Innovation Saskatchewan is responsible for implementing the province’s innovation priorities and helping grow Saskatchewan’s tech sector. Effective April 2022, this includes operation of the Innovation Place technology parks in Saskatoon and Regina.

Interview with the Innovation Saskatchewan Team

Innovation Saskatchewan Is Taking SK Tech To The Next Level

Innovation Saskatchewan, everyone’s favourite neighbourhood technology and research agency, has been busy. Really busy. When the team is not hosting innovative webinars like the recent Supporting International Opportunities for the SK Tech Sector, they’re funding countless opportunities for the Saskatchewan tech sector like their $300,000 commitment over three years to the newly launched Agtech Accelerator by Cultivator in Regina not to mention countless funding opportunities.

We caught up with the team to learn more about the initiatives and programming you need to know about, why Saskatchewan is so primed for success and how we can foster next level innovation in Saskatchewan together. Enjoy!

Innovation Saskatchewan has always been a champion for the Saskatchewan tech sector. Now, with the excitement of Saskatchewan’s Growth Plan, Innovation Saskatchewan and the province are ready to shine! Why is the Saskatchewan tech sector so primed for innovation and growth?

Our province has amazing natural economic strengths, which is something we talk about often. Call it “the Saskatchewan advantage”!

Here we have strong wages, lower cost of living and impactful government programs that encourage investment. But let’s not forget the best strength of all — an amazing entrepreneurial spirit in tech that’s accomplishing so much!

All of this shows the world that Saskatchewan is a great place to develop technology. Our young, highly diverse, highly educated and motivated tech ecosystem is working hard to develop game-changing products and innovative ideas that shine on a global stage.

Definitely! Speaking of which, a lot of Innovation Saskatchewan’s initiatives and programming are aimed at exactly those things: fostering innovation and developing game-changing products.

Absolutely. We have a lot of supports and programs to help drive growth in our sector! Here at Innovation Saskatchewan, our mission is to act as a “catalyst” to help grow the tech sector…or, put another way, we foster innovation.

What are some key programs Innovation Saskatchewan offers that you think tech sector companies should know about?

One of our longest-running programs, the Saskatchewan Advantage Innovation Fund (SAIF), accelerates commercialization of game-changing tech innovation in our core sectors (think mining, energy, manufacturing and even education and health care).

To date, SAIF has funded 46 projects — generating nearly $3 of additional private or public investment for every $1 invested — and has helped companies like Prairie Robotics commercialize their products.

Our Saskatchewan Technology Startup Incentive (STSI) is one of the most aggressive angel investment programs in Canada. The STSI cap was recently raised from $1 million to $2 million, and renewed for 5 more years in large part because of its success. Rivercity Innovations is a great example of a company that has participated in this program and is doing very well. They recently closed a major deal with a French space agency-owned satellite division and are on a clear path to scale across Canada and the U.S.

Wow. That’s incredible and also feels like those two programs are just scratching the surface of what companies can access.

We could definitely chat about our programs all day! But, I think it’s important to highlight some other great initiatives that have really helped accelerate tech company growth: our Innovation Challenge, Made in Saskatchewan Technology Program (MIST) and all the work in the Ag Tech space that is really shining a spotlight on Saskatchewan tech!

Humo, a company that produces wearable devices and a mobile platform to improve safety, was this year’s $10,000 Winner of the Innovation Challenge. They’re doing great work with the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association, helping to prevent injuries and keep workers safe.

Innovation Saskatchewan invested, in conjunction with the Ministry of Agriculture, $3.2 million for the Global Institute of Food Security (GIFS) for the ground-breaking work and facilities it is providing to Saskatchewan. And we are investing $300,000 in the Agtech Accelerator by Cultivator, powered by Conexus.

There’s a ton going on and of course, all these programs can be found on our website, but we also have a great team that loves to speak to startups!

All of those programs and successes really underscore the key initiative in the Saskatchewan Growth Plan to triple the growth of Saskatchewan’s technology sector and the record-breaking VC investment we’ve already seen in 2021.

The record-breaking VC investment of $171 million for the first half of 2021 is a number we’re really promoting recently. Keep in mind, this is only for the first 6 months of the year! We’re already shattering any previous “entire year” records!

What does this influx of investment mean for the SK tech community?

It means a lot! The dollars themselves really paint a picture as to the ecosystem we’re building here. Companies like Vendasta and 7shifts might be leading that way, but they’re an inspiration for all other startups that are successfully growing their own enterprises. We see that inspiration all the time from companies working with Co.Labs, Saskatchewan’s Tech Incubator.

We really feel strongly that the future is bright here in Saskatchewan tech. We have an amazing community of collaboration and a strong will to succeed. We — and I’m sure most tech stakeholders agree — believe that the sky’s the limit here in Saskatchewan.

And the Saskatchewan sky is pretty big! What impact does this financial investment have on organizations like Innovation Saskatchewan that have been supporting Saskatchewan tech for a long time?

It’s important to note that our support programs really have clear goals — they generate economic opportunities, create jobs and increase prosperity and investment for everyone in the province. We sometimes call ourselves an “economic development agency” because our programs work very well!

For example, our STSI program is a very aggressive angel investment program and has significantly increased the size of the province’s investment community. Sixty percent of eligible investors report that they have never made an angel investment prior to applying to the program!

Currently the program has approximately 230 investors and nearly 70 companies approved to raise capital. Since inception, over $40 million of private investment has been attracted.

While the STSI program is easier to quantify results, we have some other really innovative programs like our MIST program. MIST connects the provincial government to Saskatchewan technology-based companies whose products may improve government service delivery.

Companies that are successful in the program are awarded a contract of up to $10,000 to have their technology piloted by the government. Beyond the $10,000, companies tell us that the more valuable component to this program is having the tremendous opportunity to work with a large customer — in this case, a government entity.

What excites the team at Innovation Saskatchewan about the future? Any initiatives or projects you’re working on that we should know about?!

We see definite momentum growing in this industry, which is so exciting!

Recently, the government announced a doubling of its international trade and investment offices — with new ones located in London, Dubai, Mexico City, and Ho Chi Minh City. With eight international offices total, we should see additional opportunities for tech companies.

The other big opportunity that we see growing exponentially is in agricultural technology. Our Agtech Growth Fund, combined with our $15 million multi-year venture capital investment with Emmertech, shows just how important this sector is to the future of our province. We think Saskatchewan can be a premier destination for Ag Tech entrepreneurs.

We hear you on that! Ag Tech is one of our five sectors that we focus on at the park, which, we've gotta know, why is Innovation Place the right place for Innovation Saskatchewan to be?

Innovation Place is a great location for us. We like being in the middle of the positive vibe and energy, but especially like to be easily accessible to our clients — not just for meetings, but to also have a good understanding of their work and workplace culture.

We’ve covered a lot, but is there anything else you would like to add?

While we’re talking about tech and the great things happening in that sector, I’d like to make a quick nod to the incredible things happening on the research side in our province.

Here at Innovation Saskatchewan, we also help coordinate public sector research and development in science and technology. Our funded institutes, like the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO), Canadian Light Source (CLS) and the Fedoruk Centre are making huge strides in their efforts to help solve global challenges. These institutes are demonstrating tremendous leadership and shining on an international stage.

We can safely say that it’s looking like it will be a busy decade ahead of us as we work hard to meet the Government Growth Plan commitment to triple the tech sector by 2030. There’s nothing we love to see more than big ideas succeed coming from right here in our province!

- November 9, 2021