Connect with us


3 big ideas animating day one of the mesh conference

The pioneering conference returns for the first of two 2023 events, this time in its new home city of Calgary, AB.



Share this:

Day one of the mesh conference in Calgary focused on digital transformation and innovation, looking at what’s coming next, and how we get there. 

Unlike many tech events where the focus can get way into the digital weeds or frame everything around the tech of the day (ChatGPT, anyone?) the real prize at mesh was the potential impact of digital transformation on people. 

For the mesh brand, the Calgary conference marks its return after a lengthy hiatus. The proudly PowerPoint-free conference originally launched in Toronto in 2005 and ran for 10 years. 

It featured speakers, conversations, and debates at the nexus of four areas: business, marketing, media, and society. This was the first event in nearly a decade and brings a renewed focus on digital transformation in the private and public sectors, and society as a whole. 

Tamara Woolgar, April Hicke, Sean Crump

Day one in Calgary featured panels with tech leaders in both startups and enterprises, fireside chats with technology and innovation industry leaders, an innovation showcase, and spirited discussions amongst attendees and speakers.

Here are three key ideas that ran through day one of mesh Calgary:

1. Tackling big problems and pursuing big opportunities: ‘meshies’ show their ambition

Ambition was a key theme throughout day one. While there were nods to the virtues of incremental innovation, attendees were animated mostly by big problems, big challenges, and big opportunities.

In the kickoff panel on the state of innovation in Canada, Alison Sunstrum, the CEO of CNSRV-X Inc. (Conserve X), which researches and applies emerging technology in agriculture, laid out the need for bold action. She noted that global problems like food insecurity and climate change are problems that only innovation can solve and that failure to do so would be disastrous.

Chris Hogg, Colleen Pound, Leta LaRush, Alison Sunstrum

She also put a challenge to Canada to grow its innovative capacity:

“We have to become more tech-savvy and more tech-enabled to become a truly innovative country. Canada has had decades of innovation agendas, but we’re not getting ahead. We are at the bottom of our peer group [in the OECD]. We must become an innovation nation”

Others were just as focused on the possibilities as the problems. 

In her fireside conversation, Kirstine Stewart, Twitter’s former VP Media for North America, looked back on the early years of the social network. Back then, the platform’s role in galvanizing the Arab Spring suggested the possibilities of democratizing communication and access to information. And with the Twitter brand now staggering under new leadership, Stewart looked ahead to what might supplant the big social networks.

Mathew Ingram, Kirstine Stewart

Eventually, possibly, maybe. 

“It’s really hard to displace the current social media big four,” she said. “Twitter users came up with the idea of retweets and quote tweets. That creates a sense of ownership with users that isn’t possible with some of these other new platforms. But I do think there’s an opportunity for a whole new type of social platform.”

Steward also said there’s an inherent interest in data being shared and there’s a place for a new social platform to be conceived of in a way that hasn’t been done before. 

Post and Mastodon – they’re trying to recreate what people have on Twitter. It needs to be new.” 

2. Breaking down the silos between sectors and organizations

In a panel titled ‘Catalysts for Change,’ which was ostensibly focused on digital transformation in the non-profit and public sectors, much of the talk was about the private sector.

“We have a fundamental societal problem where we say we make money over here and we do good over here and never the twain shall meet,” said Charles Buchanan, Founder and CEO of Technology Helps, which provides technology services to nonprofits and social good organizations.

Chris Wolfenberg, Charles Buchanan

Buchanan did not hold back.

“We pretend that we give a fuck about the vulnerable — and yet making money should be done in one silo, while non-profits should be run by volunteers.” 

Picking up on that framing of the challenges in the sector, panelist Alison Pidskalny of Pixelated Ventures suggested that nonprofits needed to “go beyond the grant” and take a page out of the private sector book to grow their revenue streams. 

Alison Pidskalny

“There comes a point for most non-profits when they need to figure out other income streams, besides funding,” said Pidskalny. “That’s where digital transformation comes in. You can use digital technology to monetize what you already do well and create innovative new revenue streams.”

