Aug. 22, 2022

Schulich professor named CDL-Rockies Scientist of the Year

Steven Bryant excited, humbled and inspired by collaborative approach to entrepreneurship
Steven Bryant shares a laugh with a student in a lab at the University of Calgary. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

It was supposed to be a leisurely walk with his dog during a morning break at a Creative Destruction Lab-Rockies session. Dr. Steven Bryant, PhD, thought he would take advantage of the unexpected 9°C temperature in late January, listening in on his phone.

Unbeknownst to him, CDL-Rockies site lead Alice Reimer was about to announce that he had been named their Scientist of the Year.

“My dog took longer than the break lasted and Alice started announcing these honours right after the break,” Bryant says. “I didn’t even know it was going to happen as it wasn’t in the published schedule.”

As soon as the Schulich School of Engineering professor heard his name called, he and his dog raced back home to his webcam in case Reimer asked him to say something, which she did.

“It’s a genuine honour because there is so much expertise assembled at CDL,” Bryant says. “It’s also humbling because I have learned a tremendous amount being there as well.”

Opening new doors

A professor in the Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering, Bryant joined CDL-Rockies when it first launched in 2017.

A multidisciplinary non-profit organization aimed at delivering an objectives-based program for science- and technology-based companies, CDL-Rockies’ roster of experts helps young entrepreneurs access expertise-based opinions, funding opportunities, research analysis and business development support.

Bryant takes a lot of pride in being able to help young business owners realize their dreams.

“Probably the single-biggest contribution I make is helping translate a venture team’s description of their technology into a value proposition that investors and business mentors can readily absorb,” he says.

Bryant says it can sometimes involve difficult conversations as the teams learn their technologies need more work. However, it can sometimes open new or unexpected doors.

Innovation begets more innovation. I don’t know how many times conversations with ventures and other mentors have led to, ‘If you can do this thing now, then you should also be able to do this other thing, as well.’

Providing constructive feedback

One of those who learned a lot from Bryant was John Lee.

The founder and COO of Disa Technologies — a sustainable material processing and technology company — remembers Bryant reviewing and challenging his ideas.

“Steven encouraged us to really focus in on our primary markets, put together a technical roadmap, and really have a structure to our testing campaigns and know what our deliverables were,” Lee says.

Once they did all that, he says, Bryant was able to review, provide more insight and help tweak it so they could achieve their goals.

“Steven was always very enthusiastic, willing to help on calls, very friendly towards us and we really thoroughly enjoyed working with him,” Lee says.

Inspiring the next generation

With 350 publications, more than 150 conference presentations, and major research initiatives to his name, choosing Bryant for the award was a no-brainer, says Terry Cho, CDL-Rockies associate director, engagement.

“Don’t let Steven’s humble demeanour deceive you,” she says. “His willingness to share his knowledge goes far beyond the ventures he has mentored here.”

Cho says Bryant is also helping refine CDL-Rockies’ energy-stream focus, providing valuable insights on the most promising areas of research related to energy evolution, and leading the strategic vision on energy innovation at UCalgary.

While humbled by the recognition, Bryant says he’s content with helping the next generation of engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs tackle the world’s biggest issues.

His biggest piece of advice: be coachable and be ready to accept and learn from the inevitable mistakes.

“Be ready and willing to learn, and ready to defend your ideas, but also be ready to let go if the counter-argument has merit,” Bryant says. “You have to be ready to concede that you don’t know everything, even though you do know more about the technology than anyone else in the room.”

Also receiving awards were former UCalgary President Elizabeth Cannon, BSc (Eng)’84, MSc’87, PhD’91 (Fellow of the Year), and CDL-Rockies mentor Patrick Elliott, COO and co-founder of Carbon Alpha (Associate of the Year).