Adrian Shellard, for the University of Calgary
Nov. 5, 2021
UCalgary alum works to mitigate climate change, impact a global community
Dr. Ali Telmadarreie, PhD, learned the importance of contributing to his community as a young boy growing up in Iran. He credits both his parents and his childhood community for shaping his worldview in which kindness and mentorship serve as cornerstones to creating joy in life.
Fast forward to 2021, and Telmadarreie still holds those qualities as integral to his professional endeavours, and he is finding joy around every corner. He recently received the Alberta Science and Technology Leadership (ASTech) Foundation’s Emerging Change Maker Award for his work with his company CNERGREEN in the space of climate change mitigation. He is one of four UCalgary researchers to receive a 2021 ASTech Award.
Telmadarreie admits the award serves as validation that he is on the right path to impacting his global community through his work in nanoparticle-based foam technology.
“My goal for this life is to be an impactful person,” says Telmadarreie. “In this case, I am doing something that is helping to mitigate some of the issues we have with climate change, with energy efficiency, and with energy production efficiency too. I am trying to be impactful as a person, as a researcher, as a CEO.”
Telmadarreie says he is just as passionate about mentoring and inspiring junior team members in his leadership role at CNERGREEN.
Building a business
Telmadarreie finished his PhD in 2017 and shortly after joined the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Materials Engineering for Unconventional Oil Reservoirs team, first as a postdoc and soon became a research associate under Dr. Steven Bryant, PhD. During his time with CERC, Telmadarreie discovered the potential for commercialization in some of the work. His team gained the attention of an industrial partner, and together the team secured patents for the technology.
He felt the calling toward entrepreneurship but thought that he could not pursue both business and lab research at the same time. He founded CNERGREEN in 2019 while still working as a CERC research Aassociate and credits the entrepreneurial culture and infrastructure at the University of Calgary in helping him take the first steps.
“Ali has morphed into a hard-driving CEO, and his leadership and perseverance are the reasons CNERGREEN is getting traction,” says Bryant.
In 2020, Telmadarreie left CERC to pursue his business full time. “I have always been in academia and doing lab work, publishing papers, I never thought about being an entrepreneur and being a leader,” says Telmadarreie, noting that this jump into the startup ecosystem has posed new obstacles. Still, he sees this as his journey in life and a challenge he is willing to accept.
Right now, I have five jobs. I'm not only the CEO but an accountant, and an employee, and a lab researcher. I'm doing everything, and I'm learning a lot from filling these different positions.
Familiar with pushing his comfort zone
Telmadarreie is no stranger to pushing his comfort zone. He and his wife came to Canada from Iran in late 2012 to pursue their doctorates at the University of Alberta. Telmadarreie pauses when he reflects on this time in his life, noting that it was incredibly uncomfortable leaving home to grow professionally.
He admits that moving to Canada was a very big leap for his family. Still, he beams with affection when he recalls these times with his wife, describing the journey as fun alongside each other. She also has a PhD in material engineering and is working in the industry right now.
Caught in this moment of reflection, he metaphorically describes his comfort zone as once being a metre in size but now encompassing a kilometre. “Every day brings growth, and that’s what I like about this job and this journey because every day I am doing a task and a responsibility that is out of my comfort zone,” he says. “That is what I love, the part of growing.”
Telmadarreie is designing a legacy of growth without intending to, from uprooting his life in Iran to becoming a research associate in Canada and forming CNERGREEN to winning awards for his work.
Focus on kindness and positivity
There is great hope of bringing CNERGREEN’s technology into the real world soon but Telmadarreie acknowledges the next step is validation in the field. His team is currently working with an industry partner and potential technology user to complete this validation process.
“Ali is a great example of how we at UCalgary are increasingly aiming our research at innovation and real-world impact.” says Bryant. “Giving scholars like Ali the time and space to discover their inner CEO/CSO/CTO benefits society even more.”
Meantime, Telmadarreie remains focused on kindness and positivity. “I am just trying to be a useful member of society,” he says.
He puts his worldview into regular practice as a mentor at the University of Calgary, teaching an undergraduate course that introduces students to research and innovation. The course forces students to think about the bigger picture at an earlier stage in their journey. Telmadarreie says the core purpose of the course is to get students thinking about the potential for greater social impact in their work. He adds that the larger academic world has previously failed in this approach, but UCalgary is now leading the way in the innovation-to-impact landscape.
“The more I'm sitting in this innovation ecosystem, it's more about the impact that folks are talking about, and that's making the dream come true,” says Telmadarreie.