This theme of breaking down silos between sectors and organizations recurred throughout the day, with many echoing its potential catalytic role in transformation. 

“We cannot afford siloed thinking,” said Leta LaRush, Director of Business Development and Innovation at BASF Canada, noting her company is looking for more opportunities to partner with startups from a variety of tech backgrounds.

In fact, speakers, panelists, and hallway conversations all seemed to come back around to the need for all societal stakeholders to partner more effectively, share information more efficiently, and innovate more quickly. 

“The energy at mesh is different than any other conference,” said attendee Sarah Coleman of Computer Modelling Group (CMG). “Many people get caught up in silos, and the conversations and connections at mesh facilitated brilliant and relevant discussion across industries.”

Coleman works in the energy industry and her company recently held a roundtable discussion with leaders from diverse backgrounds. She said her big takeaway from that initiative was how important sharing ideas is to driving  successful outcomes for all, and she came to mesh to connect, share and be inspired by other industry leaders.

“We all need to look beyond our inner circle to the periphery, and beyond. It’s there that the meshing of ideas can lead to the greatest impact.”

3. Unlocking transformative innovation starts with inclusivity – and there’s still much work to do

“To elevate our global economy, we need to enable all cultures and people to participate, and private companies need to be part of making this happen,” said panelist Amy Peck, Founder & CEO of AR/VR strategy & consulting firm EndeavorXR.

Paige Dansinger, Amy Peck, Juliana Loh

This statement, so agreeable and obvious on its face, takes on a sharper edge when you consider how many founders at mesh alone started their businesses because talented people are locked out or underrepresented in the innovation ecosystem by systemic barriers.

Three notable examples:

  • April Hicke, Co-Founder and CGO at Toast, abandoned her career climbing the corporate ladder to start Toast, a collective designed to support women in technology. She’s now focused on ‘scaling deep’ and changing the hearts and minds of people so they consistently hire more diversely.
  • Sean Crump, who became disabled at age 19, is on a mission to improve the social and economic inclusion of people living with disabilities with his company Included By Design. It specializes in consulting and certifying spaces as accessible locations.
  • Mark Fairbanks runs Islands of Brilliance, an organization using art, creativity, and creative technologies to spark self-confidence, encourage independence, and build pathways to employment for autistic individuals. 

Fairbanks was featured in a fireside conversation, the final session of mesh Calgary day one. When his son Harry was identified as autistic at age 3, his neurologist said Harry probably wouldn’t go to college. Harry went through the Islands of Brilliance program, graduated with an honours graphic design degree, and now works in his field.

Jake Surrey, Mark Fairbanks (on screen)

And while it’s obviously not solely on Harry to address climate change, food insecurity, bad actors in the social media space, hiring biases, data silos, non-profit funding, or any of our other big challenges, because of his father’s work, he’s one more person working somewhere inside our overall societal innovation ecosystem.

In case you missed the event, the next mesh takes place in Toronto in November (dates to be announced), and it’s back in its new permanent home in Calgary in June, 2024.

Share this:


The Northern Lights Technology & Innovation Forum navigates AI, economic concerns and upskilling in Alberta

Panelists dive into how innovation and collaboration may help navigate the changing industry landscapes



Share this:

While rapid advancements in AI are reshaping industries worldwide, they’ve sparked discussions about innovation and community resilience through ongoing economic challenges. At this year’s Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum, panelists explored how technology could drive positive adaptation.

​​Moderated by the Calgary Economic Development’s Geraldine Anderson, the panel featured:

  • Mark Little, co-founder and CEO Jotson Inc, and board member of General Fusion
  • Anna Baird, culture and innovation evangelist at Google
  • Dan Semmens, SVP and head of data and IT at ATB Financial
  • Arthur Kent, Canadian journalist and author
  • Joy Romero, executive advisor innovation at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL)

Approximately 250 attendees gathered for the forum at the Calgary Petroleum Club on Feb. 8. Filled with industry leaders and burgeoning entrepreneurs, the forum focused on collaboration and knowledge sharing in the tech sector.

