SPARK Calgary

SPARK Calgary logo


SPARK Calgary
SPARK Calgary is a translational research program supporting digital health innovators within the University of Calgary and other local academic institutions. Translational research aims to bridge science and clinical practice and ensure that important ideas and discoveries from the university make it into practice to benefit patients.

Our program’s focus is digital health innovation and we are based within W21C Research & Innovation Centre under W21C’s digital health strategy. The program is currently being conducted remotely, over Zoom.

SPARK is unique because:

  • SPARK is a model developed at Stanford in 2006 that has shown itself to be effective, with a 62% success rate for projects in the Stanford program
  • Focus on the patient
  • Group mentorship – allowing for multiple opinions
  • Global network – SPARK Global is a network of over 60 institutions across 6 continents

Program Information

We support our teams by providing:

Group mentorship from industry experts through project presentations
Educational seminars on topics to support product and business development
Project management support
In-kind research services through W21C Research and Innovation Centre

Time commitment: approx. 5-8 hours/month, and includes a combination of the following:

  • Project update presentations
  • Seminars
  • Monthly project management meetings with SPARK Calgary team

Upon acceptance to SPARK Calgary, you will receive a research services consultation from W21C to determine your research needs and use of the in-kind support offered.

Project presentations and seminars typically take place on Wednesday evenings from 6:00pm-8:00pm. Project management meetings will be scheduled during normal business hours. The entire program is currently virtual, being delivered over Zoom.

All attendees to the project presentations must sign a confidential disclosure agreement (CDA).

Eligibility Criteria

Eligible projects must be based at a post-secondary academic institution or polytechnic institute in or around Calgary. Projects must be developing innovations that form a novel approach to an unmet medical need using digital health solutions. Team members can include faculty, researchers, or students. Innovations should be in the early stages of ideation or development.

If you are unsure whether your project would be eligible, please contact us.

Expected Outcomes

The goal of SPARK is to advance academic digital health innovations to increase their chance of impact for patients in clinical and community settings. Program outcomes include:

  • Becoming a startup
  • Licensing your product to an existing company
  • Reaching clinical trial
  • Gaining entry into a competitive accelerator or incubator to continue developing your solution
  • Receiving federal funding or external investment

SPARK Global

Dr. Scott Kraft

SPARK Calgary Director, Dr. Scott Kraft, MD

Nicola Quiggin

SPARK Calgary Coordinator, Nicola Quiggin

Application Process

The deadline for applications for the 2021 cohort has now passed.

If you pass the shortlisting stage, you will be invited to an interview, at which you will present on your project for a maximum of 10 minutes, followed by 20 minutes of questions from a selection panel.

Please download this reference document to assist you in your application process. Note that you cannot save your progress while completing the online application form.


Selection Criteria

The primary factor in selecting projects is that they are developing a novel digital health solution to address an unmet medical need. The selection panel will also take feasibility, talent readiness, and potential for reaching success through SPARK into account.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is the program?

The formal programming is one year. We welcome SPARK alumni to continue to engage in programming, and in certain cases, will allow full participation for an additional year, when deemed necessary by the SPARK Calgary program team.

What are the program objectives?

SPARK puts the patient first. The ultimate aim of SPARK is to benefit patients in clinical and community settings. Some SPARK projects will become companies that generate a revenue; others may advance to the stage where a clinical trial is possible; others may be made available to the public without an intent to make a profit.

Is the SPARK Calgary program free of charge?

Yes. All we ask from our teams is regular attendance at SPARK sessions and commitment to working on their SPARK projects.

Does SPARK Calgary take equity?

No. With all university-based innovations, you are advised to contact your institution’s technology transfer office to discuss intellectual property implications of your innovation within your institution.

Does our team have to be affiliated with an academic institution?

Yes. This is because SPARK is a translational research program, aiming to bridge the gap between science and clinical practice. If you are external to an academic institution but have robust research behind your project, please feel free to contact us to discuss eligibility.

What is the time commitment for SPARK teams?

SPARK programming is approximately 5-8 hours per month.

Who are the industry advisors?

SPARK Calgary’s industry advisor group is comprised of digital health experts from small local companies to multi-national organizations. They volunteer their time to attend the program as individuals, rather than representatives of their companies.

Why does SPARK offer group mentorship rather than 1-on-1 mentorship?

The values behind the group mentorship model is to allow for multiple opinions. SPARK aims to eliminate hierarchies, remove the need to reach consensus, and respect the PI and researchers in selecting the advice they choose to take on.

What is SPARK Global?

The SPARK model was originally established in 2006 at Stanford University’s School of Medicine. The SPARK model has been adopted by over 60 academic institutions from around the world. Collectively known as SPARK Global, this network supports a wide range of health care innovations such as drug development, diagnostics, and digital health. SPARK Calgary is the first active Canadian site within SPARK Global, and we are working hard to create opportunities for our project teams to benefit from this global network.

What are SPARK values?

The following values are central to the SPARK initiative:

  • Putting patients first
  • Being free from the influence of commercial interest
  • Driven by science, altruism, ethics, collaboration, transparency, and mutual respect

How do you protect each team’s intellectual property or trade secrets at project presentations?

Each attendee to project presentations must sign a confidential disclosure agreement (CDA) before being admitted to the session.