News & Events


Innovation Helps Weddingstar Maintain Global Leadership

Jul 25, 2012

By Roger Haessel

Weddingstar has come a long way since its founders Rick and Helle Brink, first started importing decorative Christmas bells into Canada 30 years ago. Weddingstar is now a leading global supplier of wedding products. The company’s headquarters and primary centre of operations are in Dunmore, Alberta where it employs approximately 70 of its 100 people.

Originally starting with Christmas decorations (red and green bells), Weddingstar now sells 3,000 products into 70 countries around the world. This success did not come about due to chance. Over the years Weddingstar has evolved and adapted to the marketplace. The company has also embraced innovation and consistently strived to improve its productivity.

Product Differentiation

In the early 1990’s Weddingstar had a scare. At the time, they were selling the same commodity wedding products as their competitors when a price war broke out. With customers defecting to competitors and with no product pricing power, the company’s very survival was at risk. Weddingstar survived and Rick Brink learned an important lesson, “I realized that we had to be different from our competitors. We needed more control over our product design.”

Rick Brink considers this near-death experience to be an important turning point for the company. Today, 90 percent of Weddingstar’s products are now unique to the company. An added benefit of offering exclusive products was that Weddingstar was able to sell beyond Canada’s borders as buyers were willing to bypass local producers to access unique merchandise.

Leveraging Technology to Improve Productivity

Rick Brink’s philosophy on costs and productivity has remained consistent since the early days until today. When he was first starting out, he had very little capital and had to focus on keeping costs down in order to survive. He even recycled used boxes from local businesses in order to ship his products. Today, Weddingstar continues to ask important questions about their business model. What can we do better? How can we reduce our costs? How can we automate a process? How can we use technology? How can we reduce turn-around time for customer orders?

Rick Brink gives an example of how technology has radically improved efficiency. One of the products that Weddingstar has provided for many years are customized printing of wedding invitations. In the early days, a bride would fill in an order form which a retailer would fax to Weddingstar. Staff would need to review the order, double check the text, set up the printing press and print the invitations. This took approximately one hour of staff time due to the manual process. When online orders became possible, Weddingstar was able to reduce this down to 15 minutes per order. In recent years, automated processing of web orders through Weddingstar’s in-house systems and digital printing has brought this down to about 5 seconds!

The desire to increase productivity has also had additional benefits from a marketing standpoint. Weddingstar’s business model had previously relied on a smaller number of relatively large retailer orders. Given the staff time to process orders, this was a way to keep costs down. With increased automation and improved processing times, Weddingstar is now able to efficiently process a large number of small orders. This is supportive of the consumer direct model through the company’s website and catalogue where an order could be as low as $5. It has also enabled Weddingstar’s retail partners to stay lean and only order products as needed instead of stocking their shelves.

Thoughts on Entrepreneurship

After 30 years as a successful entrepreneur, Rick Brink has accumulated a lot of wisdom. One caution for would-be entrepreneurs is to not underestimate the long hours and constant challenges of building a business. The pressure to overcome barriers becomes intense not only for your own livelihood but there is a great responsibility for your employees as well. For this reason, it is important for an entrepreneur to stay on top of their company’s operations.

Weddingstar is a shining example of a company based in Southeast Alberta that has embraced innovation, continuously improved productivity, and stayed focused on its market to become a winner in the global economy. For more information about Weddingstar, you can browse their website at

APEX is the Southeast Alberta Regional Innovation Network – a collaborative partnership between Medicine Hat College, Economic Development Alliance of Southeast Alberta, Palliser Economic Partnership, Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education, and Community Futures Entre-Corp. To learn more about APEX or to set up an appointment, please call 403-528-2824.

TCB Welding Wins Innovation Award for Pump Jack System

May 30, 2012

By Rick Tofani, Acting VP - Alberta Innovates Technology Futures

I attended the Southern Alberta Petroleum Show on May 8 – 9 in Medicine Hat and had the pleasure of presenting an Innovation Award to a small company called TCB Welding and Construction. Bill Sewall is General Manager of TCB and his brother Jody Sewall is Field Operations Manager. They are both modest, energetic and carefully spoken individuals. They are also welders who have become very successful entrepreneurs, exactly the types of people and company that AITF and the Regional Innovation Network system seek to support.

The company started in 1997 with Jody and Bill incorporating and building a fabrication shop in Brooks. In 2001, TCB began to innovate and produce its own product line of swabbing rigs and wire line equipment. The company expanded several times with many new products sold around the world.

TCB is uniquely positioned in southern Alberta, with strong support for this kind of industrial fabrication and easy access to global sales channels. Recent growth has been due to a successful innovation, the SilverJack Lift System. As a result of this and other products, TCB now employs 35 people in the Brooks area.

The SilverJack unit is a cost effective, portable, environmentally friendly unit with a small footprint. The design has eliminated possible leak points and uses bio-hydraulic fluid, while making it almost invisible compared to a conventional pump jack. The biggest advantage is this controlled intermittent pumping system will now be able to data log wells to further enhance efficiency.