Over the past five years, Calgary has seen a 22 per cent increase in tech talent and total tech jobs, emerging as one of North America’s top markets for young tech professionals.

“The talent pool here is amazing,” said ​​John Givens, vice president of sales at C3 AI and one of the event’s organizers. “So how do we leverage our talent here? How do we share that knowledge?”

In response, this year’s forum included the inaugural “Mentors and Makers” initiative, where a dozen industry experts pinned green buttons to their lapels, signaling to anyone in the crowd that they’re open to a conversation.

Shawn Mahoney, another event organizer and co-founder of Spare Parts & Gasoline, said in his opening remarks that the initiative speaks to “creating the new innovators that we need to solve tomorrow’s problems.”

And with that, the panel took the stage to dig into the big questions: What are the challenges and opportunities for Alberta as a growing tech market? How will AI continue to change industries across the board? And if it does, will that be a bad thing?

The Alberta advantage

The panel conversation was kicked off by the first question asked by moderator Geraldine Anderson: “What is the Alberta mindset, or the ‘Alberta advantage?’” 

Mark Little. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

Mark Little, co-founder and CEO Jotson Inc, said Alberta has a lot going for it — including having the highest GDP in Canada, a younger population, and high education levels — but those aren’t the advantages that stand out to him.

“There’s a resilience and an entrepreneurial spirit here,” he said. “As a result of that, we’re seeing innovation … I think 10 to 15 years from now we’re going to lead this country in innovation and it’ll be every sector you could imagine.”

Hailing from Vancouver and the only panelist not based in Calgary, Google’s Anna Baird said she considers herself an honorary Albertan based on the “sheer grittiness and roll up your sleeves and work together” attitude she’s witnessed. 

“The grittiness takes us into innovation,” said Baird. “We’re willing to try new things, we’re willing to fail — hopefully fast and cheaply, as is Google’s ethos. But we’re also willing to borrow with pride and give kudos to the people we’re borrowing the pride from so we can have building blocks.” 

The panelists’ discussion kept coming back to the importance of adaptability, innovation, and collaboration. While the province faces significant hurdles, including global market fluctuations and environmental concerns, they spoke with optimism about the potential to emerge stronger by investing in the future.

Dan Semmens, SVP and head of data and IT at ATB Financial, calls it an “opportunity” for both the province and country to focus on investing in the next generation.

“I think the opportunity there is continuing to invest in our most precious resource, which is our young people,” he said. 

When it comes to AI, “it’s on all of us” to level up our own skills

Joy Romero. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

AI is already impacting most industries globally, and it shows no signs of slowing down. But it’s not new either.

Joy Romero, executive advisor of innovation at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), said she was using AI neural networks 20 years ago to take ecological data and process it through oil sands facilities. 

“Why?” she asked. “Because that would allow us to improve our processing and our productivity … So for me, digital is our world. That’s productivity.”

The day of the panel, Google announced that Gemini Ultra 1.0, the largest version of their large language model, is being released to the public. 

Baird was asked about the implications of the new AI model, and while she acknowledged there will be challenges, she maintained that “the train has left the station.”

“It’s on all of us here in the room to level up our own skills,” she says. “With an announcement like Gemini, like you have to get in there, you have to play, you have to try.”

Anna Baird. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

Transitioning to the realm of media and journalism, Canadian journalist Arthur Kent highlighted the increasing role of AI in newsrooms. From assisting journalists in gathering and analyzing data to content creation, journalists are experimenting with AI for efficiency and detecting false information.

“We can become even better if we harness artificial intelligence to do that,” said Kent. “So we constantly have to be developing and pushing ourselves forward, to keep pace with this.”

However, he emphasized the critical role of journalists in maintaining integrity and discerning between fact and fiction in an era of AI-generated content. 

