Patrick Wu

5 Entry Points to Calgary’s Life Science Community

A while back, I was chatting with somebody in Calgary who was trying to build software to detect heart attacks. The thing is, they don’t come from a health background: they’re trained as a software engineer.

I spent some time pointing them to a few local resources who might be able to help them. They told me something at the end of our meeting that stuck with me: “It’s hard to know who’s in the community when you’re just coming into it from outside.”

Something tells me that a lot of people in the Calgary tech community feel the same way. The life sciences have recently become an area of interest for Calgary Economic Development—it’s one of the emerging areas highlighted in their latest Economic Strategy for the city. This has also been demonstrated in the recent Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund announcement for a new University of Calgary’s Life Sciences Innovation Hub.

Whether you’re a new entrepreneur trying to start up a biotech company, or if you’re a seasoned investor wanting to learn more about the industry, here are a few things you might want to check out:

1. W21C

The Ward of the 21st Century is housed in the University of Calgary’s Foothills Campus. They serve as a unique beta-testing ground for new medical technologies and health systems. An entire medical teaching unit at the Foothills Hospital is dedicated to W21C’s research, as well as a Healthcare Human Factors and Simulation Laboratory for simulating other clinical environments.

The W21C also runs events that showcase some of the local medical technologies in Alberta. These include Innovation Days, Reverse Tradeshows, and the Global Healthcare Innovation Academy event. These events are excellent ways to get connected with individuals in the industry.

2. TENET i2c

The TENET Innovation to Commercialization (i2c) competition is a business pitch competition for health technology. TENET i2c provides pitch training and business training for companies, and winners get some funding to help take their ideas to the next level. As part of the Hunter Hub for Entrepreneurial Thinking, the University of Calgary will hopefully be supporting this competition for a while.

Recent winners of the TENET i2c competition include Vivametrica and Neuraura, both promising health startups that also graduated from last year’s inaugural CDL-Rockies cohort.

3. Creative Destruction Lab-Rockies

Speaking of which, the Creative Destruction Lab is a rigorous accelerator program that’s located at major universities across Canada (and recently, NYC). CDL focuses on growing massively scalable technology companies. Although CDL-Rockies isn’t health-specific, many health technology companies get accepted into their Prime stream each year.

At the end of last year’s program, there was a tech showcase of all the graduates where you can connect with the startups in person. I wouldn’t be surprised if a similar showcase will appear at the end of this year’s cohorts, so keep your eyes peeled!

4. Innovation 4 Health (I4H)

Innovation 4 Health is an annual health hackathon at the University of Calgary. The competition identifies major challenges currently existing in healthcare and encourages teams to address them. By issuing challenges, participants know that they’re solving real-world problems during the hackathon.

I4H is notable because it’s entirely student-driven, so be sure to support their work! Companies like Re-able are around in Calgary thanks to them.

5. BioAlberta

BioAlberta is the life science industry association for—well—Alberta. They are a non-profit that focuses on advocacy, industry development, and marketing for its member companies. Although based in Edmonton, BioAlberta serves companies across the province in health, agriculture, cleantech, and natural health products. Their membership includes private companies (startups and multinationals) as well as government and public sector organizations.

Their flagship event is their Life Sciences Showcase and Gala in the fall, which alternates between Edmonton and Calgary each year (2019’s Gala will be in Edmonton). This event is generally very well-attended by Alberta’s life science community and is worth checking out if you’re in town.

Honourable Mention: University of Calgary’s Life Sciences Innovation Hub

This is an honourable mention because it is still being built, but the Life Sciences Innovation Hub mentioned earlier is a big step towards providing something that a lot of biotech startups need: space.

Until recently, it was hard to find rental lab space in Calgary for R&D work. Edmonton, for example, has the Biotechnology Business Development Centre and Enterprise Square/TEC Edmonton to house startup companies. By creating a rental lab space in the city, many startups can share the cost of expensive lab equipment, just like other coworking spaces around town. The LSI Hub will hopefully be a place for biotechs to call home outside of the University campus and will be a focal point in the city for those looking to connect with the industry.

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2 thoughts on “5 Entry Points to Calgary’s Life Science Community

  1. Great article. I’ve heard there’s some biotech industries considering Calgary as a hub, potential investment in the next few years…do you have any idea who these companies might be?

    1. Thanks! I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case. I think Calgary has a lot to offer for biotech companies.

      That said, I unfortunately wouldn’t be privy to any of those kinds of details (and I probably wouldn’t be allowed to share them even if I did.) You should try to reach out to the Life Science Innovation Hub or even Calgary Economic Development to see if there’s any news in the pipeline.

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