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New program boosts support for commercially viable social research

Innovate Calgary, RBC provide expertise and funding to help develop enterprises for social change
January 8, 2016

A new program to support the development and growth of social innovation and enterprise was announced in a partnership between Innovate Calgary — the technology-transfer and business-incubation centre for the University of Calgary — and the Royal Bank of Canada.

The Innovate Calgary Social Enterprise Program targets innovations that provide a solution to a social problem and have the potential to make a positive impact. Other key elements of the new program:

  • Available to university researchers and community members
  • Qualifying projects have the potential for commercialization
  • Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) provides support through direct financial support to Innovate Calgary, as well as by offering the enterprise an array of financial, lending and banking services
  • Innovate Calgary provides support to the researchers through mentorship, legal expertise, investment opportunities, marketing and communication strategy, business and commercialization frameworks
  • Learn more about participating in the program.

Partnership helps social entrepreneurs take innovation to market

For the past year, Innovate Calgary has been working with University of Calgary researchers in efforts to identify social innovations with high potential for impact and commercialization. The collaboration is creating new business startups, or social enterprises, through which to deliver social innovations to the public.

“There is tremendous opportunity to advancing social enterprise,” says Ken Porter, vice-president, Intellectual Property Management, Innovate Calgary. “Our client list is quickly growing, showing us that there is a great demand for this type of program here in Calgary.”

Responding to the demand, RBC and Innovate Calgary created a partnership.

“At RBC, we believe businesses can achieve financial sustainability while making a positive impact on society,” says Sandra Odendahl, RBC’s director of social innovation and business integration. “We are so pleased to partner with Innovate Calgary on this new and exciting program, which is helping social entrepreneurs take their innovations to market.”

The six enterprises currently supported by the social enterprise program span social, clinical, and education sectors, with prospective innovations in environment. The key differentiator for social enterprises is the impact, which drives business decisions.

Suicide prevention training company first enterprise before official program in place 

“The first social enterprise that Innovate Calgary worked with was LivingWorks Education, in the 1990s, before we had an official program in place,” says Porter.

“LivingWorks is a suicide prevention training company that was developed at the University of Calgary and now has international reach. Their programs were delivered worldwide to more than 150,000 participants last year. That is the kind of impact social innovation research can and will have.”

Many social entrepreneurs aim to achieve large-scale, international adoption. “Innovate Calgary’s startup investment helped us grow beyond Alberta,” says Richard Ramsay, professor emeritus in the Faculty of Social Work and one of the four co-founders of LivingWorks. “We’ve since become a world leader in suicide prevention training.”

Taking social enterprises with potential for global applications to international audiences

Through its program, Innovate Calgary is well positioned to help propel more innovations to an international audience.

“We are working with a variety of high-potential innovations from the university, and one that stands out is Gender @ Work, developed by professor Rebecca Sullivan,” says Porter. “This program works with organizations on gender equity and diversity initiatives. Through this program, a company is able to change their overarching culture to be more equitable and enhance employee relationships.”

Gender @ Work is a prime example of a social enterprise with the potential for global applications. Gender inequity is a worldwide issue, and one that Sullivan’s research, with the help of Innovate Calgary, has the potential to address.

Innovate Calgary works closely with the university's Research Services and the Office of the Vice-President (Research), helping researchers to bridge the gap between discovery and innovation.