“Journalism is always going to be a human process, because journalism is based on their location, and verification, verifying leads, tips, and figuring out rumour from fact,” said Kent. “So far, none of the machines that I’ve seen associated with artificial intelligence, have those human characteristics. However, there is also that human aspect called temptation.”

Arthur Kent. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

In the financial services industry, Semmens said the impact of generative AI “poses an existential risk” to the relationship banks have with their clients. 

Despite this, he says incorporating AI technology into banking is “an incredible opportunity” to personalize experiences for customers more effectively and efficiently, and he expects to see a lot of changes in open banking in the next three to five years. 

“With all the disinformation that is out there, a trusted source is going to be a high commodity,” he said. “And so I think in banking, being a heavily regulated industry, there is an opportunity for us to really show up from that standpoint.”

Dan Semmens. Photo by DX Journal / Digital Journal

An innovation forum’s charitable roots

The Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum’s story begins over a decade ago. The organizers, including Givens, first banded together for the Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Hockey Pro-Am Tournament in support of Alzheimer’s research and education. 

As the cause drew more attention they opted to expand the tournament into the forum as a way to expand their reach. All of the event proceeds go to Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Centre for the Alzheimer’s Research and Education Society — and this year they broke their record, raising a minimum of $40,000 thanks in part to a funding match made by Google. 

“It’s amazing,” Givens said at the end of the night. “I always knew the potential of our community. And I explained to people that the community is the draw … It’s about education. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about just finding ways for other people to get involved in doing the same thing. There’s enough energy there. Now we just have to harness it.”

DX Journal is an official media partner of the Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum.

Share this:
Continue Reading


The Northern Lights Technology & Innovation Forum comes to Calgary next month

Panellists from Google, ATB, Jotson and Canadian media will join the the second annual Northern Lights Technology & Innovation Forum in Calgary on Feb. 8



Share this:

In a world increasingly dominated by global competition and technological advancement, the Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum focuses on the power of knowledge-sharing and collaboration in the tech community. 

Coming to Calgary Feb. 8, the forum places a spotlight on critical issues impacting the community. Last year’s focus was on enabling net-zero carbon emissions and this year the focus shifts to economic challenges and what solutions can be found through innovation.

As the past year has seen heavy inflation, layoffs, volatile energy prices and geopolitical instability, this year’s panel discussion is designed to  provide a “360-degree view” of how these challenges impact Alberta’s economy and community.  

Moderated by the Calgary Economic Development’s Geraldine Anderson, the panel includes:

  • Mark Little, co-founder and CEO Jotson Inc, and board member of General Fusion
  • Anna Baird, culture and innovation evangelist at Google
  • Dan Semmens, SVP and head of data and IT at ATB Financial
  • Arthur Kent, Canadian journalist and author
  • Joy Romero, executive advisor innovation at Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL)

Panellists will explore how governments, large companies, and startups can work together to navigate changes to come, and which technologies have the potential to positively disrupt the status quo. 

“Mark brings a massive amount of background, and he’s led thousands of folks in our community, and to see what he’s doing now in the global economy is going to be really exciting,” says John Givens, vice president of sales at C3 AI and one of the event’s organizers. “And to have somebody who comes from a leadership position at Google in Canada — we’re crazy excited about that.”

Givens adds that he expects artificial intelligence to be a focus, with panellists like Semmens likely to focus on what’s happening in financial markets, and how technology will continue to impact that sector.

And with a packed career including working as a foreign correspondent at NBC, Kent has been “involved in more things than I can keep track of,” says Givens. Kent is expected to discuss cybercrime and the political and military impacts of technology.

Transforming from a hockey tournament to an innovation forum

Givens and his fellow organizers launched the first forum last year as a way to expand their decade-long history with the Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Hockey Pro-Am Tournament in support of Alzheimer’s research and education.

Taking it back to the hockey tournament where it all began, 100% of the proceeds of this event go to Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Centre for the Alzheimer’s Research and Education Society. 

