It’s Back: Registrations Are Open For Next Year’s Iteration Of The Popular Avatar Program

Avatar Innovations Inc. has opened registrations for the next iteration of its ground-breaking Avatar Program, taking participants through a three-stage process — Avatar Ignite, Avatar Accelerator and Avatar Ventures — in a process that encompasses an entrepreneurial curriculum, an energy technology accelerator and access to capital.

“Building upon the tremendous success of the Avatar Program, we’re expanding with new industry partners, and we’re bringing back the same old partners,” Kevin Krausert, chief executive officer and co-founder, told the Bulletin. “We’re also expanding in partnership with the aerospace industry, and using the energy transition as an opportunity to empower the leaders of tomorrow to build the future they want to live in.”

Registrations are now open for Avatar Program 2022 to anyone interested. Registrations will close at 11:59 p.m. MST on Jan. 7, 2022. Who does Krausert think should register? “Any emerging energy leader passionate about the future and wanting to make an impact, and jump in with both feet.”

The program

Beginning on Feb. 11, 2022, the 12-week energy transition and entrepreneurship curriculum (Avatar Ignite) will task participants with generating solutions to complex technology challenges. Working together on semi-autonomous teams under the guidance of industry and academic experts, the participants will have a chance to solve major energy transition challenges around hydrogen, carbon capture, sustainable aviation, et cetera.

“All things staying equal on COVID-19, there will be in-person elements in Calgary and Toronto, whereby people in those cities can join in person, but every single Avatar session will be virtually enabled,” noted Krausert. “And then there will still be some virtual elements. But in compliance with current COVID-19 protocols and safety guidelines, we are planning for an in-person element.”

In terms of speakers at Avatar Program 2022, Krausert highlighted Vanessa Branson, who is a trustee at Virgin Unite, a U.K. entrepreneur, president and founder of Marrakech Biennale, and Sir Richard Branson’s sister.

Also, Krausert noted that Gajen Kandiah, the CEO of Hitachi Vantara Corporation, which is one of the world’s largest technology companies, will be speaking during the Avatar sessions. Further, he said, among the speakers will be Nandita Parshad, head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

“Emission reductions is not just an energy industry challenge,” Krausert added. “It’s also an aerospace, technology and finance challenge. Avatar is pleased to bring together new sectors capable of solving this urgent issue while also empowering the leaders of tomorrow to build the future they will lead.”

For the conclusion of the curriculum, as with previous Avatar Program iterations, participants will pitch their ideas to a ‘shark tank’ of industry executives for potential implementation.

Following Avatar Ignite, the best projects will be selected for admission to the Avatar Accelerator. The project team members admitted will work through a rigorous technology entrepreneurship and rapid prototyping curriculum. With support from Innovate Calgary and industry, the teams will attempt to build a minimum viable product and have the chance to pitch for investment from North America’s leading industry and financial energy transition investors.

At the completion of the Avatar Accelerator, technologies and projects that have succeeded through this selection process will receive commercialization and scale support through Avatar Ventures. With expert mentorship, business strategy and technology development systems, Avatar Ventures will ensure the best technologies generated benefit industry and meaningfully lower emissions.

The University of Calgary, through its technology-transfer office, Innovate Calgary, will provide the Avatar Program 2022 with globally leading research and subject matter expertise.

“Innovate Calgary is excited to partner with Avatar Innovations in supporting a bold vision for energy transition in Calgary and Alberta — a vision founded on integrating expertise and people in industry and academia to accelerate development and deployment of functional technologies,” said Innovate Calgary CEO John Wilson.

The Avatar Ecosystem

Suncor Energy Inc., Cenovus Energy Inc., Enbridge Inc., Whitecap Resources Inc., Spartan Delta Corp., Spartan Controls Ltd., Emerson and Fluor Canada Ltd. have each committed to enrolling employees into the program to work together on energy transition challenges.

Grant Fagerheim, CEO of Whitecap, said the company is looking forward to its partnership with Avatar as the company advances energy transformation. “We feel strongly that bringing together industry and academic experts across multiple sectors to collaborate with leaders of tomorrow will be successful in finding innovation solutions to evolving challenges that include the environment, the economy and all forms of required energy.”

For its part, Cenovus is focused on addressing climate change, and the company knows significant collaboration will be essential to accelerating the path to net-zero emissions, according to Rhona DelFrari, senior vice-president, stakeholder engagement. “The Avatar Program will help pair our experts with those dealing with emerging technology and startups, which will further strengthen the clean tech sector in Canada.”

Krausert noted that Cenovus and Whitecap are new partners to the “Avatar ecosystem,” and the program’s 2022 iteration will be “bigger, better and bolder” than even this year’s iteration, which he sees as hugely successful.

