Avatar Story Continues: Popular Program For Young Professionals Prepares For Next Iteration

Avatar Innovations Inc. has received 470 applications in total from young oil and gas professionals interested in attending the upcoming iteration of the Avatar Program, which begins on Jan. 15, with 250 ultimately admitted for this next round.

By comparison, last year’s iteration included 54 participants, selected from 100 applications.

“And so, we’re certainly growing in the right direction,” Kevin Krausert, chief executive officer and co-founder of Avatar Innovations, told the Bulletin. Due to COVID-19, he said, organizers again will deliver the program virtually, which may have its challenges, but also its advantages. “We have participants from [Newfoundland and Labrador] and participants from Québec. We’re definitely broadening the scope to where we are a truly across-Canada initiative.”

The next iteration of this popular program will showcase a multitude of high-level speakers, including Marcius Extavour, executive director of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, Sen. Murray Sinclair, chair of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Brian Janous, the general manager of energy and sustainability at Microsoft Corporation.

George Whitesides, chief space officer of Virgin Galactic, along with various oil and gas luminaries, also will speak during the 12-week program. According to Krausert, refining the “academic arc” is another key aspect for the next Avatar Program.

“In collaboration with University of Calgary faculty, [including] the faculties of arts, sciences, business and engineering, we have designed a really important learning arc focusing on leadership development, entrepreneurship and building a business case, and design thinking and rapid prototyping in the engineering space.”

He added: “We’re really excited that we’ve beefed up the academic portfolio and restructured it to ensure the projects generated in this Avatar are investable and transformational.”

For participants in this next Avatar iteration, they will be tasked with solving and building business cases for 10 pressing energy challenges involving hydrogen, carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and secondary carbon markets, methane emissions reductions, renewable natural gas and sustainable fuels, digitization, long-duration storage, geothermal, bitumen beyond combustion, nature-based climate solutions, as well as energy advocacy and policy.

As with the last iteration of the program, teams will present their real-world, new energy future ‘Action Learning Projects’ and developed business proposals to a panel of industry experts. New to the next iteration will be several such ‘shark tank’ sessions — one for each challenge and a final one where the top teams compete, noted Krausert.

“There will be a real opportunity for investment and implementation in these. What we have really focused on with this Avatar is ensuring we have corporate partners, strategic partners and financial partners in place so the best ideas are implemented and invested in.”

The evolution of Avatar

In November, Krausert resigned as president and CEO of Beaver Drilling Ltd. to pursue his current role at Avatar Innovations, working alongside Toronto capital markets professional Bryan Trudel on a new venture capital fund that advances the energy transition through such innovations as highlighted in last year’s iteration of the Avatar Program, and launching the first innovation accelerator supporting the development of cleantech and clean energy solutions.

Krausert said: “We’re having fantastic conversations across both the energy and financial services sectors, realizing the solutions that exist for decarbonization, the biggest opportunities lay in oil and gas. Whether it is hydrogen, long-duration storage, or CCSU, these solutions are inside oil and gas.”

In terms of teams from the most recent Avatar Program, he told the DOB that several of them have met with executive leadership teams across the midstream sector. “The winning team has not just met with executive leadership, but also met with the Government of Canada for implementation.”

The future of Avatar

Since its beginnings, Avatar has grown beyond even Krausert’s “wildest expectations,” which he said speaks to the power of creating a safe space for oil and gas innovation to foster.

“If you empower people in the industry to solve [problems], then they will deliver.”

While the Avatar Program model may be new to oil and gas, it has worked quite well for the health care industry, he added, and there are lots of parallels between energy and health care. For example, both are highly capital intensive, and both promote high-level safety cultures.

As for the delivery of future Avatar iterations, Krausert foresees two programs per year — one starting in January and one starting in September. He also sees real strength in the virtual delivery model, as it enables young professional participants from all corners of the country to participate. As such, post-pandemic, he anticipates the program will see both a virtual component as well as in-person gatherings to promote networking in a variety of hubs across Canada.

Krausert also anticipates more diversity in terms of energy firms supporting the program, as well as an advancing of academic micro-credentialing with the university. Further, he noted, parties from both Houston and Singapore are inquiring about international expansion of Avatar, and so “that would also be on the radar” for how it grows.

The age of Avatar

There will be opportunities for individuals at other stages of their career, whether those be students or older workers, to participate in Avatar as the program “evolves and matures,” said Krausert.

However, he added, research suggests the “sort of 26- to- 35-[year-old] range” demographic is ideal for achieving engineering feats (i.e. the Manhattan Project or the Apollo Program), which is why this is largely the age group that Avatar Program organizers target in their efforts to strive towards decarbonization of the energy sector.

“As Alberta looks at a very uncertain economic future, the most consistent thing that people say is that one of our biggest strengths is our highly-educated group of young people. Avatar puts them to work on the biggest opportunities our province has, building the kind of future that we all want.”