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  • Writer's pictureLenora Thomas

35 Years of Innovation: 1999 ASTech Winners

Updated: 1 day ago

This post is in partnership with Technology Alberta and the ASTech Awards, celebrating the impact of 35 years of innovation in Alberta, tying our past to our present.

In 1999, the Blackberry and Blackberry Operating System were officially released, the first USB drive came out, as did the first VMWare program. New companies based around technology that would change how business was done were also launched including Salesforce, Napster, and SolarWinds. In Edmonton, Investopedia was started by Cory Wagner and Cory Janssen, which is following years would be bought by Forbes in 2007. In Calgary, Bitonic Solutions Inc., launched by Douglas Robertson and Marcos Lopez, was launched, which was acquired by Solium Capital in 2002, which would go on to become Calgary’s first Unicorn.

Beyond this, the provincial government built out the 1999-2000 Innovation and Science Business Plan. In the plan, the Alberta government emphasized the well-being and prosperity of its communities, the preservation of the natural environment, and its people. To implement this vision, a concentrated effort was placed in ensuring investment in various sectors to ensure quality infrastructure in science, research, and innovation, with the aim of growing knowledge workers in the province.

The ASTech Awards in 1999 reflect some of these achievements in agriculture, technology, and biomedical sciences. Here are some of the 1999 winners:

A standout example is Oncolytics Biotech Inc., founded in Calgary, Alberta. With a mission to develop and deliver cutting-edge cancer detection and treatment solutions, Oncolytics Biotech Inc. achieved significant recognition as the 1999 ASTech Award Winner for Industry Research. The company pioneered a groundbreaking cancer treatment using reovirus, which selectively destroys malignant cells while sparing healthy ones. Their published research demonstrated that a single reovirus injection led to complete tumor regression in mice.

Today, Oncolytics Biotech has extended its impact beyond Alberta, forging national and international partnerships with academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies. In 2023, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network awarded Oncolytics Biotech the $5 Million Therapeutic Accelerator Award to develop innovative treatments further solidifying their position as a leader in cancer therapy.

EyeWire, honored with the Outstanding Commercial Achievement in Alberta Science and Technology Award, originally a pioneer in digital typefaces, became a leader in providing the global market with visual and audio content market for graphic designers. The company amassed an impressive collection of 50,000 images and illustrations, 1,000 typefaces, and 1,500 video and audio clips. Founded in 1998 by serial entrepreneur Brad Zumwalt, EyeWire quickly gained traction and was acquired by Getty Images in 2002 for $34.2 million in stock. Following this success, Brad Zumwalt became a prominent investor and advocate for Calgary’s innovation ecosystem, co-founding Rainforest Alberta and supporting numerous local initiatives.

Dr. Gary Stringam, a professor at the University of Alberta, was awarded the Innovation in Agricultural Sciences prize for his transformative contributions to canola, now Western Canada's second-largest cash crop. Renowned as a leading plant breeder, Dr. Stringam developed innovative biotechnology techniques to create new canola strains. His pioneering Double Haploid System reduced the breeding time of canola plants by 25 to 50%. Among his notable achievements are several disease-resistant and high-yield canola strains, including the flagship variety QUANTUM, which is resistant to Blackleg disease.

Dr. Stringam's work extended beyond Alberta and Canada, with his canola strains being adopted in Europe, Africa, and South America. His visionary approach, which integrated the efforts of universities, industry, and farmers, significantly enhanced Alberta's and Canada's economies. In 1999, canola was valued at $5 billion per year to the Canadian economy; today, it contributes over $29.9 billion and supports more than 207,000 jobs.

Overall in 1998, there were 12 ASTech Award Winners, which you can dig into deeper on the ASTech Website.

Our thanks to Dr. Lisa Carter, Neil Gould and Horazio Carletti for their time in helping craft this blog!

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