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Alberta is committing another $18.7 million over three years to regional business development networks across the province.

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Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer said Tuesday the eight networks, including in Edmonton and Calgary help connect entrepreneurs with programs and services to accelerate new and growing businesses.

“This is designed to help all facets of the Alberta economy, so everything from agriculture technology development, financial technology services, blockchain, artificial intelligence – you name the piece,” said Schweitzer, who estimated the organizations support 16,000 entrepreneurs each year. The program received the same funding over the past three years, but has grown since 2008 when it began with three networks.

Of the three-year funding, the Edmonton Regional Innovation Network will receive $4.9 million and the Calgary Innovation Coalition will get $6.9 million.

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“This is critical long term,” said Schweitzer. The bulk of the Edmonton network’s funding, or $4.1 million, will go to local organization Innovate Edmonton. In a news release, the Innovate Edmonton said the grant will help ensure local businesses can access its programs and services for free.

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Carrie Nystrom, co-founder of Wash-Bots, a solar panel cleaning equipment business said the Edmonton Regional Innovation Network helped the company connect with supports, including helping manage its intellectual property and moving from the prototype to patent-pending stage. It also connected the company with engineers, who helped promote technological development.

Nystrom said funding Wash-Bots received from Innovate Edmonton “was a game-changer.”

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Laura Kilcrease, chief executive officer of provincial funding agency Alberta Innovates, said the province’s networks are unique.

“There’s no place an entrepreneur could not go and get the help they need,” she said.

The Central Alberta Regional Innovation Network will see $1.6 million, the APEX: Southeast Alberta Regional Innovation Network just under $1.8 million, the Regional Innovation Network of Southern Alberta about $1.2 million, the East Central Alberta Regional Innovation Network and Grande Prairie Regional Innovation Network almost $780,000 each, and the Wood Buffalo Regional Innovation Network over $700,000.

In a Tuesday news release, the government said each community has a governance committee that decides how the program funding will be doled out and includes members from post-secondary institutions, Community Futures, local economic development offices, tourism, and entrepreneurs.

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