“First of all, I’d say, the Avatar Program 2021 exceeded my wildest expectations. Meaningful technologies in decarbonization were developed, incorporated and built, and are now attracting significant investor interest for the benefit of the industry.

“We proved that energy leaders can build the future of tomorrow, and that working in oil and gas is an exciting and viable and sustainable career path, where you get to work with some of the most exciting technologies.”

Enter Aviation

Avatar is formally incorporating the aerospace industry by announcing a partnership with AEI HorizonX, which is a venture capital firm established between The Boeing Company and AE Industrial Partners (AEI). AEI HorizonX and Avatar Innovations will collaborate through the Avatar Program by supporting advancement of emission-conscious technologies and sustainable best practices for the aerospace and energy sectors.

From a technology-transfer perspective, Krausert told the DOB, it will be interesting to see what aerospace and the energy sector can offer each other through the program.

“We need to be collaborating across sectors by working on decarbonization technologies, and this demonstrates that Canada’s oil and gas sector is a global leader in all things decarbonization and energy transition, and the skills and resources that we have at our sector could be applied to the world and to other sectors, and some of the most exciting technologies, such as aerospace.”

Brian Schettler, partner and head of AEI HorizonX, said that his firm will bring venture mentorship to support the “brightest entrepreneurial minds” participating in Avatar. “AEI HorizonX believes the future of aviation and industrial manufacturing relies on the advancement and adoption of clean, reliable and affordable energy solutions.”

National Bank, Modern West Advisory partners

To bolster both the financial strength of these emerging technologies, Avatar is partnering with National Bank Financial, which will enroll employees in Avatar 2022 and advise on capital markets for emerging energy transition technologies. To ensure leading carbon market expertise and ESG adoption, Avatar is partnering with Modern West Advisory Inc. to support emerging technologies on rapidly evolving global carbon markets and ESG standards.

Hard work is required to develop pragmatic solutions and market mechanisms for solutions to flourish, and for that reason Modern West Advisory is excited about joining Avatar and its partners, as well as the “bright, ambitious minds of our next generation of business leaders to get this done,” said president and CEO Jackson Hegland. “The energy transformation presents an abundance of opportunities for new technologies and innovative businesses to emerge.”

Arun Chandrasekaran, co-head, Energy Infrastructure Sustainability Impact Group, National Bank Financial, said he is delighted to partner with Avatar Innovations on this program, as supporting sustainable development is an integral part of his organization’s mission. The bank aims to pursue various initiatives to drive the energy transition.

“Our staff is looking forward to participating in the program by advising emerging energy leaders on capital markets and bringing our expertise to the table.”

Word from other supporters

As energy systems evolve towards a low-carbon future, more intertwined and interconnected approaches, where innovation and multi-faceted approaches collide, become necessary, said Steven Saddleback, director of the National Energy Business Centre of Excellence at the Indian Resource Council.

“The knowledge and talent are there. We need to collaborate and then enact. Avatar Innovations does just that by challenging, inspiring and creating leaders that will help to ensure a future our children deserve.”

For its part, Spartan Delta also is excited to partner with Avatar Innovations and collaborate with colleagues and industry peers to create sustainable energy solutions, said president and CEO Fotis Kalantzis. “Avatar offers a unique opportunity to bring together Spartan employees, thought leaders and cutting-edge research to develop innovative, value-added solutions that showcase Canada as the most environmentally responsible energy producer in the world.”

Enbridge is providing 30 workers and Indigenous participants a chance to collaborate with like-minded innovators from across industry and academia to apply their knowledge and visions to generate new technology solutions to solve energy transition challenges through the Avatar platform, noted Byron Neiles, executive VP, corporate services.

Meanwhile, Jim Parsons, VP, business development, Spartan Controls, suggested that the transformation and decarbonization of the energy mix is “an incredibly complex puzzle” requiring innovation, expertise and extreme collaboration — outcomes Avatar has already produced, and that his company is proud to support. “We have an incredible opportunity in front of us to create a more robust and sustainable energy future.”

Martha Hall Findlay, chief sustainability officer at Suncor, said through collaborative, multi-sector efforts such as the Avatar Program, collective progress can be made on global climate goals, creating economic prosperity for Canada. “Suncor is proud to continue our partnership with Avatar and bring energy transition innovation to a new level.”

Calgary must re-establish a global position as a centre of excellence in the transition economy, noted Mayor Jyoti Gondek. “When you consider the ability of Avatar Innovations to unite the energy, aerospace and finance sectors for collaborative approaches in commercializing energy transition, it’s cause to celebrate the talent we have in this city.”

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