Award competitions are one thing – the excitement, the nervousness of contenders, the ecstasy of the winners, the disappointment of the runners-up, the “grip ‘n’ grins” photos of winners holding up over-sized cheques.

Reviewing the state of the industry – the innovation support system of Alberta – is another.

That’s perhaps the true magic of the annual TEC VenturePrize Dinner and Awards, held May 7, 2014.

The evening has the pizazz and energy of an awards show, and at the same time has evolved into an annual check-up on the health and evolution of Greater Edmonton’s innovation support system – a system in which both government and industry, at all levels, has become increasingly interested

Alberta Premier Dave Hancock didn’t show up just to wave the flag. The veteran cabinet minister has been a keen participant in Alberta’s long-term solutions to maintain and grow the province’s competitive advantages.

Hancock took the opportunity to announce a comprehensive review of Alberta’s innovation systems and processes, to “open more and bigger doors.”

“The great thing is we aren’t starting from scratch. We have decades of experience to build on. TEC VenturePrize is opening those doors. I’d like to thank TEC Edmonton for its services to innovation. This is where the rubber hits the road.”

TEC Edmonton CEO Chris Lumb suggested the innovation support system of Greater Edmonton has come of age in the past few years, “in outcomes, recognition, community development, demand for services and delivery capability.

“We’re seeing outstanding results in new growth and successful new companies. The numbers are creating recognition, creating more commitment by all players – government and industry – to innovation. Our corporate sponsors like TELUS (sponsor of the TELUS ICT Award) and AIMCo are showing a strong commitment to innovation. In its last three budgets, the federal government has produced more programs for entrepreneurship. The University of Alberta’s E-hub (student entrepreneur centre) is a reality. Startup Edmonton contributes to Edmonton’s innovation reputation. TEC Edmonton is helping other Alberta communities put up their own business accelerators.

“Alberta is doing the right things,” said Lumb. “Compared to where it was 20 years ago, the innovation system is almost unrecognizable. And that’s a wonderful thing.”

Keynote speaker Dianne Buckner, host of the popular CBC Dragons’ Den TV show, suggested all nine finalists in the three categories could easily present on Dragons’ Den. “You’re all in the same business of ideas, of thriving entrepreneurship.”

“It’s not about bricks and mortar anymore,” said Premier Hancock. “Our resources are finite. Our ideas are not.”