When Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary Economic Development (CED), first came on board she talked about diversifying the Calgary economy and looking to Denver as a model of a city who did it. At a recent relaunch of Resource YYC, Mary Moran updated the small crowd on the efforts CED is making to diversify the economy. Part the plan is the soon to arrive San Francisco based company RocketSpace that’s expanding into Canada and settling it’s first location at the old Encana Place tower. It’s a pretty good move for the technology sector.
With economic changes affected by the oil and gas sector, Calgary has an attractive educated labour market and low rental rates for office space. Plus, people want to live here - Calgary scored 96.6 out of 100 in The Economist's Global Liveability Report for 2017. In 2016, in the midst of an economic downturn, we actually had a net migration increase in population. Add in a reasonable cost of living, and the benefits for tech companies to relocated here are substantial compared to other parts of the country.
RocketSpace provides a tech R&D platform and implementation services that takes companies from classic, traditional conglomerates into modern, digital conglomerates. It’s what Mary Moran called the “Industrialization of the Internet of Things.” They are coming to Calgary to specifically move the oil and gas producers into the digital age.
But RocketSpace is offering more.
This is a company that brings with it industry specific, pilot-focused accelerator programs aimed at later stage startups that are looking to validate and grow their business with industry leading corporations. They also offer an industry technology accelerator program that enables multiple corporations and startups to come together to fuel industry focused transformation.
With the anticipation of growth in the tech sector, other initiatives are underway to support the industry. There are a number of innovation spaces emerging to support the growing need for technology hubs. True diversification requires a industry cluster to form. And that requires groupings of similar and related firms that share common markets, technologies and worker skill needs.
This certainly seems to be happening.
In a chat with Lynn Sutherland, a local IRAP advisor, she explained the initiatives currently underway to develop the technology ecosystem. One of her pet projects is to map out all the co-working and accelerator spaces in town. The list includes the Rainforest movement - an informal organization of people working together to improve Alberta’s innovation ecosystem, among many other new spaces where like-minded technology-types can gather, share information and build together.
“Innovation isn’t engineered” ~ Lynn Sutherland
While many have said the YYC technology space is “fragmented,” there is something flourishing that is not only holding it together, but aiming to create a new wave of growth. It is due in part to more collaboration in the industry and the Albertan entrepreneurial spirit. The re-location of RocketSpace will help, but as Lynn put is “one successful recruit doesn’t a cluster make.” And, in her mind, a long-term strategy is necessary to truly build the technology sector in Calgary.