Yedlin: Calgary ready to be disrupted

Within the next two weeks, three events will challenge Calgary to think differently — Onward, the ARC Energy Investment Forum and the first Energy Disruptors.

Each will reinforce the notion the status quo for this city’s economic future is not an option.

The breadth of agendas for each event is testament to the wide array of tools that can be used to not only diversify the economy, but to also increase competitiveness.

Delegates at this week’s Onward event, produced by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, will hear from individuals drawn from the local, national and international arenas who offer different perspectives in areas ranging from sustainability and robotics to media and the emerging Blockchain technology.

The aim of Onward is to diffuse the discomfort some people feel when they hear about the potential impact that Blockchain, artificial intelligence and data science can have on their businesses — for the better.

“This is about quelling the fear, making it not as daunting and presenting the information in a manner that speaks to the delegates,” says Sandip Lalli, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. “You have the opportunity to learn as much from the person speaking at the front of the room as you do from (the person) sitting beside you.”

That the one-day event is sold out — with 1,000 people attending — speaks to the strong interest and commitment to making the pivot for Calgary’s economy.

Onward will be followed by the second annual ARC Energy Institute Investment Forum, which follows on last year’s all-day session strongly focused on the twin tracks of de-carbonization and changes in the automotive sector balanced against the importance of a strong energy sector.

This year’s theme is how companies “play to win,” as the sector is in the midst of being disrupted. If companies haven’t figured out how to deal with the disruption, they are on their way to becoming the equivalent of the Flames or the Oilers — just not competitive enough.

The speaker lineup spans a wide range of topics and individuals, including data analytics, optimal office design, words of wisdom from Sean Burke (the general manager of the Canadian Men’s Olympic hockey team) and representatives from the North American energy sector.

This year, there is a heavy innovation component linked to the event, aimed at taking things to an action-oriented level. The end of every session, says Peter Tertzakian, executive director of the ARC Energy Institute, will have a “to do” list associated with it.

Driving the point home — and making things even more interesting — is an energy showcase that will include 16 companies demonstrating their innovative processes aimed at making the energy sector more efficient and competitive.

“We’re mingling upstart companies with the established base of the energy sector,” said Tertzakian.

Both of these two events complement what follows on May 15 and 16 — the first Energy Disruptors: Unite conference, in partnership with ATB Financial.

EDU2018 is the brainchild of Graeme Edge, whose enthusiasm and energy is beyond quantifiable.

Edge said the idea for the event occurred to him two years ago, en route from a conference hosted by the Virgin Group in London, England, where he interacted with entrepreneurs who were “thinking big and embracing change.”

“It became clear to me that the changes happening in the global energy sector represent an incredible economic opportunity — and that Canada’s energy sector is an integral part of the solution,” said Edge, who arrived in Calgary a decade ago at the age of 25.

The conference is a side interest for Edge, who founded the boutique search firm McLaren Dion Edge with his wife Michelle. He saw the challenges faced by the energy sector in Aberdeen brought on by the drop in oil prices and exacerbated by the rising costs of operating in an aging basin.

“Aberdeen had to reinvent itself and re-tool its business,” he said.

If there is one word to describe Edge and how he has gone about putting together the lineup for the two-day event, it is this: audacious.

Not only is Richard Branson speaking — yes, THAT Richard Branson — so too are Bloomberg’s New Energy Finance founder Michael Liebreich, Lucas de Grassi of Formula E fame, Suncor’s Steve Williams, and experts from fast growing cryptocurrency project ICO Rating – ICO Pulse. A number of Calgary companies making a mark on the innovation game will also be featured, as will Susan Cain, the widely acclaimed author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Much like Onward and the ARC Forum, Edge wants conference attendees to walk away with a greater level of understanding about what it takes to be successful in an industry being disrupted by technology, economics and changing behaviour.

But it’s not only about technology.

“At the heart of what makes this work is corporate culture, talent and people,” said Edge. “A lot of the conversation will be on those three areas, and how you adapt to change.”

It’s also about inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs in Alberta to create new companies and new jobs.

“That’s the future . . . and we want them to grow into companies that are part of global markets,” said Edge.

It’s all about having an idea — big or small — and doing something with it.

The next two weeks will produce many ideas, creative collisions and discussions sparked by the three events all aimed at pulling attendees out of their comfort zones and thinking differently about what is possible.

It’s exactly what Calgary needs.

Deborah Yedlin is a Calgary Herald columnist

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