Driving the vision and leadership around innovation and technology in Alberta, Laura Kilcrease, CEO, Alberta Innovates, works to put our province on the map by turning research, innovation and entrepreneurship into meaningful economic output.
“I want to go even beyond that,” she says.
“I want to look at where Alberta wants to lead, how to enrich the environment to improve quality of life, how to integrate innovation and technology into the social fabric and the future of our community, and how to make an ecosystem where everyone can thrive.”
With over 500 staff working at all stages of innovation and entrepreneurship, Alberta Innovates provides diverse resources to foster the emerging innovation scene in our province. From funding research at universities; to helping build the ecosystem for entrepreneurs by creating regional innovation networks and incubators; to providing grants for emerging businesses. The organization also works with major corporations to help with their own innovation challenges through the applied research subsidiaries of InnoTech Alberta and C-FER Technologies, where there is unique technical expertise and facilities.
A career focused on innovation and entrepreneurship
Originally from the United Kingdom, Kilcrease moved to Austin, Texas early in her career. Starting out as a chartered management accountant, Laura grew to love the different aspects of business – solving problems and having the ability to be creative and innovative.
Kilcrease held a range of progressive roles, prior to becoming CEO of Alberta Innovates - notably as CEO of a technology company before the age of 30. She also launched one of the early incubators in the U.S., followed by starting a venture capital firm, Triton Ventures, LP, investing in spinout and startup technology companies.
Passionate about women in technology
Reflecting on challenges throughout her career, Kilcrease is passionate about the inclusion of women. There has been a marked improvement in equal representation since she began her career – there are more women in accounting today, more women starting technology companies, and – although at the time, she was the only female venture capitalist in Austin, Texas – it is not so today.
“Future opportunities for women today are more profound than ever before, because there’s nothing restricting us with the help of technology and innovation.”
Especially in Alberta, where 30 per cent of women are involved in start-ups, compared to 13 per cent across the rest of the country.
“Innovation is an equalizer if you use it,” says Kilcrease. “It doesn’t matter how big and strong you are, you can come from nowhere and build your networks with high levels of trust, use technology and innovation, and you will be very successful in achieving your goals.”
A blueprint for pushing innovation forward
During the economic downturn in Austin, Texas – which closely resembled Alberta’s latest experience – Kilcrease decided she couldn’t sit by and watch it happen and worked tirelessly on innovation and technology projects to assist in the diversification of the economy. Austin now has 2.2 million people, the lowest unemployment rate in the country around two per cent, and a vibrant economy for entrepreneurs and start-ups.
“A few rolled up sleeves can make a powerful difference,” she contends. “It’s people who need to step up and make things happen – not innovation alone.”
It was clear given her recent experience, that she would be the best person to lead Alberta Innovates and push forward diversification efforts for this province.
Alberta is ready to do things differently
Moving from Austin to Edmonton, Kilcrease sees opportunity everywhere in Alberta, firmly believing this is the right time and the right place to drive real change in the province.
“The entire landscape in Alberta is changing, the entire value stream, and unlike in the past, it will not come back to the way that it was,” she says.
“Sometimes when you have hardships, you realize you have to do things differently, and you adapt.”
Kilcrease believes the amount of natural resources in this province is phenomenal, but they need to be optimized. We need to be living in the future.
“For me, personally, I see all of the ingredients: an educated labour force, a young population, seasoned and skilled workers, and a province that’s capital rich.”
Understanding that an economic environment cannot change overnight. Kilcrease intends to lay the foundation for success through her role at Alberta Innovates. Two years into the role, she’s seeing the roadmap more clearly than ever before and is determined to stay the course.
Using failure as a guidepost
As Kilcrease pursued every next big step, her dad continually reminded her that failure was a part of life, guiding you to do better the next time.
“There are times when things will not go the way you plan,” she says.
“But we shouldn’t look at these as failures, but as a fast-forward button to stop wasting time. If we push past the setbacks, the faster the next challenge and lesson comes, and the better off you’re going to be.”
Kilcrease’s career advice includes picking a personal Board of Directors to sit in on your life.
“Ask yourself; If you were a company setting up your Board, who would be your two to five board members and why?” Whether it’s education, perspective, or connections, consider what these mentors would add to your career and use this to grow.