The next and latest innovation from TCB Welding will be launched at the Calgary Oil Show in June. The FMS, Fluid Management System, provides a new level of automation in mobile oilfield equipment. It integrates all systems on pumping equipment and service rigs, such as the truck, pump, hydraulics, and safety shutdowns into one interface. The FMS system converts this precise data into real time, remote monitoring and reporting. This information can be viewed on any mobile device and therefore can be sent wirelessly to the customer. Sounds like a winner already. This is the kind of leading edge innovation being developed by entrepreneurial, forward thinking Alberta companies. We have established the Regional Innovation Network to assist these companies, and we hope to be able to bring you more of these good news stories soon.

APEX is the Southeast Alberta Regional Innovation Network – a collaborative partnership between Medicine Hat College, Economic Development Alliance of Southeast Alberta, Palliser Economic Partnership, Alberta Treasury Board and Enterprise, and Community Futures Entre-Corp. To learn more about APEX or to set up an appointment, please call 403-528-2824.

Visit APEX at the 2012 Southern Alberta Petroleum Show

May 2, 2012

By Roger Haessel

Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures (AITF) will have a booth at the 2012 Southern Alberta Petroleum Show. APEX is pleased to join AITF at the show to share information on how businesses can access various local and provincial support services. Please feel free to stop by the AITF booth and learn more about APEX and the opportunities for business innovation.

APEX’s vision is to create a globally competitive region for innovation and technology in Southeast Alberta. APEX strives to support local entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises to develop and adopt new technologies, commercialize innovative new products, and improve productivity.

You might wonder whether APEX offers anything that might be helpful to your business. APEX offers a wide variety of support to both small and medium-sized enterprises and new entrepreneurs. Do any of the following describe you or your business?

  • An aspiring entrepreneur with an innovative idea for a product or technology and requires business or technical guidance;
  • An entrepreneur who needs assistance with their business plan to commercialize an innovation;
  • A business that needs a loan to start or expand its operations or implement a technology solution;
  • A businessperson that wants to network with other innovative local businesspeople;
  • An entrepreneur or business that wants to learn about relevant training opportunities;
  • A manufacturing business that is interested in learning about advanced manufacturing techniques or would like to join a local manufacturing network.

If any of the above sounds familiar, please visit us to learn more about how we may be able to support you to become more successful. The Southern Alberta Petroleum Show takes place on May 8 from 10 am to 6 pm and May 9 from 10 am to 4 pm at the Medicine Hat Stampede and Exhibition. We look forward to meeting you at the AITF booth!

If you are unable to visit us at the Petroleum Show, please feel free to give us a call at 403-528-2824 to set up an appointment.

APEX is the Southeast Alberta Regional Innovation Network ( – a collaborative partnership between Medicine Hat College, Economic Development Alliance of Southeast Alberta, Palliser Economic Partnership, Alberta Treasury Board and Enterprise, and Community Futures Entre-Corp.

Medicine Hat Chamber Launches Innovation Award of Excellence

Mar 28, 2012

By Roger Haessel

There is increasing recognition in Canada of the importance of innovation to our economic success. The federal and provincial governments are placing an increased emphasis on promoting innovation and technology adoption as a means of improving business productivity and wealth creation. Local businesses are also recognizing the innovation imperative. With this in mind, APEX is proud to sponsor the recently launched Innovation Award of Excellence at the 2012 Medicine Hat & District Chamber of Commerce Business Awards.

The Innovation Award of Excellence fits in perfectly with the theme of this year’s Chamber Business Awards: “Age of Innovation”. According to the Chamber’s Executive Director, Lisa Kowalchuk, “Age of Innovation was selected as an evolution of our past themes into the current need for companies to become more innovative with the underlying need to reinvent business concepts in order to continue to grow and thrive in today’s demanding marketplace.” APEX is looking to raise awareness in the business community of its services and resources for innovative and technology-oriented companies and entrepreneurs in Southeast Alberta. APEX strives to support local entrepreneurs and small and medium sized enterprises to develop and adopt new technologies, commercialize innovative new products, and improve productivity. “This was an ideal time to introduce the Innovation Award in partnership with APEX and fits ideally with this year’s awards theme and allows us to recognize businesses that are making innovation a part of their day-to-day practices,” said Lisa Kowalchuk.

As outlined in the award description, “The Innovation Award of Excellence will be awarded to a company that is creating commercial value through the development (or application) of better or more effective products, processes, services, or technologies.” What businesses in Medicine Hat do you know that are innovating?

If you know of a business that is creating value through innovation, they should be nominated for the Innovation Award of Excellence. Self-nominations are also accepted. The Chamber’s 2012 Business Awards Nomination Package is available on their website at The deadline for applications is June 29, 2012. If you have any questions or concerns about eligibility or the application process, you can contact the Chamber at or 403-527-5214.

APEX is the Southeast Alberta Regional Innovation Network ( – a collaborative partnership between Palliser Economic Partnership, Alberta Treasury Board and Enterprise, Economic Development Alliance of Southeast Alberta, Medicine Hat College, and Community Futures Entre-Corp.

TrailBlazer Loans Available to Finance Business Innovation

Feb 29, 2012

By Roger Haessel

We have all heard about the importance of business innovation and adoption of new technologies. Unfortunately, businesses and entrepreneurs can sometimes find it challenging to finance their innovative business idea. It is for this reason that Community Futures Entre-Corp offers the TrailBlazer loan product.

