New CA$50M University of Alberta fund to invest in startups

 New CA$50M University of Alberta fund to invest in startups

Image courtesy: University of Alberta

The University of Alberta has announced a new venture capital fund, called The University of Alberta Innovation Fund. The Innovation fund will invest in start-up businesses that are tackling difficult global problems. Additionally, it will collaborate with startups to mobilize the research expertise, innovation, and creativity of the university. It eventually hopes to contribute to Alberta’s economic diversification by giving innovators and entrepreneurs additional funding and support.

The University of Alberta fund is targeting to reach CA$50 million size through donor contributions over time. Importantly, it will invest in promising startups from the University of Alberta and beyond, at as early at conceptualization stage. And it aims to help those startups by enabling access to financial support, mentorship and expertise.

University President Bill Flanagan envisions the fund as pivotal in catapulting the University as a global leader in research commercialization. He asserted that this initiative will further support economic expansion, generate jobs across Alberta, and enrich the university’s innovation culture. The Innovation fund will focus on investments primarily into innovative ventures in critical sectors like AI, healthcare, energy, and agriculture. Flanagan said that these areas represented the research strengths at the University, and the fund will leverage the same.

Also read: Alberta Enterprise Corporation invests CA$10M in Graphite Ventures now

University of Alberta fund structured to operate independently

The fund will operate as an independent entity with a separate board, and recommend investment opportunities to the University. The return on investments will funnel back into the university’s corpus for reinvestment in future innovations. Sheetal Mehta Walsh has been onboarded as the CEO of the Innovation fund. Apart from seasoned financial & senior executives, the fund team will also includes a diverse group of undergraduate students from the university.

“This helps establish a culture of mentorship and an entrepreneurial mindset across disciplines, ensuring that students gain the skills and connections needed to become our next generation of entrepreneurs.”

Sheetal Mehta Walsh, the CEO of the fund

Walsh mentioned that portfolio companies will gain access to influential networks, secure initial and follow-on investments, and explore opportunities to go global. Moreover, they will benefit from additional backing through in-person and online educational workshops on core business topics like entrepreneurship and financial literacy. Coupled with that, the fund’s digital innovation platform will offer a collaborative space for interaction, information access, and resource sharing, further fuelling a cooperative and informed entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Also read: Alberta-based Orennia gets US$25M for energy transition analytics platform

First investment from the fund already made into an AI startup

RL Core Technologies, an emerging tech startup rooted in Edmonton, has attracted the initial investment from the newly established University of Alberta fund. The startup embraces a data-centric Artificial Intelligence (AI) methodology known as reinforcement learning (RL) to elevate the effectiveness and operation of industrial control mechanisms. This ML strategy perpetually evolves in real time, outperforming traditionally engineered control parameters.

At the helm is Martha White, the CEO and co-founder, who also serves as an associate professor within the Faculty of Science and holds the prestigious title of Canada CIFAR AI Chair at the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute. Spearheaded by White alongside her collaborator, Adam White, an assistant professor in the same faculty, the endeavour is currently employing RL to curtail energy consumption in water purification processes. The plan is to broaden the AI’s scope to other arenas like intelligent temperature control systems in the foreseeable future.

Adam White shared their ambition to integrate this technology into various industrial control frameworks, enhancing their sustainability and operational autonomy. This shift, he said, could significantly alleviate the workload on operators, enabling them to concentrate on more crucial maintenance aspects. Particularly in remote communities, this could enhance the reliability of systems like water treatment facilities, requiring less frequent on-site supervision.

The duo expressed their enthusiasm for being the inaugural recipients of the Innovation Fund. Their academic journey at the University of Alberta has been instrumental, and this venture, in synergy with the university, felt like a natural progression to them. They anticipate that this partnership will yield substantial mutual benefits.

Also read: Calgary-based GeologicAI’s robot geologists get US$20M to scale its fleet


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