Project Greenlight
Credit: Vancouver Economic Commission 

TransLink is one VEC client looking for innovation

The new Project Greenlight has several open calls up for grabs

When John McPherson joined the Vancouver Economic Commission in the summer of 2008, the external agency of the City of Vancouver had six or seven people dedicated to supporting local business. Back then, McPherson was tasked with overseeing several departments and initiatives, including looking after the film, digital media, cleantech and green economy sectors.

Today, McPherson, whose official title is sector development manager, cleantech, is the longest-tenured employee and works with a team of more than 20.

“It began to become more focused when Gregor Robertson came in as mayor,” notes McPherson of the commission. “When I first started, we were more removed from the city.” But in recent years, McPherson has developed a close relationship with the municipality and was involved in trade missions to China to attend sustainability conferences and attempt to connect investors and strategic partners with companies back home.

That’s essentially the impetus for the newly launched Project Greenlight, a digital platform designed to support innovative businesses both big and small.

“We decided that in having some conversations with some of the larger organizations, that we would create a membership-based demonstration network and then a digital platform to on-board these new ideas to challenges that the major organizations are facing,” McPherson explains.

Not to be confused with the HBO documentary on first-time filmmakers, this Project Greenlight strives to assist five organizations (the cities of Vancouver and New Westminster, FortisBC, TransLink, and real estate investment firm QuadReal Property Group) by matching them up with the local and global innovation community.

For example, QuadReal is seeking leak detection and prevention solutions that reduce the need for water-damage restoration, while FortisBC wants to identify technologies that improve utility maintenance and operations work, including drones, augmented reality and virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.

On the surface, it’s a win-win situation, but McPherson is hoping for a third victory that also contributes to the commission’s greater goals. “At a higher level, we’re trying to make a difference to the climate and the environment by helping these big asset owners that manage critical infrastructure,” he says. “They hold the keys to help our transition to a cleaner, smarter economy.”

He also sees a future where a “network effect” is created. “Over time, the ideas created here can be shared between members,” McPherson  says. “And we hope to add new members over time and scale up initiatives, add organizations like the Port of Vancouver and YVR, and use the digital platform to host their challenges and put out calls to the community.”