Businesses innovate by creating better or more effective products or services and by applying new processes, technologies or ideas to their business. It is through this sort of innovation that businesses grow and create wealth for their owners, employees, and the broader community in which they operate.

Perhaps you have an innovative idea to make your business grow? Or maybe you are an entrepreneur that has identified a market need and you want to start a business to commercialize a solution to meet that need? Now you need funds to buy new equipment, market your technology, produce your product, or implement new processes.

There are a number of financing options available for your innovation. You could always seek out venture capitalists or angel investors provided your idea is big enough to catch their attention. Various government support programs could be available to assist if you meet the specified criteria. For example, the Government of Alberta’s Innovation Voucher Program could provide some funds for an opportunity assessment or even specialized services such as prototyping or intellectual property. Of course, local commercial banks offer traditional lending services as does the Business Development Bank of Canada.

Another local business financing option is Community Futures Entre-Corp. As a partner in APEX, the Southeast Alberta Regional Innovation Network, Entre-Corp is committed to supporting the growth of innovative local businesses.

Community Futures Entre-Corp ( offers commercial lending services throughout Southeast Alberta including the TrailBlazer loan product. TrailBlazer is designed with innovative businesses and entrepreneurs in mind. Entre-Corp has 3 professional Business Analysts with extensive lending experience. If you have an innovation with commercial potential, you can book an appointment with a Business Analyst by calling 403-528-2824.

APEX is the Southeast Alberta Regional Innovation Network ( – a collaborative partnership between Palliser Economic Partnership, Alberta Treasury Board and Enterprise, Economic Development Alliance of Southeast Alberta, Medicine Hat College, and Community Futures Entre-Corp.

Innovation Vouchers Available for Local Businesses

Feb 1, 2012

By Roger Haessel

Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures operates the Innovation Vouchers program designed to help small technology and knowledge-driven businesses get their ideas and products to market faster. If your business has an innovative business concept or idea that has potential to develop into a commercial product or service, you could be eligible for a Voucher.

Companies can apply for Vouchers worth up to $15,000 or $50,000 to be used with a service provider for business and technology development services. An Innovation Voucher could help your business successfully progress from the concept and formation stages into the growth stage.

While the Alberta Innovation Voucher program is not new, it did undergo some changes in 2011. The Government of Alberta conducted a pilot project beginning in 2008 and several companies in Southeast Alberta successfully applied and received Innovation Vouchers. Last year, Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures re-launched the Voucher program.

Innovation Vouchers are available in two denominations. A Voucher for a maximum value of $15,000 can be used for an Opportunity Assessment Report or for specialized services required to assist the entrepreneur related to business development and mentoring for the purpose of supporting the advancement of technology, small scale prototyping or intellectual property services. A larger Voucher, up to $50,000, is available for more substantial technology development activities such as product prototyping, lab verification, field testing, intellectual property protection, etc.

If you think your business concept might be eligible for an Innovation Voucher, you will want to attend an upcoming session with Stacey Ohlmann, Director of Industry Development with Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures. On February 14 at 12:00 noon, Apex Alberta will host this presentation at the next meeting of the Cypress Technology Network in Medicine Hat. There will be plenty of time to ask questions and network with other innovative local business people. If you are an innovative business or entrepreneur and would like to attend, please send an email to for more details and to register.

If you are unable to attend the presentation but would still like to learn more about the Alberta Innovation Voucher Program, please visit the Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures web site at By clicking through to the Capacity Building and Industry Funding pages, you can download the Innovation Voucher program rules and application.

Apex Alberta ( is Southeast Alberta’s Regional Innovation Network – a collaborative partnership between the Economic Development Alliance of Southeast Alberta, Palliser Economic Partnership, Community Futures Entre-Corp, Medicine Hat College and Alberta Treasury Board and Enterprise.

Medicine Hat College Successfully Launches Research Symposium

Nov 30, 2011

By Roger Haessel

Medicine Hat College hosted its first annual research symposium, entitled Innovate@MHC October 26 – 28, 2011. The symposium took place as the college increases its focus on applied research and innovation. Attendees included instructors, researchers, students, partner organizations, and community members. An amazing variety of topics were presented across three broad streams covering research and innovation, funding, grant writing and publishing, and scholarship of teaching and learning. In all, there were over 30 presentations and workshop research posters on display.

Perhaps the most powerful element of the symposium was the networking and interaction among the participants, where research was discussed and new partnerships were formed. “We were thrilled to see the level of interest and engagement among our faculty, students, presenters, and the broader community,” said Jacquie Penner, dean of MHC’s division of business.

Representatives from community and partner organizations added an important element to the symposium. A small group of researchers from Defence Research and Development Canada shared some of the leading edge projects taking place at Suffield. Brian Gale from Community Futures Entre-Corp spoke about the metal manufacturing business cluster that is operating out of Brooks and the potential research opportunities which could apply to that industry. Cal Koskowich from Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program discussed options to develop and finance technology ideas. Dee Ann Benard, executive director of the Alberta Rural Development Network, spoke of the research and networking opportunities unique to rural Alberta.

