History & Founder

The European-Canadian Centre for Innovation and Research (ECCIR) was founded in 2009 by Mr. Bernd Reuscher, at the time Honorary Consul for Germany in Northern Alberta and Northwest Territories. The Centre began as the “German-Canada Centre for Innovation and Research (GCCIR),” and activities initially centred on Germany. In close cooperation with the University of Alberta and the Germany Embassy in Ottawa, the GCCIR opened its offices in October 2010, and the first employee began in January 2011. Under Bernd’s guidance, Edmonton became a hub for outreach into Western Canada as connections were established with the German Consulates in Calgary, Vancouver, Regina, and Saskatoon, as well as with the German Center for Research and Innovation in New York. 2011 also marked the 40th anniversary of the agreement on scientific and technological co-operation between Canada and Germany, and the GCCIR was invited to present at the bilateral meeting in Ottawa.

Bernd was incredibly generous with his time and mentorship. He was constantly teaching younger colleagues and providing them with opportunities to grow. In late 2011, GCCIR welcomed its first intern, who worked for the Bavarian Research Alliance. Other early highlights included speaking at the opening ceremony of the Alberta-Saxony Obesity Research & Training Alliance conference in Lake Louise, working closely with the Helmholtz Alberta Initiative, and organizing Doing Business in Germany events with partners in Calgary and Edmonton.

GCCIR went on to support international graduate school applications, organize NRW.Invest seminars in Alberta, speaker tours on climate change and renewable energies (also in cooperation with the Canadian German Chamber in Montreal), and to support German-Canadian networking events. A close relationship with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation liaison office led to joint information sessions on the German research and funding landscape in Saskatchewan, and to many other joint initiatives. GCCIR would also go on to host numerous interns through the Alberta-Saxony Intercultural Internship Alliance.

By November 2011, GCCIR’s activities and Bernd’s extensive network had attracted the attention of Alberta’s Ministry of Advanced Education and Technology. GCCIR was hired to organize a mission for government and industry through strategically important German states and to Medica, the largest trade fair for medical devices. The mission was a great success and laid a foundation for the Alberta-Germany Collaboration Fund for Product Development and Commercialization. The fund was created to support Alberta companies engaging with German small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in order to leverage each other’s capabilities and accelerate the growth and internationalization of both sides. The first task was to plan a multi-city tour through Germany for October 2012, the main goal of which was to offer Alberta SMEs an opportunity to get an impression of German industry and meet potential German partner companies.

These first events in Germany took place in in Düsseldorf, Nuremberg, and Munich. Matchmaking sessions in each city offered a venue to exchange ideas and discuss joint projects. The first official call for proposals followed on November 15, 2012. On the German side, GCCIR partnered with the Central Innovation Program for SMEs (ZIM), an initiative of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Negotiations started in January 2013, and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed a few months later. Another successful matchmaking mission followed in November 2013, and the Alberta-Germany Collaboration Fund for Product Development and Commercialization continued to grow. As GCCIR activities expanded, the GCCIR team grew to three permanent employees and benefitted from the skills and knowledge of numerous other colleagues, interns, and many wonderful volunteers and Board members.

Together with colleagues from the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, GCCIR grew the extremely successful Alberta-Germany Collaboration Fund, designed and implemented the Alberta-France Collaboration Fund in 2015, and then, in 2018, expanded and consolidated the two programs to launch the Alberta-Europe Technology Collaboration Fund. Through these initiatives, a total of 40 joint technology development projects were funded between Albertan companies and their European counterparts. These projects provided SMEs in the province with invaluable access to knowledge, networks, and market entry opportunities, and it is truly remarkable to see what they have been able to accomplish. Fostering economic diversification through internationalization became one of the core missions of the GCCIR.

GCCIR’s yearly trips to Europe were always a highlight. Each year from 2012 – 2019, the GCCIR took a group of 15-20 Albertan companies to Europe to meet potential partners, and to learn about the places they may one day do business. It was always a source of pleasure and pride to see useful connections made and project ideas develop. Over the years, Bernd and the GCCIR staff had the opportunity to accompany over 80 different Albertan companies to Europe, where they had the chance to interact with hundreds of European companies and research institutes. Of course, these trips involved almost as much fun as they did business, and lasting friendships were created between the Albertan participants. Whether it was road trips across Germany, dinners out with company representatives, or meetings with government officials, Bernd’s deep knowledge and amazing sense of humor made each trip both fun and successful.

In addition to running the Alberta-Europe Technology Collaboration Fund and organizing the various events that supported it, GCCIR organized multiple international symposia around the topics of Entrepreneurship, E-Health, and Artificial Intelligence, together with the University of Alberta, the German Center for Innovation and Research in New York, and numerous other local and international partners. These events all proved to be exciting and challenging adventures.

GCCIR also hosted numerous cultural events, such as the exhibition “Canada and Germany: Partners from Immigration to Innovation,” curated by the German Embassy in Ottawa, that travelled from Ottawa to Edmonton to celebrate Canada’s 150th year. In addition to hosting the exhibition, GCCIR arranged two film screenings, a “Chemistry of Beer” lecture and tasting, and a press event to open the exhibit. In 2019, a year of notable anniversaries, GCCIR organized events to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Alexander von Humboldt’s birth, and to commemorate 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In 2020, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, travel ground to a halt, but the GCCIR’s international activities continued unabated. In June 2020, GCCIR became the coordinator for a consortium of organizations representing Canada within the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN) – the world’s largest support network for SMEs with international ambitions. Being part of the EEN allowed GCCIR to continue expanding its network and to provide Canadian companies with an even broader range of services and opportunities. It was at this point, with both of our major initiatives spanning the European continent, that the GCCIR Board decided to change the Centre’s name to the ECCIR to better reflect our activities and mandate.

Bernd Reuscher passed away on August 17, 2021. He will be profoundly missed by ECCIR staff, colleagues, and partners across Canada and throughout Europe. Bernd led GCCIR with dedication and generosity from 2009 to 2021. He had a passion for creating connections, and a unique vision for facilitating innovative international collaborations. He recognized that technological innovation is truly the key to economic prosperity, and worked tirelessly to support businesses in finding international opportunities. Over the years, ECCIR facilitated dozens of international partnerships for small and medium-sized companies in Alberta, and allocated millions of dollars to technology development projects. Together, we watched Bernd’s vision come to life, and we continue to see how companies in Alberta and across Europe are benefitting from his passion and insight.