Rainforest Alberta is a community of nearly 1,000 people who have agreed to embrace and promote the values and principles that are foundational to build a culture of innovation in Alberta.
It was so exciting for us to contribute to building the foundation of Rainforest Alberta and we are excited to watch it continue to grow!
How the Movement Began
The Rainforest Alberta movement began when a few key innovators, Brad Zumwalt, Jim Gibson, Cynthia van Sundert, Evan Hu and David Edmonds, wanted to make Alberta a better place to start and grow tech companies. This movement was inspired by a book titled The Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley, written by Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt.
At a first glance, you might think this book suggests that we create replicas of the Valley all over the world. Instead, it encourages cities to create a custom approach to building a culture of innovation based on six attributes:
- Frameworks, infrastructure and policy
- Role models
- Activities and engagement
Rainforest Alberta creates measurable improvements to Alberta’s culture, increases collisions across industries, and supports the growth of companies within the digital economy.
The Rainforest continues to grow through five major platforms.
The Rainforest Summit
In September 2016, Rainforest Alberta made its debut hosting the first Rainforest Alberta Summit in Banff. Rainforest Strategies, LLP consultants, Henry Doss and Joe Sterling, came to Banff to help our community measure the current state of our culture of innovation, and create the first draft of the Social Contract. The Social Contract outlines 10 values and principles that are key to building a culture of innovation.
Henry and Joe facilitated a full-day session with 60 of Alberta’s top leaders in innovation and technology to provide us with an ecosystem score to benchmark progress. Our first score? 464/1000 (an obvious fail) which is when the goal to reach the 800s by 2020 was set. Since then, Rainforest Alberta has hosted three Summits in Banff and one in Edmonton, bringing sixty new community members together each time to reevaluate our ecosystem score and brainstorm improvements.
Here is a summary of the progressive ecosystem scores. ranked out of 1,000:
- September 2016 | 464
- March 2017 | 562
- September 2017 | 610
Rainforest Lunch Without Lunch
A weekly Lunch Without Lunch (referred to as LWOL) began at Assembly Coworking Space in Calgary after the first Summit. What started as a small gathering currently continues to host 65+ people every week, at least 25% of which are new to the community.
LWOL started as a way to begin building community and speed up connections across industries within Calgary. Jim Gibson, one of the founders of Rainforest Alberta and the primary facilitator of LWOL, used to start each session by having each person who was new to the community introduce themselves by answering three questions:
- Who are you?
- What do you need from the community?
- What are you able to give back?
These questions were asked in order to fill the gaps and connect those who needs something with those who are able to provide it, all while encouraging collaboration over autonomy.
We have now hosted over 60 Lunch Without Lunch events across the community including Rainforest on Campus events at the University of Calgary, and other locations including TELUS Spark, The Inc at Innovate Calgary and the Civic Innovation Lab.
Rainforest Alberta Slack Channel
When the community grew legs within such a short amount of time, a Slack community was created to continue facilitating connections. Joining the Slack community requires two things - attending a Lunch Without Lunch and signing the Social Contract.
The Slack community now has almost 800 members and houses discussion around 30 channels with the most popular being ecosystem news, events, entrepreneurs, and introductions. Topics such as blockchain, funding and social enterprise also continue to grow.
Communitech in Waterloo, a poster child for acceleration and technology, says that a culture of innovation needs a pact, a posse and a place. The Social Contract is our pact, and the LWOL and Slack community creates our posse. The only thing missing was place. With the help of Mark Blackwell, Brad Zumwalt, one of the original founders of Rainforest Alberta, spearheaded the search for a place. Nucleus Calgary, sponsored by Cenovus Energy for the next two years, now exists as a community hub at the Oddfellows Building.
Nucleus Calgary is intended to be a place where founders, funders, government, researchers, mentors and supporters can be co-located to create a central hub to help entrepreneurs build and grow companies.
Other amazing initiatives have sprung up from a dedicated group of volunteers including PivotTECH, a full day conference set out to help Calgary’s unemployed and underemployed workforce transition into a tech-focused career and contribute to the digital economy.