The research symposium is intended to be an annual event that is part of a much broader strategy to encourage a culture of innovation and capacity for research. The symposium showcases the research that is already being done but also engages various players from the community to help further build relationships and create new opportunities for faculty and staff to engage in research and scholarship.

“We are making great strides towards our goals in applied research and innovation,” said Dr. Linda Schwartz, vice president of academic at MHC. “Next year we will build on this year’s success to make an even bigger impact both within the college and in the broader community.”

Medicine Hat College is a key partner in Apex Alberta, Southeast Alberta’s Regional Innovation Network. This network is a collaborative partnership that also includes Palliser Economic Partnership, Community Futures Entre-Corp, Economic Development Alliance of Southeast Alberta, and Alberta Treasury Board and Enterprise. For more information on the Apex Alberta Regional Innovation Network or to sign up to receive notices about network activities, please visit or email

Lean Manufacturing Equals Increased Profits

Oct 5, 2011

If you could increase PROFITS without any new inputs – would you? Lean manufacturing practices could hold the answer to this question. LEAN MANUFACTURING is one example of LEAN THINKING which is a highly evolved method of managing an organization to improve the productivity, efficiency and quality of its products or services. Japanese and American management specialists developed the ideas and methods over the latter half of the last century. These management techniques have been employed both in the aerospace industry and in the auto sector. LEAN MANUFACTURING is a management philosophy derived mostly from the automotive company Toyota. Toyota is renowned for its focus on reduction of the original Toyota “seven wastes” to improve overall customer value, but there are varying perspectives on how this is best achieved. One of the key steps in Lean and Toyota’s production system is the identification of which steps add value and which do not. By classifying all the process activities into these two categories it is then possible to start actions for improving the former and eliminating the latter. According to Productivity Alberta, the top five Lean principles include: 1. IDENTIFY VALUE. Lean expert James Womak says that value is “meaningful when expressed in terms of a specific product… which meets the customer’s needs at a specific price at a specific time.” 2. MAP THE VALUE STREAM. This is the set of actions performed to bring raw material to a delivered product. At no point should anything happen to the product that doesn’t add value. 3. CREATE FLOW. A product ought to flow continuously through value-added steps. Production is based on delivering a single product to the customer, rather than compartmentalizing by task and batch. 4. ESTABLISH PULL. Production shifts to an on-demand basis. That is, production is governed by customer demand, rather than forecasting. 5. SEEK PERFECTION. Continue to reduce steps, time, information and space needed to complete a product suited to the customer’s needs. On October 12, 2011 from 5:00pm to 8:30pm at the Medicine Hat Lodge, Palliser Economic Partnership will be holding a Productivity Awareness Session where the aspects of Lean Thinking will be covered. The presentation on Lean Thinking will be by Clif Skrypnyk of Productivity Alberta. The awareness session will help you to learn about:  successful strategies from a range of industries where LEAN has been implemented to improve efficiency and profitability,  understand the 5 steps to “LEAN Thinking”,  create a road-map to implement LEAN in your operation To register for the event visit the Palliser Economic Partnership website at For information about the Productivity Awareness Session contact Walter Valentini at 403.526.7552. Registration deadline is October 9, 2011. Palliser Economic Partnership is a regional alliance of communities and agencies in Alberta Southeast that work together to enhance the area's economic well being. This event is supported by APEX Alberta, Southeast Alberta’s primary source for education, employment and research & development in the technology sector. You can contact APEX Alberta at 403.528.2824 or

Local Business Providing Software Support

Jul 27, 2011

Many small businesses are not familiar with how their servers, databases, web tools, etc. work, but they are thankful it does work. Businesses that are not familiar with the inner workings of these tools are happy there are companies out there that can deal with it for them. One of these companies based in Medicine Hat is Val-U-Soft Inc. Val-U-Soft builds software that enables communication between many applications that assist in the functioning of many businesses out there today. Owner of Val-U-Soft, Val Buiac, has been developing and maintaining enterprise systems for more then 15 years and currently maintains systems for a number of Medicine Hat businesses and organizations. Businesses have to deal with it Whether you like it or not at some point a business is going to have to deal with some form of Information Technology (I.T.). Val-U-Soft has been supporting these businesses that have to face situations like data being scattered among a number of databases or files, old systems that are to costly and time consuming to rebuild, problems dealing with multiple products and locations, and limited use of market opportunities due to improper use of modern technologies. Val-U-Soft creates service oriented applications that will help any company directly control all business services both across and beyond enterprise boundaries. Val-U-Soft provides an example that “You may have custom accounting and decision support software, CRM, CSM, excel spreadsheets, access databases, word documents and other data storage tools. We develop products to interface to all of these applications helping you save time and therefore money. We empower you with the ability to access data, and take direct action in real time. “Although I.T. can give many people within a business a headache, it is also necessary in supporting business operations. In order to take full advantage of I.T. however, enterprises have to be able to fit together all pieces of their applications into one consistent unit, and Val-U-Soft with help you do this. Branching out Many organizations and education institutions have been starting to offer online opportunities over the last number of years. Val-U-Soft is now also aiding companies with the development of online training courses with a division of Val-U-Soft called E-Course Builders. This branch helps in creating virtual classroom courses, learning games and simulations, and mobile learning to name a few. The team at E-Course Builders state that there are a number of reasons why an organization should offer online training. A larger number of students would be able to be accommodated, enables you to engage a global audience, cost effective, and it is Green as you are able to reuse materials for multiple courses and semesters. For more information on Val-U-Soft you can visit their website at Apex Alberta is a source of information and resources for the technology sector in southeast Alberta. To find out how Apex Alberta can provide assistance to your technology business please contact Community Futures Entre-Corp at 403-528-2824 or

