Banking on innovation

Five Red Deer businesses will receive help in bringing new products or services to market.

Five Red Deer businesses will receive help in bringing new products or services to market.

Alberta Advanced Education and Technology has announced that Blue Horizon Ethanol Inc. and DataCan Services Corp. will each receive $50,000 vouchers for technology development, and Alberta Golf Works Ltd., BioLen Reactors Inc. and Black Diamond Resources Ltd. will each get $10,000 vouchers to pay for services like marketing studies and business advice.

They are among 179 Alberta businesses sharing more than $5 million in the first round of funding under Alberta’s Innovation Voucher Program.

The vouchers can be redeemed at designated labs, fabrication centres, business development centres and other organizations. Red Deer College’s Office of Applied Research and Innovation and the Olds College School of Innovation are among the nearly 40 approved service providers.

“It’s a fabulous step forward,” said Tanya McDonald, a bioenergy research scientist at the Olds College School of Innovation.

The voucher program creates a “huge opportunity” for small industry, she said, and should help it advance innovative ideas. Olds College, added McDonald, will also benefit from revenues that will enable it to build its applied research capacity.

Rick Tofani, director of applied research and innovation at Red Deer College, marvelled at the “phenomenal number” of vouchers issued. He noted only $2 million was originally earmarked for the first round.

“I would suspect they underestimated the pent-up demand considerably, and maybe the second round will be similar.”

That second round of vouchers will be issued early next year, with the application process expected to occur this fall.

Both Central Alberta colleges are already talking to voucher recipients.

“There are several companies that have approached us,” said McDonald.

Tofani described a similar interest in Red Deer College’s services, with two voucher recipients from Red Deer and one from outside the city dealing with the college. That’s a manageable number, he suggested, explaining that the college’s newly opened Centre for Innovation in Manufacturing is still ramping up its operations.

“We’re in the process of increasing the number of staff available to do that kind of work.”

Despite the large number of approved service providers in Alberta, Tofani and McDonald believe their institutions will stand out.

“The services that we offer are quite specific, as far as agriculture and environment-related, bio-processing and biofuels production,” said McDonald. “So there are companies from all across Alberta that may choose to work with us to achieve their goals.”

Tofani said Red Deer College’s strengths include its rapid prototyping and machining capabilities, as well as its information technology services.

“Every college has its area of expertise,” he said, predicting that there will likely be referrals between service providers.

A news release issued by Advanced Education and Technology said the businesses included in this round of vouchers are working in such fields as biotechnology, health, energy, environmental technologies, information and communications technology, and industrial technologies.

Vouchers must be used within nine months, and the businesses are required to pay at least 25 per cent of the cost of the services they receive.

Additional information about the Innovative Voucher Program can be found online at www.technology.gov.ab.ca.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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