Innovators of the Week: This Calgary Learning Hub Develops Tech and Innovation Talent

Co-founded by Margo Purcell and Greg Hart, InceptionU teaches digital skills through project-based learning, and will soon be expanding across the prairies.

Margo Purcell and Greg Hart. Photo by Kokemor Studio.

This series is part of Avenue‘s innovation newsletter. Sign up to get more news about Calgary’s innovation scene delivered directly to your inbox every Monday.

An “un-school.” A “learning organization.” Ask InceptionU co-founders Margo Purcell and Greg Hart what they operate and the terms vary, but both agree the concept goes beyond a traditional classroom.

InceptionU runs accelerated in-person and digital programs, teaching full stack development as well as tech-adjacent courses. Courses run for around six months. InceptionU also works directly with teams and businesses, providing talent development and teaching design principles. Project-based learning is central to its teaching philosophy.

“The ultimate aim that we have for people who come through here is that they equip themselves to be future-fit to be able to respond to really rapidly evolving conditions” says Purcell, who has decades of experience in people and talent development.

Hart and Purcell started collaborating after seeing a shared need in Calgary’s technology and innovation sector – a way for talented people to be equipped with updated digital skills and develop critical thinking.

“You have a technical discipline skills gaps, but on the other hand, there’s this more generalized gap which applies across all industries, which is a gap around adaptability,” says Hart, who is also an instructor at the University of Calgary’s School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape and was a founding partner at the venture capital firm Thin Air Labs (he’s no longer with the organization).

In 2018, the duo ran the first cohort of the full stack developer program out of cSPACE. The following year, they received a service contract from the provincial and federal governments to provide funding for unemployed or underemployed applicants, and ran their second cohort at their now-permanent Central Library space. InceptionU graduates have gone on to work in full stack developer positions, data analytics and UX/UI design.

In 2021, InceptionU was awarded Start Alberta’s inaugural Digital Talent Champion award for its talent development and diversification work.

As of this year, InceptionU’s programs have welcomed 425 learners (the term it uses for students) between ages 19 to 65 – 40 per cent of whom are women, more than half of whom are Black, Indigenous or people of colour, and nearly 60 per cent of whom are immigrants. Of the students who finished the full stack development program, more than half found employment within three months of graduating — a number that grew to 71 per cent within nine months of graduating.

InceptionU also recently secured federal funding through the Prairies Economic Development Canada program to develop skilled tech workers for small-to-medium businesses across Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

[Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Greg Hart is a former partner of Thin Air Labs. The story also previously stated that the Digital Talent Champion award was from SAIT, when it is actually from Start Alberta. We regret the errors.]

Learn more about the people and organizations moving Calgary forward with Avenue's Innovation Newsletter.

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