Alberta Innovation Voucher Program Re-launch

Jul 5, 2011

Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures has re-launched the Alberta Innovation Voucher Program across the province. This time around there will be a few positive changes including an increase in the value for feasibility and opportunity assessment vouchers and more frequent competitions for companies to apply for the program. The program was launched in 2008 as a pilot project to aid small technology and knowledge driven businesses in Alberta to get their ideas and products to market faster. Companies that are eligible can apply for vouchers worth up to $15,000 for services such as feasibility study/ opportunity assessment or services required to assist the business in development for the purpose of supporting the advancement of technology. The opportunity still exists for businesses to qualify for larger vouchers up to $50,000 for more substantial technology development. Examples of these services could include prototype development, product testing, intellectual property protection, and product certification and demonstration. The aim of the program is to enhance the ability of small businesses operating in Alberta to be successful in the global marketplace. When the Innovation Voucher Program was originally launched, the program only accepted applications twice a year. The program now runs quarterly competitions increasing in frequency of awarded vouchers. This will not only increase access to the program and alleviate extended waiting times, but it will also allow the businesses sufficient time to put forth high quality applications. Due to a program review, an additional competition is being offered with a deadline of August 1, 2011. This is followed by a second competition deadline date of October 1, 2011 with subsequent deadlines every three months. The Innovation Voucher Program was first launched in November 2008 as part of Alberta’s Action Plan: Bringing Technology to Market. In the first round, 179 companies from across Alberta were awarded innovation vouchers totalling over $5 million. To date, 363 vouchers have been provided to 330 companies in 43 communities across the province. Of the 204 provincial vouchers awarded last year, seven were from the South East Alberta region. Locally, this program has provided companies much needed access to specialized expertise that may not have otherwise been utilized. The Innovation Voucher Program helps Alberta entrepreneurs and small businesses move more rapidly from concepts and ideas to commercial products or services, thereby gaining a competitive advantage in domestic and export markets. For more information on the Innovation Voucher Program or to apply online please visit Technology on your mind? Visit Apex Alberta at for more useful programs and resources, and to get connected to South Eastern Alberta’s technological community.

Regional Innovation Network formalizes in Southeast Alberta

May 25, 2011

The term Regional Innovation Network or “RIN” is one that will become more commonly heard as a new collaborative support system grows throughout the province of Alberta. Well known is the fact that as companies with innovative technology develop they often require a vast host of services that may not be readily available in their region. By creating an integrated provincial network of Service Providers, individuals will be able to access the specific knowledge and expertise needed to help their business venture reach its full commercial potential. The Alberta RIN System was formed to bring together the Regional Innovation Networks, which are defined as individual, region-specific networks comprised of economic development alliances, educational institutions, commercialization centres and research organizations. RINs help develop and increase the adoption of productivity and innovation in small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). Within this new integrated system, RINs can collaborate and share resources and services to better meet the needs of businesses in their geographical area. Since 2005, Community Futures Entre-Corp, Medicine Hat College, Palliser Economic Partnership, Economic Development Alliance of Southeast Alberta, and Alberta Finance and Enterprise have been collaborating to build an innovation-based economic development network to support, promote and engage the technology industry in Southeast Alberta. The Apex Alberta project emerged to facilitate and support technology-related activities in the region. Apex Alberta is now recognized as one of five existing RINs in the province along with networks in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer and Grande Prairie and developing networks in both Lethbridge and Lloydminster. Apex Alberta is known throughout the region as the focus point for the technology sector within Southeast Alberta – providing unparalleled service and expertise in connecting people, technology and ideas. Apex has a Vision to develop “a globally competitive region for innovation and technology”. Supporting the Vision is Apex Alberta’s Mission to” foster innovation and technology by supporting development of competitive business”, ultimately increasing productivity and innovation of SME’s in Alberta. What will the Apex Alberta RIN do for you? The primary function of the Apex Alberta RIN is to provide companies with access to regional and provincial supports, programs and services. Managed by a RIN Coordinator, clients entering the RIN system will undergo a needs assessment and subsequently be connected with the organization that is best suited for the next phase of product development. While some companies may only be looking for networking opportunities or business coaching, others may need more in-depth services such as intellectual property protection or prototype development. No matter what the need, the Apex Alberta RIN has access to a directory of organizations with the appropriate skill set. Locally, the Apex Alberta RIN has many services to offer clients. These can include information regarding specific training opportunities, access to local networking groups, virtual incubation services and details on government grants and programs. For more information on the Apex Alberta Regional Innovation Network or to sign up to receive notices about network activities, please visit or email

