Meet With Purpose: Mid-Tier Cities Spur Life-Changing Innovations

Planners share why host destinations don’t need to be large in size to deliver on expertise, collaboration and innovative resources for attendees.

Those unfamiliar with the Canadian life sciences landscape may assume that all the knowledge and industry is concentrated in the biggest cities. While there’s no shortage of talent in these metropolitan hubs, smaller cities like Edmonton, Halifax and Saskatoon have established themselves as life sciences powerhouses in their own right. Conference planners have taken note and are increasingly looking to these cities to host their life sciences meetings.

Canada’s smaller cities offer life sciences organizations an affordable, accessible, and welcoming environment for their gatherings. Two recent life sciences conferences hosted in Halifax and Saskatoon demonstrated just how many local resources are available for meetings that combine education and entertainment, with the ultimate goal of transforming health care for all.

The International Society for Heart Research (ISHR) held its 37th Annual Meeting of the North American Section last year in Halifax, convening a diversity of stakeholders to advance cardiovascular biology and medicine. Attendees made connections with local experts from Dalhousie University and took time for recreation in Nova Scotia’s capital city.

“Don’t think it’s just tiny Halifax,” says Susan Howlett, a professor of pharmacology and medicine at Dalhousie University and organizer of the conference. There’s more to the city than people realize, both in scientific innovation and cultural capital. “Halifax is a very popular place, and there’s a lot of things that people can do and a lot of meetings too.”

The ISHR meeting drew upon the knowledge base at Dalhousie for an event filled with opportunities for learning and professional development. Dalhousie academics played a significant role in the meeting, serving on the organizing committee, presenting at scientific sessions, and offering guidance and mentoring to early-career investigators. Howlett sought the expertise of scientists throughout the institution, including her own Heart Health Lab, to underscore the meeting theme of heart disease in vulnerable populations.

The Halifax-based Heart and Stroke Foundation of Nova Scotia sponsored the meeting’s Women in Science Breakfast for female scientists at all stages of their careers, while the young investigator committee held an early-career social at a historic brewery. And all attendees gathered at Pier 21 for the meeting’s reception, lobster banquet, and awards ceremony.

To the west of Halifax in the Canadian Prairies, Saskatoon has emerged as a standout destination for life sciences meetings thanks to its leadership in areas such as biotechnology and infectious disease research. That made it the perfect location for the 14th International Conference on X-ray Microscopy in 2018 (XRM2018), a meeting devoted to pushing scientific boundaries of what is possible.

When it comes to hosting life sciences meetings in the city, “a big thing is the partnership from the city and their commitment to growing Saskatoon as an international brand,” says John Dagaulis, vice president of sales and marketing at Venue West Conference Services. The city has heavily invested in its life sciences community, which was on full display at XRM2018.

Members of the local organizing committee used their contacts in Canada and internationally to connect with microscopic technology companies, enabling Venue West to help solicit a range of sponsorships and exhibitions, Dagaulis says.

As meeting hosts, the University of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Light Source provided attendees with incredible access to world-renowned experts and facilities in X-ray microscopy that can only be found in the city. A highlight for attendees was touring the Canadian Light Source, a national research facility that houses the brightest light source in Canada. The facility serves as a research tool for scientists of all disciplines, including drug research, medical imaging, and agriculture.

Delegates also enjoyed time to take in Saskatoon’s tourist-friendly activities such as an off-site dinner at the Remai Modern art museum and a cruise on the Prairie Lily riverboat down the South Saskatchewan River.

Halifax and Saskatoon prove that good things come in small packages. For conference planners looking to diverge from the beaten path, Canada’s smaller cities have all the resources necessary for a superb life sciences event.

This article is brought to you by Business Events Canada. Learn more about planning your next life science event in Canada, or reach out directly to receive our knowledge maps, designed to help you determine which life science destination is the best fit for your meeting.

(Handout photo)