University of Calgary competition supports new energy ventures 

As a centre for innovation in the energy sector, Calgary is building a reputation as an incubator for new ideas in clean-energy tech.

With energy and environment two of the biggest challenges facing society globally, the ideas to resolve them are emerging in places where ecosystems exist so smart people compete, collide and collaborate to develop solutions.

The clean-energy tech innovation ecosystem that is emerging in Calgary is focused on improving energy efficiency and environmental performance that incorporates businesses, post-secondary institutions and government.

Ideas can emerge from anywhere these days and in Calgary start-up and seed-stage companies, and budding entrepreneurs have the opportunity to develop their ideas in an environment that provides mentorship and opportunity.

Clean energy tech is emerging as a core element in Calgary’s economy thanks in part to a highly educated workforce –a large percentage are in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professions – critical to the tech sector.

Innovative thinking and technology were the themes when 12 entrants from Calgary and around North America gathered for the fourth annual Energy New Venture competition. The event was hosted by the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business and supported by Innovate Calgary.

The finalists took part in a one-day competition hosted by Cenovus Energy in downtown Calgary where more than $100,000 in cash and prizes were awarded.

“The whole philosophy,” says Marie-Hélène Thibeault, project lead for the Energy New Ventures competition, “is to promote and support rising entrepreneurs.”

A record 69 applicants applied to compete this year with more than half the teams – 34 – based in Alberta. Ten of the 12 finalists were from Calgary.

“It’s just confirmation of Alberta’s relentless entrepreneurial spirit” Thibeault said. “It speaks to the dynamism of the ecosystem. When you’re in an entrepreneurial environment, it feeds on itself. You start to have all these networks and resources that really foster that spirit of innovation and movement to commercialization.”

The competition consists of two steams. The concept stream is for entrepreneurs with innovative ideas for potential technology while more advanced businesses closer to commercialization are in the venture stream.

For Brett Chell, president of Cold Bore Technology, winner of the venture stream, there is a strong sense of a community of support. 

“We have a fairly tight community. I really enjoy working in Calgary because of the people here,” Chell said.

Chell worked in the oil and gas sector for over a decade, before co-founding Cold Bore Technology in 2014 as the oil price downturn hit. The company uses advanced acoustic monitoring to provide high-resolution insight into down-hole operations and improve operational efficiency. 

“This depression opened our eyes,” Chell said. “No one is monitoring what happens down hole during a frack (fracturing an underground reservoir). We saw it as an opportunity, especially now that everyone is so cost conscious.” 

The commercial-stage company is working with more than a dozen major oil and gas companies in Canada and the U.S., helping them understand their operations through data they’ve never had before. Placing first in the venture stream allowed Cold Bore to pitch to an even wider audience at the PROPEL Energy Tech forum. 

Another Calgary start-up, Fuzeium Innovations, is using data analytics to solve problems in the oil and gas sector. Roger Milley founded the company in 2016 after a career at energy giant Shell to -address the issue of “inactive” oil and gas wells. In Alberta alone there are approximately 83,000 inactive wells that need to be addressed.

Fuzeium pitched its concept for The Well Exchange. The platform applies data integration and analytics to highlight opportunities for inactive wells – reactivating them, properly abandoning them or re-purposing them into geothermal systems.

“What we discovered in the large number of inactive files was maybe there’s an opportunity to do some things,” Milley says. “Rather than look at it as a negative, how can we look at it as a positive?”

Calgary’s emergence as a centre of clean energy tech with initiatives like the Energy New Venture Competition is encouraging for the city and the industry globally.

2017 Winning Teams

Concept Stream: 

1st place: MycoRemedy - Kelcie Miller-Anderson (Calgary), $7,500 (audience favourite winner)

2nd place: Pursuit Technologies Ltd. - Steve Fitzel, Dave Jellett (Calgary), $5,000

3rd place: Geometric Energy Corporation - Scott Dooley, Timothy Bjorndahl, Samuel Reid (Calgary), $2,500

Venture Stream: 

1st place: Cold Bore Technology - Jamie Clarke, Brett Chell, Tyler Sanden (Calgary), $25,000 and a pitch at PROPEL Energy Tech Forum

2nd place: Vintri Technologies - Jeff Boyle, Brendan Boyle, Phil Roberts (Calgary), $15,000

3rd place: WattBox Solar - Patrick Leslie, Frank Laxshimalla (Calgary), $10,000 (audience favourite winner)

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