Initiative Looks to Develop Metal Manufacturing Cluster

Apr 27, 2011

Walk into your local coffee shop and you might hear the latest grumblings or platitudes on the oil sands. There is no denying the controversial nature of Alberta’s resource and the uncertainty. The fact of the matter is, regardless of your opinion of them, it’s here, and most importantly, it’s profitable. Is the lucrative oil sands market our hot ticket to financial security? What kind of impact will your local industry see? These questions are highly speculated and the true economic impact on your local industries remains largely unknown. One thing we do know is the industry has changed. Competitiveness is the new mantra. Perhaps, no better example exists than Imperial Oil’s award of a $250,000,000 contract to Sungjin Geotec Co., a South Korean company to supply more than 200 giant pre-assembled modules to the Kearl construction site in Northern Alberta. The statement was loud and clear. If local contractors want to take part in the forecasted oil sands projects, they better be globally competitive. In Southeast Alberta, and in Brooks in particular, local companies have partnered to develop a Metal Manufacturing Business Network. A progressive approach to improving bottom lines and becoming more competitive, the business network addresses common areas of concern and encourages knowledge sharing. Partnering also increases overall capacities, by creating new opportunities for small companies to participate in large contracts. Exploring new and innovative ways of becoming more productive, the local group is taking steps for meeting the challenges of the rapidly changing market. The companies face challenges entering the unconventional oil supply chain. Far removed from conventional oil and gas, unconventional oil is a new world when compared to the industry in Southeast Alberta. Ranging from the processes and certifications to even the raw materials, the unconventional supply chain will test the competitiveness of local manufacturers. Facilitated by Community Futures Entre-Corp and Palliser Economic Partnership and financially supported by the Rural Diversification Initiative and Rural Alberta Diversification Fund, the project introduces partners to innovative ideas to address common concerns in productivity and build linkages between the private sector, government and post-secondary education. Oil sand upgrader production and maintenance is an opportunity for local companies to diversify their markets, evening the peaks and troughs of the local economy. Breaking into the oil sands market will be challenging with the potential to benefit not only the metal manufacturers but other local industries as well Tony Diep is a Rural Diversification Intern for Community Futures Entre-Corp and is located in Brooks. For information on this initiative and other activities in the Southeast Alberta region, please visit

A Greener Solution to Flood Control

Apr 5, 2011

Since June 18, 2010, flooding has been an ongoing hot topic in the Southeast Alberta region. What originally began as discussions surrounding immense damages, impending repairs and government compensation, has now shifted as concerns over repeat flooding are on the rise. This winter’s increased level of snowfall in combination with heavily saturated grounds have many local residents worried that conditions could be optimal for history to repeat itself. Many flood prevention strategies are being considered and one Southern Alberta Company is looking to provide a “greener” alternative to those wishing to mitigate flood risk. Candam Systems Inc., a Canadian Company, has developed an environmentally friendly, easy to assemble, flood control and water diversion system. Traditional methods like sand bags can not only be harmful to the environment, but extremely labor intensive, expensive, and ultimately ineffective as a logical water diversion solution. The Candam is a cost effective, temporary, portable water diversion and flood control system that replaces conventional methods like sand bags and earthen berms. Locally manufactured by Form-tech Machining, the Candam System is comprised of engineered interlocking components that form an impervious, temporary dam. Constructed utilizing a combination of A-frames, galvanized steel panels and waterproof PVC fabric, the dam is lightweight, reusable and may be configured to handle varying depths of water and diverse terrain. The segments can be linked together to form any length of dam, in any configuration required. The Candam is also versatile enough to be used in a wide variety of construction projects like bridge and dock repairs and shore reclamation. Additional applications include use in the Oil & Gas services sector as well as the Mining industry as an environmentally sound method of containment of toxic fluids prior to disposal. Because the Candam System requires no special training or equipment, it is easily assembled and dismantled using only basic tools. One of the main features of the Candam System is that the A-frame structure of the dam is collapsible allowing the dam to be conveniently transported and stored for future use. With a world-wide market for flood control and water diversion systems in excess of $80 billion annually, Lyle Rowland knew there was potential for the system. Rowland, one of Candams’ primary owners, observed that in the flood control industry, products seemed to be segmented with no dominant player or product. Most companies operating in the market are smaller without global impact which of course Rowland viewed as an opportunity. When asked what makes Candam unique, Rowland states, “Other products are variations of inflatable, water filled tubes that are only applicable to certain situations; they have a short life span and are not safe in higher water levels. The Candam provides a more logical and environmentally friendly alternative to outdated and harmful water diversion and emergency flood control methods; when used proactively, it can prevent substantial property and infrastructure losses.” In 2009/2010, Candam participated in a significant water diversion project in Saskatchewan which required an environmentally friendly solution to residents of Fishing Lake. In need of a permanent retaining wall to hold back waters that caused perennial flood problems, residents did not want to utilize sand bags or permanent berms that would have a negative impact on their beaches, fisheries and the environment. The Candam was easily able to fill that need. This past year, Candam has been able to access a $50,000 Innovation Voucher through Alberta Innovates Technology Futures which has allowed them to conduct an engineering study, modify the system, and apply for patents in both Canada and the US. More information on Candam Systems Inc. is available at

