Left to right: Dr. Mohamed Abousalem (CEO), Nan Xu, Andrew Ma, Candice Fulgencio, Gordon Banting (CFO), Donna Richardson, Richard Gorecki, Jonathan Neufeld and Andrew House Photo by Jonard Tan Photography
TECTERRA Invests in
Diversif ication and Growth By Rennay Craats
n the past year, the Alberta economy has experienced a steady downturn due to plummeting oil and gas prices. Now more than ever, the province needs to diversify its economic portfolio in order to not only recover from this slump, but to prevent it from happening again. TECTERRA is doing its part by offering support and funding to a variety of companies across industries, stimulating much needed growth and diversity. TECTERRA is a not-for-profit organization funded by the Alberta government that has injected tens of millions of dollars into the economy through investment in small and medium-sized geomatics technology companies for the past six years. This, in turn, has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact. “We don’t discriminate against any industry or application as long as the content is innovative technology that is based in or uses geospatial platforms,” says Dr. Mohamed Abousalem, CEO of TECTERRA. In fact, geomatics applications are everywhere and used every day. Alberta is a major player in the area, representing 40 per cent of the geospatial market across Canada. Geomatics (also referred to as geospatial) technologies involve the collection, management, analysis, representation and display of geographically-referenced information. This can relate to anything from positioning and navigation to surveying
and mapping, remote sensing and photogrammetry to spatial data management. Application is vast and geomatics technologies are used in such areas as oil and gas, agriculture, environmental protection and management, forestry, land use planning, wildlife management, location-based services, utilities, and recreation. The Alberta government identified geomatics as a great area of opportunity to bring technology and innovation to the resource sectors in 2009. Alongside the University of Calgary, the government built on the idea of investment in innovation and put forth $21.6 million to get TECTERRA off the ground. As the centre gained momentum, it attracted the attention of the federal government, which contributed another $11.685 million to support the initiative for five years and broaden its scope across Canada. “It moved forward to the concept of TECTERRA being a stand-alone, independent entity catering to the industry at large,” says Abousalem. TECTERRA set out to invest in the development of innovative geomatics technologies through company-led product development projects, and applied research projects at post-secondary institutions. It was created with Abousalem at the helm to ensure it maintained an industry focus and pace, as well as a motivation to listen and cater to the needs of the industry. Since its inception,
TECTERRA has committed $37.3 million to supporting 66 industry-led projects and 25 applied research projects with four post-secondary institutions, as well as other business support programs. Overall, TECTERRA has invested in 195 companies including 80 startups, and its companies have 79 patents filed or in progress. At the end of 2015, the federal government’s commitment ended and now TECTERRA operates with funding solely from the provincial government that goes to supporting only Alberta companies and professionals. “We are looking at the new support programs under the Liberal government to target the right federal funding source to take us back to that national mandate,” says Abousalem.
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The key is to find the right funding program that aligns with what TECTERRA does and how it operates. Until then, it is using the latest commitment of $4.5 million per year from the provincial government to continue its mission: investing in projects and development of technologies, assisting companies with growth by hiring personnel, and supporting companies with mentorship and business strategies.
InvenSense Canada Formerly Trusted Positioning Inc., InvenSense started as a University of Calgary project that created a device allowing people to navigate in areas where they don’t have GPS signals on their smartphones or vehicle-mounted devices. In 2014, it was acquired by American firm InvenSense for $36 million and continues to operate under that banner.
INVESTING IN ALBERTA’S FUTURE There are other centres supporting innovation across the country, but TECTERRA’s model is unique. The main component of TECTERRA is the Industry Investment Program, which invests in product development and commercialization of geomatics technologies across a variety of sectors. Once approved, companies can secure a zero-interest loan of up to 50 per cent of the project cost, with the other 50 per cent coming from private money raised by the company. On average, TECTERRA invests between $250,000 and $300,000 per project. “It’s a zero-interest contingent loan but we never take IP or equity in the company,” says Jonathan Neufeld, Director of Commercialization Programs. “As a non-profit, our goal is to see those companies succeed and grow, generate revenue, hire people and really add to the economy in Alberta and Canada.” Funding from TECTERRA can be used for development, manufacturing, marketing, and other expenses related to the creation and commercialization of a new technology product or service. Only once the company begins selling and making revenue do they start paying back the principal amount. Repayments are put back into the pool to reinvest in other innovations. And if the technology doesn’t materialize into commercially viable products or services, the TECTERRA loan is forgivable. TECTERRA has also worked hard to ensure this process is as efficient as possible. Being an independent, nonprofit organization means it can function at the speed of industry rather than bureaucracy. Where standard government funding programs often take a long time to process applications and deliver funding to recipients, TECTERRA strives to get funding into company coffers in two to four months, so companies can get to work.
