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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Bo Varga > Alberta Nano Strategy Overview

Bo Varga
Managing Director
Silicon Valley Nano Ventures

Alberta is an emerging global center for nanotechnology research and commercialization. Alberta as a nanotechnology powerhouse may seem like an extreme statement to people in Albany - New York, Silicon Valley, Texas, etc., however the massive investment of funds, talent, and energy over the past 5 years has laid the groundwork to achieve the 2020 goal of the Alberta Nano Strategy - $20 billion in annual revenue!

August 23rd, 2007

Alberta Nano Strategy Overview

Alberta & the Future of Nanotechnology: August 2007

This regular column will focus on the province of Alberta in Canada as an emerging and important global center for nanotechnology research and commercialization.

Alberta has the only governmental body in North or South America that has no debt and runs an annual budget surplus! Alberta has resources for the next hundred years and beyond - oil sands, natural gas, coal, timber, water, beef, grain, oilseeds, and lots of flat land for future growth - and, according to the Economist magazine September 26, 2006 issue, some of the highest achieving high schools on our planet. Among 15 years olds Alberta places #2 in math after Hong Kong, #2 in reading after Finland, and #4 in science after Finland, Japan, and Hong Kong.

Further, tax and other incentives for high technology R&D make Alberta competitive with communist China as a place to start or grow your high technology company. And with the rule of law, English language, developed infrastructure, & massive investment in new infrastructure Alberta will remain a great place for high technology business over the next decades.

Are there any drawbacks to Alberta - well the winters can be harsh for someone like myself who lives in Silicon Valley and the population base is small, around 3.4 million people, so hiring experienced people can be difficult. Finally the high tech community has not yet had the Ciscos, Ebays, and Googles that create billions of dollars in wealth and provide both the funding base and the people base for the next generation of successful high technology companies.

My goal is to write two articles a month over the next year, articles that introduce my readers to nano-enabled companies, nano product development, nano research, and the organized and focused efforts by Albertan and Canadian government people at all levels to help build successful nanotechnology enabled industries in Alberta.

My special thanks to Leigh Hill of EEDC for all the information and support he has provided over the past years as Program Manager, Industry & Cluster Development (Micro/Nanotechnology) and Executive Director, NanoMEMS (Edmonton).

I have been networking with Alberta nano people since my introduction to Canada's National Institute of Nanotechnology (NINT) in early 2002 (then in formation) located in Edmonton on the campus of the University of Alberta. At that time I began tracking the work of Economic Development Edmonton, later Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) and the leadership provided for the Greater Edmonton Competitiveness Strategy and the cluster support program that was begun in 2001. And I have tracked the establishment of NINT with $120 million invested in infrastructure through the official launch early this year, of NanoMEMS in 2003 as the lead micro / nano technology cluster organization, and watched with interest the establishment of the nanoFab at the University of Alberta. Finally I provided some input into the planning process for the new Alberta Centre for Advanced Micro/Nano Products (ACAMP).

Following up on the announcement of the Alberta Nano Strategy in May, 2007 and the visit by a large team of Alberta nano stakeholders to Silicon Valley in June, 2007, in July 2007 I visited Edmonton for 5 days as a guest of EEDC - and conducted some 30 interviews with companies, government representatives, and researchers.

At this time I want to thank EEDC's Amanda Babichuk, Marketing Manager, USA and Jackie Frazier, Marketing Manager, Business Attraction, for their help in arranging & supporting the logistics of my visit.

The articles in this series are based on those interviews plus additional research and follows ups as appropriate to correct for any errors or omissions.

All quotations and sources are referenced and all opinions are the opinions of the columnist & not of Nanotechnology-Now.

The Alberta Nanotechnology Strategy - extracted, full text at:

"On May 2, 2007 Premier Ed Stelmach unveiled the province's strategy to capture a $20-billion market share (by 2020) of the world's nanotechnology market & announced a $130-million investment over 5 years to expand research capacity and develop new commercial applications to support Alberta's traditional economic strengths and spur economic growth. Key strategic goals are:
1) Grow and develop a new generation of businesses and entrepreneurs to commercialize nanotechnology solutions.
2) Attract and retain world-class talent to foster a globally competitive nanotechnology community in Alberta;
3) Take advantage of/continue to enhance technology infrastructure to develop nanotechnology products and applications in the province.

Elements of the committed funding include:
$15 million for graduate student scholarships;
$30 million to build a highly qualified workforce;
$8 million to establish a nano-packaging/nano product development center (ACAMP) to design, develop and test new nano-enabled products;
$15 million to create an Industrial Applied Research Partnership Program in the key areas of importance to Alberta - energy & environment, health & medical technologies, agriculture, and forestry;
$5.5 million to establish nanoAlberta

Alberta's vision: to be a leading contributor for Canada among the top five nations in the world by helping produce 10 per cent of the world's nanotechnology based economic activity.

Alberta's mission: by 2020 achieve a two per cent share of the global nanotechnology market - generating an estimated $20 billion of new economic activity - by developing nano enabled products and applications specific to industries in the energy and environment, health and medical technologies, and agriculture and forestry sectors.

The four strategic pillars are:
1) unleashing innovation
2) leading in learning
3) competing in the global marketplace
4) making Alberta the best place to live, work and visit.

The nanotechnology strategy complements Alberta's long range plans for growth of a knowledge-based economy. It also reflects the opportunities that nanotechnology provides to meet the objectives of the Accelerating Innovation in Alberta strategy, the Water for Life strategy, and the energy, information and communications technology."