Entrepreneurs Benefit from Business Incubation

Apr 1, 2011

As most every entrepreneur will tell you, starting up a small business can be quite a challenge, and the more support a business can receive during their crucial early development phase, the better. With Statistics Canada estimating that over 30% of businesses will not survive beyond five years, entrepreneurs should consider equipping themselves with a support network that will help nurture their company until they have established themselves firmly in the community. The new entrepreneur can look to a Business Incubator for the expertise and hands-on experience that can help them develop a successful long term business venture. Business Incubation defined You may be asking, what exactly is a Business Incubator? Business Incubators are support systems designed to accelerate the successful development of an enterprise by providing a unique environment of guidance through shared office space, mentorship, and an array of business support resources for aspiring entrepreneurs. A Business Incubator assists new businesses in accessing valuable information which could include management consultation, education, access to programs, technical and business services, networking resources and financial advice. Currently there are over 130 Business Incubators in Canada and 67% of those are technology based. Statistics have shown that as many as 87% of businesses that go through a Business Incubator succeed. How a Business Incubator helps The primary goal of an incubator is to increase the success of small business start-ups and to nurture confident graduates that are financially educated and secure in their ability of how to run a productive independent business. Typically Business Incubators come in two forms; the traditional “bricks and mortar” facility and the virtual incubator. Traditional incubators are attractive to new businesses because they offer physical shared office space. By sharing office space businesses are lowering initial overhead costs such as utilities, office equipment, computer services, conference rooms and laboratories. The sharing of common resources is then complimented with appropriate training and business coaching opportunities. Residents in a traditional incubator also benefit from networking with other incubator clients which facilitates the sharing of best practices, aids in problem solving, and ultimately expands the aspiring entrepreneurs support network. On the other hand, virtual incubators provide all of the same mentoring support services of a traditional incubator without being housed in a single physical location. Clients receive assistance via email, video conferencing, internet, telephone, webinars, workshops or face-to-face meetings. It is common to find that clients in a virtual incubator have established their business out of their home but are still in need of the nurturing environment and individualized help in strategizing to build a strong viable company. Apex Alberta is proud to provide direct access to Southeast Alberta’s technology Business Incubators. Physical Incubators include the Business First Technology Incubator- focusing on software development companies, and Red Tec Enterprise Centre- founded to provide lab space, research and expertise for science and technology companies. Virtual incubation services can be accessed through the Economic Development Alliance of Southeast Alberta- offering specialized expertise and links to essential business resources, and Tourism Futures- providing professional assistance, guidance, and training to the tourism industry. If you have a new and innovative idea that you want to bring to life, or would like more information on the regions Business Incubators, contact Chris Deering at Apex Alberta 403-528-2824 or visit

Criterion Showcases Technology in Nano Form

Mar 31, 2011

When one thinks of the broad term technology, many types of technology come to mind; information technology, medical technology, assistive technology and even nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is defined as the science of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale especially to build microscopic devices or products. One would think that this type of innovative technology would happen in big centres like Calgary and Edmonton but interestingly, a local company, Criterion Catalysts and Technologies, is using this advanced technology to compete on the global market. Criterion Catalysts and Technologies is an international company owned by Royal Dutch Shell that supplies catalysts for a wide range of refining applications. The Medicine Hat plant, one of eight Criterion plants worldwide, employs approximately 50 full-time staff and additionally employs numerous contractors, making it amongst one of the top payrolls in Medicine Hat. Nanotechnology at work right here Criterion Catalysts and Technologies is a great example of nanotechnology at work. The company produces catalysts which are used in oil refineries to help clean up the oil by removing nitrogen, sulphur and contaminant metals. At first sight a single catalyst may appear to be the size of one candy donut sprinkle. However if you were to dissect the catalyst and be able to lay out the internal porous surface area end to end you would literally have hundreds of feet of surface area. The efficient use of this internal surface area, from that single catalyst pellet (sprinkle), qualifies it as nanotechnology. Located on 17 acres of land in the Brier Park area of Crescent Heights, Criterion produces over 24 million lbs. of catalyst per year and supplies various forms of the product to every oil refinery in the world. Having located in Medicine Hat almost 30 years ago due to its central location to eight major refineries at the time, Criterion continues to supply catalysts to places as far away as South America and Russia, from here in Medicine Hat. Safety is top priority When operating a plant of this size and scope, safety is indeed a priority. Criterion Vice President and General Manager Rick Redmond has managed the Medicine Hat plant for the past 4 years and is most proud of the safety program they have in place on-site. With an impressive record of 10 years with no lost time incidents, it is easy to see that the safety program is working. Redmond states, “Safety is our #1 concern and we promote a culture of safety within our organization. Initiatives like Lean Manufacturing further enhance our monthly safety recognition programs and help employees to establish that core value of safety.” As evidence of their safety practices, Criterion has been recognized with four consecutive Alberta Workplace Health and Safety Awards. In addition to the Health and Safety aspect of their business, Criterion also devotes much time and effort to the research and development side of the business. With R&D sites located in Houston, Singapore and Amsterdam, Criterion is on the cutting edge of technology. They are the leaders in hydrotreating catalysts and have recently produced a new catalyst which is amongst the most energy efficient catalysts in the world.