More than $300,000 has been raised by the team since its inception, and they commit an annual $25,000 to Alzheimer’s Society from the event. However, Givens emphasizes the importance of education and awareness in their campaign.

“It’s about education, not just the money,” he says. “It’s about creating awareness.”

John Givens and the C3 AI team for the Gordie Howe C.A.R.E.S. Hockey Pro-Am Tournament. Photo courtesy of John Givens

Outside of the charitable support, the event is meant to support the growing business community and tech sector in the province. Technological advancements are impacting all sectors, and Givens says it’s important to “mindshare” across disciplines and open avenues for new innovations to emerge.

“It’s called the Northern Lights for a reason — it represents Alberta,” says Givens in an interview with DX Journal. Givens notes that the convergence of technology, innovation, resilience, and charitable giving is central to the theme and purpose of this year’s event.

“What I’m really proud of when I think about the Calgary ecosystem is we have an enormous amount of talent in this community,” says Givens. “We’re competing on a global market now, so our customers are hiring globally, and they’re competing on wages globally. We need to bring our talent together and lift them all up and share the best of the best and let everybody know what the best looks like.”

More than 250 people are expected to gather at the Petroleum Club for the forum’s lively discussion and networking opportunities. The event is sponsored by Spare Parts & Gasoline (Presenting Sponsor), and the mesh conference (Platinum Sponsor), with DX Journal being this year’s media partner.

DX Journal is an official media partner of the Northern Lights Technology and Innovation Forum. To learn more and get tickets to the event, happening February 8, visit the event page

Share this:
Continue Reading


COP28 points to AI for climate change solutions in developing countries

Examining AI initiatives brought up at the COP28 climate conference



Share this:

Need company data insights? AI can help. 

Better efficiency in healthcare? AI is there, too. 

It’s no surprise really, as AI paves its way into almost every industry. But the recent COP28 climate conference invited entire governments to consider AI as a solution to climate challenges in developing countries. 

Currently, governments already use AI to prepare for hurricanes, reduce water usage, and predict general climate patterns. It’s also been estimated that AI could help mitigate as as much as one-tenth of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

During COP28, which ran from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12, Omar Sultan Al Olama, the United Arab Emirates Minister of State for AI, digital economy, and remote work applications, urged the entire world to integrate AI into climate policies.

“Harnessing artificial intelligence as a strategic asset to mitigate climate change involves integrating it into national policies and plans,” he said. “These measures and policies should not be viewed in isolation, but rather as a unified global initiative, acknowledging that climate change transcends geographical boundaries and requires concerted global efforts.”

Some examples of AI-inspired climate change initiatives include: 

  • Designs for low-emission technologies (advanced batteries)
  • Reduce emissions in food production and manufacturing
  • Balance electricity during extreme climate events like tropical storms
  • Identify renewable energy projects
  • Identify tropical disease with machine learning
  • Design hurricane-resistant buildings

Here are some highlights from other countries pledging to introduce AI into their climate policies: 


“We are partnering with international tech companies to test their ideas in Barbados whilst contributing to the island’s development. Some ideas include using machine learning and AI to check for the presence of tropical diseases, design hurricane resistant buildings and plan infrastructure investment. Collaboration, training and technology transfer are key to ensuring that AI contributes effectively to climate mitigation and adaptation for small island developing states.”


“It is important to adapt the technology to take account of the digital divide, especially among those most vulnerable to climate change. Integration of chatbot voice with local languages in these emerging technology tools is one solution that would ensure the existing digital divide is taken into account.”

  • Moussa Bocar Thiam, Minister of Communications, Telecommunications and the Digital Economy, Senegal


“We must manage the risks and seize the promise of artificial intelligence. The United States is committed to doing so, as President Biden’s recent Executive Order on AI demonstrates. By working together, we can responsibly harness the power of this emerging technology to develop AI tools that help mitigate climate change risks, make our communities more sustainable and resilient, and build an equitable clean energy future for all.”

  • Ali Zaidi, Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor, United States of America

Learn more about COP28 here

Share this:
Continue Reading