(TEC Edmonton, as the city's prime innovation business incubator and accelerator, has a variety of programs to help inventors and entrepreneurs spread their wings and fly. It all starts with TEC Source. This is the first in a series of stories in TEC Talk about TEC Edmonton itself, what we do, who we serve. )
They walk off the elevator, unannounced, on the fourth floor of Edmonton's Enterprise Square, to TEC Edmonton's reception desk.
They had a friend who had a friend who recommended TEC Edmonton.
They were referred by another researcher or professor at the University of Alberta, or Athabasca University.
They found TEC Edmonton on the Internet.
They might have nothing more than an idea for a technology-based or innovative business. They may have an actual business but have challenges.
They may have a brilliant invention, but don’t know how to commercialize it.
They have come to the right place.
TEC Edmonton is a non-profit organization, a joint venture between the City of Edmonton and the University of Alberta that exists to transform great ideas into new businesses, to help entrepreneurs create knowledge-based companies that will thrive in Greater Edmonton.
Hugh Wyatt, the head of TEC Edmonton's TEC Source program, tries to help them all.
Hugh is the first contact, the gatekeeper, the traffic cop for TEC Edmonton.
"It's part of my job to be that first contact," says Hugh. "I usually ask everybody to go on the TEC Edmonton website and fill out our Connect with TEC questionnaire."
The completed questionnaire gives Hugh crucial background information so he knows what help to suggest.
"My favourite question is 'what stage are you at?'" says Hugh. "Even that can be a challenge. Often an inventor is unaware of what he or she doesn't know."
Almost everybody can be helped, one way or another.
"If it's a lack of business knowledge, we offer programs for that,” says Hugh.
“If they have real intellectual property (IP) but no idea how to protect it, we can connect them to our Technology Transfer Team.
“If we can't help, perhaps one of our partners in the Regional Alliance can help, like the Business Link or the Northern Alberta Business Incubator."
The business may be developed enough to be considered as a possible portfolio client of TEC's Business Development Team, working with an Executive-in-Residence.
TEC Edmonton can assist in finding government assistance programs, or, through its Alberta Deal Generator program, introduce companies to private investors.
The TEC Source Program has its own next stage; a volunteer advisory panel of business professionals comprised of; a banker, accountant, lawyer and marketing consultant, that meets with companies seeking business advice. It’s free of charge, private and confidential.
Hugh gives an example.
"John McLay is an engineer who works with large plant turnarounds and maintenance shutdowns, where minimizing down-time is crucial. John is very experienced in the industry; he has been a contractor and a consultant, written manuals and led seminars on shutdowns. John saw the need for a generic shutdown and turnaround management system that would work for multiple industries and produced one.
"At our first meeting, I could see the market potential,” says Hugh. “He had already produced his check list system for use on a tablet. But he needed help with his business model and some technical advice."
At a TEC Source Advisory Panel, McLay presented his proposal to the volunteer advisers. "They helped him see the bigger picture, what his business model could be, how to pull it together, and how to create an exit strategy when he decides to retire," says Hugh.
As follow-up, Wyatt introduced McLay to TEC Edmonton's Business Development Team to see if there was a "portfolio client" fit for more in-depth advice. Indeed, both parties agreed there was.
With TEC Edmonton's help, McLay’s company, JMC Consulting, successfully obtained an Innovation Voucher from Alberta Innovates, enabling him to enter into a contract providing financial support with the Business Development Team.
"JMC Consulting has moved on from TEC Source and continues to work with our Business Development Team”, says Hugh. “TEC Edmonton assessed his needs, was able to offer him practical advice and found him help. His company fulfils our mandate: To advance local, technology-based businesses, to add value to those businesses."
Says McLay: “My problem, as with most dreamers, is we have great ideas but what we need is a great business development team. TEC Edmonton is continuously showing me how they are a great business team, led by Executive-in-Residence Jim Armstrong, and not only by their support and contacts but also their savvy in understanding the need to provide us dreamers with that mental and emotional reassurance that allows us dreamers to continue.”
So if you approach TEC Edmonton to run your business idea up an expert flagpole, Hugh can help.
Just one request, says Hugh. "Please fill out the Connect with TEC form as a first step."