governance commitments.
The Hub’s mission is to shift our ideas of what innovation means, who an innovator is, and how innovation happens.Jordana Armstrong, Director, Social Innovation Hub
“We’re intentional about incubating companies and leaders to create change,” says Jordana Armstrong, the Hub’s director. “We’re not working solely for a profitable exit, so we don’t focus just on growth. Instead, we concentrate on social impact so that our clients can hold onto that sense of purpose once they’ve reached an accelerator.”
Armstrong and her core team of six senior managers are creating a new model for building, sustaining and growing innovative companies, based on the idea that innovation is so much more than developing new technologies. “We’re building a more inclusive and resilient social economy, and that will result in tech companies creating jobs for a wide range of people not currently represented in such companies,” says Armstrong. Our goal is to have San Francisco and Boston looking to Calgary as a model for building future-proofed, sustainable, socially-focused enterprises.”
What’s on offer
The SIH has been piloting offerings since October 2021 and has already assisted more than 120 social innovation entities, with a range of programs and resources including mentorship, workshops, events, and potential access to funding, including the UCeed Social Impact investment fund. Notable UCeed investees include Monark (on-demand leadership training), Shoelace Learning (EdTech focused on literacy) and Areto Labs (online safety software).
SIH is opening its physical doors to members this April. For a nominal fee of $250 per month (which is less than most co-working spaces), innovators can seek out just-in-time expert advice in areas such as business fundamentals, financial modeling, measuring impact, fundraising pathways, product development, market fit, and intellectual property. They’ll also get support in navigating existing services and offerings across the municipal and provincial innovation ecosystems.
Members can access SIH office space for everyday work, team building, meetings, and presentations. The high-tech podcasting and videography room comes with a resident studio designer who can help founders with prototyping, digital creation, and cutting-edge storytelling. Common spaces offer a wide range of programming, from Founders Fridays check-ins to the recurring Habits for Resilient Changemakers and Elevate IP seminars.
For particularly promising companies, the Social Innovation Hub offers the Research to Social Innovation Incubator. This six-month program validates social-impact ventures and takes them to the next level with tech transfer expertise and services focused on scaling.
Is it for you?
Entrepreneurs best suited for what the Social Innovation Hub offers will have an existing prototype or business idea, be working toward their first investment or repeatable revenue stream, and have a clear commitment to creating social benefit. “We don’t prescribe who is a social entrepreneur,” says Armstong. “If we meet someone who has a promising idea but is not yet deeply addressing social impact, we will work with them to increase and incorporate that into their growth.”
Interested in exploring whether you’d be a good fit for the Social Innovation Hub? Click here to get the ball rolling.
Top image: Shellard Photography