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Lim Geomatics With TECTERRA’s support, Ottawa’s Lim Geomatics created an online tool to manage LIDAR data for forestry applications. Using lasers, forestry companies can map an area to determine terrain as well as vegetation and analyze this data to determine how to best manage their resources. Lim Geomatics is now one of the country’s leading forestry GIS consulting firms and was one of the first companies to repay TECTERRA’s investment in full.
Achievements in Alberta Since June 2010, TECTERRA has committed >$35M (matched with >$24M of private investments) to geospatial technology companies and applied research groups for the development and commercialization of innovative technology solutions, job creation, training and business support:
25 post-secondary applied research projects supported in Alberta
31,833 Geomatics Lab equipment days of utilization for product development and testing
133 SMEs supported (Canada: 195) including 58 startup companies (Canada: 80)
STAFF SUPPORT The growth of small companies and startups can stall at the stage where they could use another professional on staff to drive sales, but their current revenue isn’t quite enough to justify the expense. TECTERRA’s GEO-Placement Program is designed to facilitate that growth push by paying 50 per cent of a new hire’s salary (up to $50,000) for the first year. These highly qualified personnel (HQP) candidates must have a bachelor’s degree in their field, with post-graduate degrees preferred. “We’ve had great success with this job creation program, with continuity beyond our year of support,” says Abousalem.
247 new jobs created and supported (Canada: 307)
640 HQP trained on state-of-the-art geomatics equipment and technology applications
$149M in actual economic impact (Canada: $169M) to date, projected to grow to >$300M by 2018.
In the past five years, TECTERRA has created and supported 307 new jobs, trained 640 HQPs and engaged 420 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in product development and commercialization at small and medium geomatics companies across Canada. Providing funding is only one aspect of TECTERRA’s impact. It also advises and counsels company leaders with the small and large pieces that make a company successful. The Executive Mentorship Program, for example, links companies with volunteer mentors from TECTERRA’s business and technical advisory committees to give them access to the expertise and experience of this diverse group of professionals.
For more information on TECTERRA, visit: www.tecterra.com
TECTERRA Geomatics Lab equipment. Photos by Jonard Tan Photography
Also, within its Commercialization Support Services Program, the Sales Mentorship Program funds companies to connect with paid sales professionals who will advise entrepreneurs on sales strategy and execution, business planning, and how to communicate the product to possible consumers. “A lot of the companies are started by engineers, scientists, physicists – very smart people, but they just don’t know how to sell their creation,” says Neufeld. TECTERRA invests in sales mentors to help these technically-based entrepreneurs achieve their business mandate by giving them skills they may not have in order to get their technology into the market.
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It’s clear that TECTERRA’s investment extends far beyond financial support. In addition to their programs, TECTERRA also has an on-site facility that was set up with a $6 million grant from Western Economic Diversification Canada. This technology library contains an enormous amount of state-of-the-art equipment that companies can borrow or lease at a subsidized rate to test and modify their designs, develop aspects of their products, and demonstrate the product’s efficiency. With ground-penetrating radars, laser scanners, GNSS simulators, thermal imaging, 3D printers and UAVs on
Blackline Safety This Calgary company created a lone-worker safety device that is worn when working in remote areas. If a person becomes injured or incapacitated, the Loner SMD, which features a comprehensive safety alert management technology and mapping of employee locations, triggers a signal for help. Industries including oil and gas and forestry have adopted this technology.
hand, TECTERRA allows companies to access equipment necessary to move a product from concept to reality without shouldering the huge costs of purchasing it for themselves.
THE EVOLUTION OF SHOWCASE Many companies within TECTERRA’s portfolio have gone on to great success in a variety of areas. And while these companies have prospered and outgrown TECTERRA’s mandate, the centre still supports them through the annual TECTERRA Geomatics Showcase (now TECNOVATE). This event serves as a forum to promote TECTERRA while highlighting the achievements of the companies funded by it – both past and present. Companies display their technologies, while engaging in a tradeshow that offers an effective platform for forming strategic partnerships and networking with other professionals. This June 22, TECTERRA is doing something a bit different. “This is the first year we are opening the opportunity for geospatial companies beyond TECTERRA’s portfolio to exhibit in the tradeshow,” says Candice Fulgencio, Manager of Marketing and Communications. TECNOVATE will build on last year’s 63 exhibitors by adding new TECTERRA companies, as well as outside entities to better celebrate the achievements of geomatics innovation across Canada. The event will also feature keynote addresses from prominent Canadian entrepreneurs Manjit Minhas and Leonard Brody. “By broadening our scope, we are bringing more value to exhibitors and business professionals within the geospatial realm by giving them the opportunity to further network, build alliances and develop commercial opportunities within the industry,” says Fulgencio. The success of TECTERRA is remarkable. It boasts an economic impact of $168.6 million to date (projected to grow to over $300 million in a few years) while serving the province’s diversification and job creation efforts since 2010. TECTERRA continues to work with the Alberta government to craft a long-term future with secure funding, so that it can continue creating this important impact on the economy and fostering growth in geomatics for years to come. •