Assuming that CY 2005 revenue from all nano-enabled business was on the order of $80 - $100 million in Alberta, growth to $20 billion in 2020 requires about 30% per year increase in revenues for 15 years in a row.

This ambitious goal is achievable, in my opinion, based on Alberta successfully creating three inputs; (i) entrepreneurs, (ii) risk capital for startup/early stage companies, and (iii) technical & support infrastructure. Work on developing infrastructure has moved forward over the past 5 years - NINT, NanoFab, NanoMEMS, ACAMP, etc., while TEC Edmonton was launched by EEDC to create a funding & support platform for University of Alberta spin-outs. And programs to develop and support entrepreneurs are included in the Alberta Nanotechnology Strategy, such as creating a Nano Entrepreneur Program, building a Nano Entrepreneurs Club, and establishing an Annual Alberta Nano Venture Prize.

Veneto Nanotech, the Italian Cluster for Nanotechnologies, offers an annual prize in the amount of 300.000 or approximately US $400,000 at current exchange rates. This is a global prize intended to attract contestants and winners to establish companies in Padova in Italy. I will be most interested to see both the amount of the Alberta Nano Venture Prize and the success of the prize in supporting Alberta-based start-up companies over the next years.

And as Alberta's population can absorb only a limited amount of the nano-enabled products & service, achieving this goal will result in a major high technology export boom to complement the current export of natural resources.

Alberta as an emerging global nanotechnology powerhouse may seem like an extreme statement to people in Albany, NY; Silicon Valley; Texas, etc., but consider the following:

Alberta has a population of approximately 3.4 million people, that is, less than 1/10 of the population of California which was 36.5 million in 2006.

$123 million invested in Alberta over 5 years in nanotechnology R&D & commercialization (and other sources of funding will most likely result in about 2x this amount) is the equivalent of investment in California on a per capita basis of approximately $1.32 billion. And Alberta is at least 20% lower cost overall than California so the initial Alberta Nano Strategy investment has even more impact. Especially as this investment leverages the prior CD $120 million invested to establish NINT and the CD $415 million of annual sponsored research funding at the University of Alberta - where 100 principal researchers and 400 graduate students engage in nanoscience & nanotechnology R&D and which includes the nanoFab among the facilities.

More on this topic in later columns.

As my host was EEDC, an outline of this rather unique government institution is both appropriate and interesting.

"OVERVIEW: Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) is a not-for- profit company marketing Edmonton to the world on behalf of the City of Edmonton. EEDC is responsible for economic development, tourism marketing, Shaw Conference Centre and the Edmonton Research Park. EEDC reports to a 15-person Board of Directors appointed from both the private and public sectors by Edmonton City Council.."

One of the unique features of EEDC is its support and promotion of industrial clusters to grow Edmonton (the capital of Alberta) into a global high technology powerhouse.

"A growing awareness of the strategic importance of clusters to the Edmonton region led to the adoption late in 2001 of the Greater Edmonton Competitiveness Strategy - most people simply call it the Cluster Strategy. The Cluster Strategy originally identified eight key industry clusters in Greater Edmonton. These have since evolved into 10 with the addition of NanoMEMs and ungrouping of Forestry and Agri-Foods. The status of these clusters is (N = Nascent. D = Developing. M = Mature):
1. Advanced Manufacturing (D)
2. Agri-Food Products (D)
3. Architecture, Engineering & Construction (AEC) (M)
4. Biomedicine & Biotechnology (N)
5. Energy (M)
6. Forest Products (D)
7. Information & Communications Technology (D)
8. Nanotechnology & Microsystems (N)
9. Tourism & Entertainment (M)
10. Transportation & Logistics (M)"

Specific detail regarding the Nano/Micro cluster are at:

A key activity of EEDC was the creation of nanoMEMs in 2003, with the goal of promoting commercialization of nanotechnology and industry building around nano-enabled products and services. In addition, the need for education and information was recognized as a key element in building awareness, skills, and support for the commercial and industrial effort. The program and priorities are summarized in the table below.


I will be pleased to respond to questions or comments about the really fascinating developments in nanotechnology in Alberta in general and in Edmonton in particular, while keeping in mind and covering at a later day work at the University of Calgary and the balance of the province.

While EEDC has been the leader in global outreach to the nanotechnolgy community, and the web site is available in Chinese, French, German, Korean, Spanish, and Japanese (as well as English), the two Provincial agencies involved in nanotechnology, (1) Advanced Education & Technology and (2) Employment, Immigration, & Industry, as well as nanoAlberta, support significant province-wide nanotechnology programs and will be covered on that basis in a later column.

My next column will publish in mid-September.

Bo Varga of works in the field of technology commercialization by helping start-up & early stage companies & projects acquire funding, customers, & team, by leveraging a focused marketing process.

Bo also works with a boutique investment banking firm providing research and business input for nanotechnology-related projects.

He has 28 years work experience in Silicon Valley & globally. His primary focus is nano & clean technology ventures. From 2001 through 2004 he & his friends organized & staged over 60 nanotechnology forums & conferences in Silicon Valley and Washington, DC via the nanoSIG.

His prior experience includes business development, funding, & marketing for image processing, reconfigurable computing, pre-press, & graphic arts & design companies, as well as stints at senior technical & executive recruiting. Contact:

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