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Edmonton the Tech Hub

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There is a sometimes subtle but seismic shift, not only in Edmonton business but also in the perception of Edmonton business. For a long time, Edmonton was energy services driven. Things are changing.

“Alberta’s booming tech and innovation sector continues to see record growth, attracting investment and talent both nationally and internationally, including in Edmonton which is becoming a hub for AI, digital media, video game development and biotechnology,” says Rick Christiaanse, the Edmonton-based CEO of Invest Alberta, the Crown corporation dedicated to attracting investment and supporting trade.

According to stats from Alberta Enterprise Corporation, the Alberta Technology Deal Flow Study, Government of Alberta and the most recent CBRE Tech Talent Analyzer, the trends are undeniable, revealing and exciting.

Since 2018, there has been a 127 per cent increase in the number of tech companies in the province and there are now more than 3,000 tech companies in Alberta. For the fourth year in a row, Alberta’s tech and innovation sector broke records, attracting $729 million, a 30 per cent increase from just two years ago.

Christiaanse mentions that Alberta is receiving attention for its tech sector achievements and attracting international companies including Amazon, Rogers, Microsoft and IMBiotechnologies. Five tech companies in the province have reached unicorn status: Neo Financial, Shareworks, RS Energy Group (Enverus Intelligence Research Inc.), Parvus Therapeutics and Benevity. “Those successes help position Alberta as a strategic destination for ambitious tech companies.”

While Alberta is Canada’s fourth-largest tech hub, Edmonton ranks seventh for number of deals and 10th for funds invested. The stats show that Edmonton is definitely doing many things right.

Business and investment insiders credit Edmonton’s young, diverse and highly educated workforce, stemming from the region’s post-secondary institutions like the University of Alberta, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), Concordia University and the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii). They emphasize that Edmonton also has the talent pipelines needed for innovative tech companies looking to Edmonton to accomplish their goals.

Business leaders and academics have a timely suggestion. Job hunting has always been fiercely competitive but in competitive tech times, job hunters need to work even harder to differentiate themselves from other candidates. Acquiring technical skills is one way to achieve job prospect success.

When it comes to resumes in Edmonton’s tech boom, the must-have list includes general computer skills, operating systems, programming languages, project management, productivity software, AI, cybersecurity, social media, cloud computing, accounting and design software, content management systems, Google analytics and more.

“The Edmonton region is definitely experiencing a tech boom,” says Chris McLeod, the upbeat vice president of marketing & communications with Edmonton Global, an economic development corporation that promotes the Edmonton region as an ideal place for Canadian and global investment.

“Tech is growing quickly here, in almost every sector of our economy. We’ve seen some very large capital raises. Examples include Jobber, who raised $100M in January and Future Fields, who raised just over $15M. Applied Pharmaceutical Innovation (API) just secured $80.5M from the federal government and more than another $20M from the province for a new critical drug development initiative. That is really a huge tech play as well.”

He mentions Edmonton’s tech sector growth as a result of Edmonton talent. “We have a massive advantage with the University of Alberta and all of our other post-secondaries.”

Throughout the world in business, industry, education, media, essential services and everyday life, AI is a massive phenomenon and game-changer. It is also a key focus of Edmonton’s tech boom. An exciting example is the University of Alberta having ranked third globally for AI research for 25 years.

Earlier this year, in partnership with Amii, it announced a $30-million investment over five years to support the recruitment efforts for 20 new AI-focussed faculty members.

“Edmonton is one of the only places in the world with more AI talent than we’re currently able to employ,” he points out. “That is helping keep costs for employing some of the world’s most important skillsets a little lower than some other places and employers can actually find people to hire.

“It is also one of the reasons why companies who don’t necessarily see themselves as tech companies are building tech, data and AI teams. Engineering firms, construction companies, manufacturers, healthcare, education tech, agriculture tech – they are all benefiting and growing here.”

The Edmonton region is also a force in the digital media, video game development and biotechnology. One recent example is Ordr (the Edmonton-based, to-your-seat delivery service that makes it simple for customers to order food, drinks and merch at facilities without leaving the comfort of their seats). Ordr recently announced a partnership with SpotOn, to seamlessly process mobile orders at sports venues.

There’s no doubt about it. Edmonton’s tech boom is a magnet for investment and a supercharger for business.

“Edmonton Global has been around for about four years,” McLeod says. “In that time, we have had a role in landing more than $2.4 billion in investment and 2023 we are lining up approximately another $1 billion. Our region is just beginning to attract attention. Once investors and major companies see what’s happening here and what’s possible, they are genuinely surprised. Unfortunately, we just haven’t been on the radar. That is very much changing!”

The optimism is palpable. McLeod explains that “the conversation is changing from ‘how do we diversify and grow our economy’ to how do we attract enough talent to keep up with the growth we’re having? Also, how do we get more international attention about Edmonton’s tech potential?”

The trends, stats and indicators are unanimous. Edmonton is becoming a tech hub and 2023 and beyond is positive and exciting. “As Edmonton and the province build on its reputation as a tech leader, we have no doubt investors will continue making high-impact, high-value investments,” notes Christiaanse.

“We look forward to watching this momentum build and celebrating the economic development, jobs and innovation in the tech sector.”

The Alberta government is on record with the provincial goal to have Alberta become internationally recognized as a hub for technology and innovation by the year 2030, while creating 20,000 new jobs and an additional $5 billion in revenue for the province’s technology companies. In 2021, CBRE ranked the Edmonton region as the fastest growing tech market in North America.

McLeod is revved about Edmonton as a tech hub. “Big things like hydrogen, food and ag, life sciences, global logistics and AI; they are areas where we are globally competitive and where we can win. In the first quarter of 2023, we helped land about $241M in deals and we’re just getting started. Hang-on! The next couple years are going to be a wild ride.”

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