Pilot program launches Alberta companies internationally

Sep 14, 2010

News Release September 14, 2010 Pilot program launches Alberta companies internationally Munich, Germany... As a Canadian leader in optical satellite imagery, Alberta-based Iunctus Geomatics Corp. has always set its sights high. Now, the Lethbridge company is hoping to take its business to the next level, with a little help from Alberta Innovates Technology Futures and the German Aerospace Centre. Iunctus, along with Edmonton-based health information company Metabolistics Inc., are piloting a new International Innovation Vouchers Program. The program provides small technology-driven companies with vouchers redeemable for up to $50,000 worth of services at globally-recognized high-tech facilities and access to international business development expertise. Iunctus will use its international voucher at the German Aerospace Center, to explore business opportunities in the European and global space-related industry.  Metabolistics will work with the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics in Geneva, Switzerland to improve its diagnostic test for screening people in developing countries for tuberculosis. Alberta’s Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, Doug Horner, joined Iunctus at the German Aerospace Center near Munich to get a first-hand sense of the pilot project’s potential. “This pilot gives Alberta companies access to the world,” said Horner. “It will also bring the world to Alberta especially in areas we have global expertise, like nanotechnology and geomatics.” The international pilot initiative expands the highly successful Alberta Innovation Voucher Program to include international organizations as service providers. This will broaden the range of services accessible to entrepreneurs to include specialized services at international labs and scientific centres. “This program is part of our strategy to streamline the pipeline that takes new technologies to market, by ensuring that Alberta companies have access to the best expertise, precisely when they need it,” said Gary Albach, President and CEO of Alberta Innovates Technology Futures. “This is how to leapfrog new technologies into new products at the rate that markets demand.” Information gained from this pilot may lead to the award of future international innovation vouchers and has already stimulated reciprocal programs with other countries. A small business from Germany received a similar voucher from the State Government of Bavaria, Germany and is working with the Alberta Ingenuity Centre for Machine Learning located at the University of Alberta. Launched in November 2008, the program, which is the first of its kind in Canada, was developed as part of Alberta’s Action Plan: Bringing Technology to Market. To date, almost 400 vouchers worth approximately $11 million have been awarded to companies across Alberta. For more information about the innovation voucher pilot program and a list of all voucher recipients, visit -30- Backgrounder: Information about voucher recipients and international service providers. Editor’s Note: Interviews with voucher recipients are available upon request. Photos from the announcement are available for download at Media inquiries may be directed to: Marie Cusack, Public Affairs Officer, Advanced Education and Technology 780-427-0038 To call toll free within Alberta dial 310-0000. Sandra Robertson, Communications Alberta Innovates-Technology Futures 780-994-7907

Horner to promote Alberta as a hub for innovating, investing and collaborating

Sep 8, 2010

News Release September 8, 2010 Horner to promote Alberta as a hub for innovating, investing and collaborating Europe mission focuses on energy, environment, biotech and advanced technology sectors Edmonton... Pursuing collaborative research projects, marketing Alberta’s knowledge-based industry and innovation capacity and helping build a skilled workforce is the focus of Deputy Premier and Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, Doug Horner’s mission to Germany, France, Finland and Northern Ireland, September 11 - 21. “In today’s global economy, business does not stop at our provincial borders,” said Horner. “To build innovation and competitiveness in our economy, we need to promote Alberta internationally as a preferred partner in research, innovation and commercialization.” Horner will attend the IFAT Trade Show, one of the world’s leading trade fairs for water, sewage, waste and raw materials management. He will also speak to the German-Canadian Business Club, which includes entrepreneurs, businessmen and media looking to promote economic relationships between the two countries. His remarks will focus on Alberta’s energy policies, in particular in relation to the oil sands, technology strategies and the province’s search for solutions to worldwide challenges, such as meeting energy demand and slowing the effects of climate change. Throughout the mission Horner will be meeting with leading-edge multinational companies and research organizations to discuss investment, partnership and commercialization opportunities in Alberta. He will also pursue discussions on expanding Alberta’s innovation voucher program to enable international cooperation. In addition, Horner will be showcasing Alberta’s new provincially funded research and innovation system - Alberta Innovates and the Campus Alberta system, which links Alberta’s major research institutions and gives researchers the ability to collaborate seamlessly together in large, multi-disciplinary groups. Germany is the world’s fourth largest economy and is one of the key partners in the European Union (EU). Over the years Alberta and Germany have enjoyed a strong relationship, including the establishment of a trade office in Munich in 2002. Northern Ireland is one of four countries of the United Kingdom that serves as a preferred entry point for many Alberta companies seeking market access to the EU, due to the common language and similar legal and business environments. In Finland, Horner will be meeting with several companies and the national research organization to advance collaboration with Alberta in water management technologies, fibre-based products, and bio-energy solutions. Alberta’s universities have cooperative agreements to facilitate research, faculty and student exchanges with German, French, Finnish and United Kingdom universities and colleges. Estimated travel costs for Horner and his executive assistant are $35,000. -30- Backgrounder: General itinerary for Minister Horner’s Europe mission Media inquiries may be directed to: Suzana Krpan, Communications Alberta Advanced Education and Technology 780-427-2237

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