We’ve long heard deep collaboration is key when it comes to developing innovations that will shape our energy future. Earlier this year, 30 Suncor team members had a chance to put this into practice in the best possible way as participants of the Avatar program

Over 10 weeks, Suncor participants joined over 270 emerging leaders at 67 companies across eight provinces and dozens of business sectors. The challenge: Come together with your assigned multi-company cohort of five to six team members to imagine and articulate an innovation to address a key energy challenge. 
At the end of the 10 weeks, each team pitched their idea to energy and technology leaders in a Dragons Den-style face-off. The top ideas moved into an accelerator stage and may eventually be considered by partner companies for development, including Suncor.

“Being a part of Avatar really allowed me to try something different, to think and act like an entrepreneur,” reflects Tim Chan, Project Lead, Internal Audit. “A key learning for me was recognizing just how much I didn’t know, and that was ok. It got me thinking about my contacts that do know, and how leveraging your networks can spark new ways of thinking and innovating.” 

Participants also had their thinking challenged through a series of weekly Friday afternoon virtual workshops with key leaders and influencers, including company CEOs, government ministers, and chief economists. Topics covered everything from net-zero energy economics to cross-cultural leadership and Indigenous reconciliation.      

“Avatar is a fantastic opportunity to expose team members from across Suncor to new ways of working, creating, and risk-taking. We had Suncor participants on seven of the nine winning teams. This kind of cross-functional collaboration is exactly what leads to success in the innovation space, and it will be essential to the energy sector of the future,” says Gary Bunio, Senior Advisor, Technology and Development, and a co-lead for Suncor’s Avatar program effort.  

The Avatar program emerged out of a University of Calgary collaboration based on the premise that a broad suite of disciplines will be required to come together to successfully propel a new energy future. 2021 is the second year of the Avatar program, and the first time Suncor has participated.

“We all need to engage differently to find solutions that will achieve Suncor’s, Canada’s and the globe’s climate goals, and to create economic prosperity,” says Martha Hall Findlay, Chief Sustainability Officer. “Avatar provides a unique way to bring together some of the brightest minds from across disciplines and organizations in the energy sector to meet these challenges head on. And by all reports, it sounds like it was a lot of fun, too!”