Kris Hans at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce's Onward Conference, June 2016 | Photo: Nathan Elson Photography

Kris Hans

Reimagining Calgary for the world

Question: What do Java, Uber, StumbleUpon and iStockPhoto all have in common?

Answer #1: They’re all cutting edge technologies that were, in their day, some of the most significant Canadian—and global—digital innovations over the past 30 years.

Answer #2: They all originated from the minds of a trio of innovators and entrepreneurs—James Gosling, Garrett Camp, Bruce Livingstone—who studied at the University of Calgary.

For Calgarian Kris Hans, a University of Calgary business instructor and one of the co-founders of and a strategist at Market Grade, a uniquely-Calgarian interdisciplinary consultancy, the only drawback from that roster of digital superstars is that when you think of digital innovation hubs, most folks still don’t think of Calgary.

That’s a state of miscommunication that Hans has made his—and Market Grade’s—personal and civic duty to remedy.

“My whole motivation,” Hans says, “is going to and celebrating what is happening in Calgary.”

That University of Calgary high tech dream team is also a pretty excellent set of case studies to help illustrate the power and possibility of entrepreneurial thinking.

“What I always tell my students,” says Hans, “is that the best way of coming up with an innovative idea is looking at a problem you have yourself and then creating a solution for it. Even better if there’s a problem no one else wants to touch.”

For Hans and his colleagues at Market Grade—which launched several years ago by helping reimagine, reconfigure and rebrand Blink on Stephen Avenue—perhaps the biggest problem Calgary faces is the gap between stereotypical Calgary and the actual reality of the city itself.

“I want to retain talented, innovative, entrepreneurial, driven people here,” he says. “Although maintaining our heritage is important, we need to start diversifying Calgary’s image—instead of being known only for its oil and gas industry and the Stampede, we should also highlight the amazing young talent, spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation, and rich arts and culture scene that exists within Calgary.”

Blink on Stephen Avenue | Photo: Paul McGrath
Blink on Stephen Avenue | Photo: Paul McGrath

If a city gets the boosters they deserve, then Hans makes for a dynamic advocate for Calgary. Just sitting in a Starbucks having a grande with him, chatting about all the projects that the U of C and Market Grade are up to is apt to shift your perception about the city.

“We’re the youngest city per capita,” he says. “And things might have changed, but also the richest per capita—and most educated… we’re probably one of the most ethnically-diverse.

“It’s a matter of celebrating.”

Additionally, Hans relays news about the RBC Fast Pitch Competition ($137,500 worth of funding and services from RBC, Market Grade and McCarthy Tétrault) offered by the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Haskayne School of Business encouraging startup business ideas from students—along with the news that Entrepreneurial Thinking 317 is a mandatory course for business students there.

“You would think,” he says, “if you’re going to school for business, that you would probably be required to be taking an entrepreneurship course!”

Then there’s Design Axis, a mentoring program created by Market Grade that brings some of the top young students in advertising, graphic and web design, photography, marketing and communications into the company, where they receive mentorship, paid work and the opportunity to work with clients on real world projects (at cost-effective rates for clients) that kick start their careers—with all the work guaranteed by Market Grade.

Hans’ background includes a three-year stint at the Art Gallery of Calgary between 2000 and 2003 where he got to work firsthand with some of the city’s top artists and curators and arts administrators, as well working as a business banker for CIBC and teaching entrepreneurship and marketing at Mount Royal University. There are plans afoot by Market Grade, which operates out of a Stephen Avenue heritage building over top of Blink that used to be a saddlery in the early stages of the 20th century, to create a way for Calgary artists to market themselves.

“At the end of the day, what are artists doing? They’re entrepreneurs representing themselves as a brand.”

Kris Hans and Market Grade are also supporting the O’Brien Institute for Public Health’s W21C Program (University of Calgary), to host the Global Healthcare Innovation Academy, August 25 and 26, 2016 at TELUS Spark in Calgary. This event brings representatives from countries like Hong Kong, Switzerland, and Canada to compete in a marketplace of ideas designed to reinvent the medical health industry—which, it turns out, Alberta is among the leaders, says Hans.

“As Albertans, we have access to the largest province-wide, fully integrated health system in Canada through Alberta Health Services (AHS),” says Hans.

“There is fantastic research happening right here in Calgary and across the province through programs like the W21C, and in partnership with AHS,” he adds, “It’s just a matter of getting the awareness of Alberta’s innovations in the health sector out.

“Imagine what you could create by bringing together the business people and entrepreneurs with researchers and healthcare professionals—I think now this is where those kinds of connections are being made.”

What connects it all, Hans says, is a uniquely Calgarian tendency to blur the boundaries between disciplines in order to re-invent a better way, no matter what the discipline, industry or sector.

“I’m very much about collaboration,” he says. “I call it—this is something we coined during the Art Gallery of Calgary days—relentless convergence.”

In fact, for Hans, the question of whether a city can live a creative life just like a person is moot.

“We brought people like Bruce Mau and Richard Florida to Calgary to talk about what makes a creative city,” he says, “and what it affirmed is that we already have everything a creative city has here!

“We don’t need others to tell us how to live creatively. We just need to show other people that we are actually doing it already in Calgary.

“Calgarians I find,” he says, “overall are very friendly, approachable, humble people—and maybe it’s that whole entrepreneur thing—but we also genuinely want to see other people do well.”

Kris Hans, Strategist, Market Grade | Video: Kris Hans

About The Storytelling Project

On November 16, 2015, Calgary Arts Development hosted a working session with approximately 30 creative Calgarians from various walks of life. Many of the small working groups voiced the need to gather and share more stories of people living creative lives.

That need has turned into The Storytelling Project.

The Storytelling Project raises awareness about Calgarians who, by living creative lives, are making Calgary a better city, effecting positive change and enriching others’ lives.

Have a story to share? Email us at