SPARK Alberta

SPARK Alberta


SPARK Alberta supports the advancement of digital health innovations at Alberta’s post-secondary institutions. Clinical and social impact are the key drivers of SPARK, where we aim to bridge science and clinical practice and ensure that important ideas and discoveries make it into practice to benefit patients.

SPARK Alberta is located at the W21C Research & Innovation Centre, supported by Innovate Calgary, and funded by Alberta Innovates. The program is directed by Dr. Scott Kraft, MD, and managed by Nicola Quiggin. SPARK is conducted in a hybrid format to accommodate the pan-provincial reach of the program, currently with opportunities to gather in-person at W21C in Calgary and the ability to join our sessions through Zoom.

Learn more about SPARK Alberta funding:

  • Alberta Innovates’ Ecosystem Development Partnerships Program encourages growth in the province’s research and innovation ecosystem. | Press Release.
  • SPARK program receives grant from Alberta Innovates, supporting post-secondary innovators across Alberta in transforming ideas into clinical practice| Read the Story.

Program Information

We support our teams in three ways:

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  • Access to advice from a group of digital health and industry experts through three project update presentations during your time with SPARK
  • Fast-track application process to receive mentorship through the AEiR program.
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  • Curated learning opportunities from the innovation ecosystem specific to your needs
  • Accountability to follow your self-led learning plan with a learning journal
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  • Facilitate connections with people, resources, funding, and programs in the local innovation ecosystem and the SPARK Global network to help you on your journey
  • Project management meetings once a month with the SPARK program team

Time commitment: up to 5 hours/month, and includes a combination of project update presentations, monthly meetings, and educational opportunities. We take a break for the winter and summer holidays.

Project update presentations typically take place on Wednesday evenings, and monthly meetings are scheduled during normal business hours. The program format is currently hybrid, with options for in-person attendance at W21C or remote attendance over Zoom.

In order to protect the confidentiality of our projects, all attendees to the project update presentations must sign a confidential disclosure agreement (CDA).

Who is SPARK for?

  • Novel approach to an unmet medical need using a digital health solution
  • Based at an Alberta post-secondary institution, ideally led by a faculty member or a post-doc
  • Evidence-backed innovation; supported by existing research, customer discovery, technology validation
  • You have a clear development plan and end-goal in mind
  • You have a history of demonstrated commitment to your project. See the selection criteria for a list of some recommended pre-SPARK programs
  • Priority is given to innovations that specifically seek to benefit equity-deserving populations

Expected Outcomes

The goal of SPARK is to advance evidence-based digital health innovations to increase their chance of impact for patients in clinical and community settings. We respect that each participant’s pathway and the barriers they face in the innovation ecosystem are unique. Therefore, each innovator’s journey and program outcomes will look different. As part of your application, you will map out your desired pathway and we will work with you to achieve those goals.

Application Process

Applications for the Spring 2024 cohort are now CLOSED.
Applications for the Fall 2024 cohort will open this summer.

Please direct any application inquiries to

Selection Criteria

As a successful applicant, you are developing a novel digital health solution to an unmet medical or clinical need. Your solution is well matched to your problem and is unique or has unique components to it. You have some evidence to support your venture (e.g., research, customer discovery data, technology validation), and a history of demonstrated commitment to the project. You may have taken a recommended pre-SPARK program e.g., e2i, R2SI, Alberta Catalyzer, etc. You have a clear end goal and route to impact mapped out. You are aware of your knowledge gaps and eager to learn more, say yes, and graciously accept feedback. SPARK values resonate with you.

Clinical and social impact are the key drivers of SPARK. We aim to help you improve the lives of patients and communities. We acknowledge that the health system does not serve everyone equally, and thus we will give priority to innovations that specifically seek to benefit under-represented and equity-deserving populations.

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 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 end up becoming companies; 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. A typical outcome is that after developing through SPARK, you gain entry into a program that can help further your innovation.

Is the SPARK 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 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.

What is the time commitment for SPARK teams?

SPARK programming is between 2-5 hours per month.

Who are the industry advisors?

SPARK Alberta’s advisor group is comprised of industry and 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?

Group mentorship is central to SPARK values. The idea behind this is to allow for multiple opinions. SPARK aims to eliminate hierarchies, remove the need to reach consensus, and respect the individual’s choice 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 Alberta 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.

How is SPARK unique?

  • The SPARK model was developed at Stanford in 2006 that has shown itself to be effective, with a 62% success rate for projects in the Stanford program
  • We focus on impact to patients and community, regardless of the innovation pathway
  • We offer group mentorship, allowing for multiple opinions
  • Participants gain access to the SPARK Global network of over 60 institutions across 6 continents


The W21C Research and Innovation Centre at the University of Calgary is home to SPARK Alberta. SPARK falls within the W21C’s digital health strategy and aligns with its overall mandate to make care better for our communities.

SPARK is also supported by our close collaborators, Innovate Calgary, the SPARK Global network, and our provincial advisory committee.


SPARK Alberta is funded by Alberta Innovates.



We would like to thank our partners in helping make SPARK Alberta a reality. A special thanks to our SPARK Alberta Advisors and to the directors of SPARK Stanford, Dr. Daria Mochly-Rosen, PhD, and Dr. Kevin Grimes, MD, for all their additional support.

Additional Content

SPARK Calgary helps digital health innovators take that next step

SPARK program receives grant from Alberta Innovates, supporting post-secondary innovators across Alberta in transforming ideas into clinical practice