City Focus: Edmonton
The capital city of Alberta Province, Edmonton has a population of 1.39mn, making it the fifth-largest municipality in Canada. It is the third-sunniest city in the country, along with Calgary and Winnipeg, with an average of 325 days of sun each year, according to Where Canada. Between 1981 and 2010, Edmonton reported an average snowfall of 48 inches over 52 days per year. This month, Business Chief takes a look at some of the Edmonton-based startups that are changing the way Canadians do chores, grow food and relax in the outdoors.
Formed in 1915 and disbanded in 1940, the Edmonton Grads women’s basketball team recorded a win-loss ratio of 502-20, the highest of any team in North America. Today, Edmonton remains a hub for sports, playing host to events like the ITU World Triathlon Series, and the 2018 FISE World Series, the world’s largest action sports festival. The area surrounding the city contains 93 miles of trails for mountain biking and hiking, and the 18,000 acre North Saskatchewan River Valley is the largest continuous urban green space in North America, according to Where Canada. Sport is at the heart of Canadian culture, with the national sports apparel market valued at US$1.7bn in 2018 by Statista.
Based in the West of Edmonton, technology startup Schaefer Innovation is working to revolutionize personal transportation and extreme sports, from the morning commute to snowboarding down Marmot Basin. At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, held in Las Vegas during January, Schaefer Innovation unveiled its latest products, two smart Multisport Helmets. The helmets (Schaefer sells either a water-resistant or waterproof model for around $280) redefine safety for cyclists, skiers and snowboarders, using rear-mounted indicator lights controlled by a remote which attaches to the handlebars. The helmets also provide hands-free phone calling and music playback, as well as local group chat with other users. If a user crashes in the helmet, built in impact sensors are also programmed to alert emergency services after a short delay. At the Edmonton Motorcycle and ATV show, company director Chris Schaefer told the Edmonton Journal that the helmets are “technology that people haven’t really seen.” Schaefer Innovation was nominated for the best new design and best innovation awards at CES 2019.
As of April, 2018, Edmonton is home to 302 food processing companies, with combined total earnings of over $350mn annually. The Alberta government has invested heavily in agriculture and adjacent industries in the past five years and Edmonton’s status as one of the sunniest cities in Canada means “the province of Alberta is rich in agricultural resources.
With about 32% of Canada’s arable land, there are more than 50mn acres of agricultural land in the province,” asserts Edmonton.com.
With headquarters next door to the Edmonton Public Library, food tech startup CanBiocin is working to change the way the city preserves its processed food. “CanBiocin is the result of the work and ideas of people from the University of Alberta,” Jake Burlet, the company’s CEO told Business in Edmonton. “The founders, Dr. Michael Stiles and Dr. Lynn McMullen, discovered bacteria that prevents the growth of bacteria that can make people sick. It became evident that it could be used commercially as a natural food preservative.”
The two founders maintain their relationship with the University of Edmonton, which provides facilities and aid to the startup, which has discovered several other types of bacteria for use in the preservation of the many crops and processed foods produced in the Edmonton area. “There are lots of reasons to be in Edmonton, including the quality of life offered here,” added Burlet. “The university continues to be important because it gives us access to world-class scientists trained at the institution, and they want to stay because of the lifestyle the city can offer them.”
With the city’s long summers and snowy winters, Edmonton residents face the constant chore of outdoor home maintenance. In the same way Uber and Lyft democratized ride hailing, South East Edmonton-based startup Yardly is bringing online on-demand lawn care and snow removal to local residents. According to the company, “gone are the days of on-site quoting, haggling on price, leaving cash under the doormat and inconsistent service quality. Instead, with an instant free quote, simple online ordering, and reliable services backed by a satisfaction guarantee, Yardly is reinventing the outdated snow removal and lawn care industry.”
“We’re basically modelling us as the Uber for snow removal,” said Sheldon Zhang, co-founder of Yardly. “Traditionally, the service works as a five-month or one-season contract thing, where you don’t have much flexibility or control over what you’re getting,” said Zhang. “We only want customers to use it and pay for it when they need it.”
Currently, Yardly is engaged in contracts to supply snow clearance and yard maintenance to Edmonton, Beaumont, Fort Saskatchewan, Leduc, Sherwood Park, Spruce Grove, St. Albert, Stony Plain and other municipalities in the Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary areas.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.