Varcoe: Alberta chasing extra unicorns, as tech funding bucks pattern

It’s been a exceptional run for the business, diversifying the economic system, creating jobs and attracting funding

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Alberta’s tech sector has scored a handful of successes prior to now 4 years, with a collection of unicorns showing on the panorama.

However how do you flip this elite group right into a full-fledged herd?

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That’s the problem going through Alberta’s know-how business because it continues to draw enterprise capital funding into startups, whereas the sector throughout North America has confronted a pointy pullback.

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“We’re on the cusp of seeing extra corporations coming into that stratosphere,” stated Kristina Williams, CEO of Alberta Enterprise Corp., which was created by the province and invests in enterprise capital funds that finance tech startups in Alberta.

“It’s tougher to get to unicorn standing at the moment than it was in 2021 due to the market circumstances and the valuations. However I do see that as a result of now we have extra corporations . . . they usually’re maturing to that stage, we’ll see extra of them.”

Since 2019, Alberta-based corporations comparable to Benevity, Neo Monetary, Solium Capital (now Shareworks by Morgan Stanley) and RS Power Group have gained billion-dollar valuations, underscoring the growth going down inside the province’s tech business.

It’s been a exceptional run for the business, diversifying the economic system, creating jobs and attracting funding.

Greater than $2.5 billion in enterprise capital funding has been invested in Alberta tech corporations since 2019, in keeping with knowledge from the Canadian Enterprise Capital & Personal Fairness Affiliation (CVCA).

Alberta has set data on this space for 4 consecutive years, reaching $782 million final 12 months.

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In a examine issued Wednesday, the CVCA reported that Alberta-based corporations raised $534 million of enterprise capital funding by way of the primary 9 months of this 12 months.

Throughout the July-to-September interval, there have been 20 offers involving $118 million, greater than double the quantity seen throughout the third quarter of final 12 months.

And in October, Calgary-based geothermal agency Eavor Applied sciences introduced the completion of a $182-million financing spherical.

“We’re seeing year-over-year record-breaking funding numbers in Alberta whereas the remainder of Canada is declining,” Know-how Minister Nate Glubish advised the Calgary Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, throughout the annual Innovation Week held within the metropolis.

Alberta Technology and Innovation Minister Nate Glubish
Nate Glubish, Alberta’s Minister of Know-how and Innovation . Jim Wells/Postmedia file

But, it’s been a troublesome 18 months for the sector throughout Canada, with rising considerations a few recession, ongoing inflationary pressures, rising rates of interest and layoffs at a few of the business’s largest gamers.

Throughout the third quarter, enterprise capital funding offers throughout Canada tumbled by 60 per cent in worth (to $1.2 billion) from the earlier three months, though up from a 12 months earlier.

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Alberta corporations are nonetheless elevating cash, though business specialists and corporations say it’s harder than it was two years in the past.

“It’s positively harder than it has been, however Alberta nonetheless is the place in Canada that’s seeing enthusiasm and development,” stated Terry Rock, CEO of Platform Calgary.

“It’s not like the faucet is off.”

Venture capital and Alberta tech graphic

Malcolm Adams, CEO of TangoRide Inc., is hoping the faucet stays open for startups like his Calgary-based agency, which has a real-time carpooling app that matches drivers and passengers, and handles the associated fee restoration transaction. TangoRide is in the midst of elevating funds, garnering about $400,000 towards its goal of $750,000 in a pre-seed financing spherical.

“Sure, tech has come off within the final 12 months and Alberta is bucking that pattern. A part of that’s now we have a brilliant robust entrepreneurial spirit right here,” stated Adams. “We hope to be business with our app by June of 2024.”

Chris Edwards, managing associate of Tall Grass Ventures, an funding agency based mostly in Calgary that’s targeted on the agriculture and meals sector, stated the tech business in Alberta stays usually wholesome, and other people from the skin are noticing.

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“We’re in a rising enterprise ecosystem, and when you find yourself in a rising part, there’s a little bit bit extra pleasure about it and also you get plenty of new {dollars} into it,” he stated.

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Final week, Deloitte Canada recognized a few of the fastest-growing tech corporations within the nation, together with Calgary-based corporations Symend, ZayZoon, Convrg Improvements and Falkbuilt on its listing.

Inside Deloitte’s class of corporations to observe, fintech agency Neo Monetary had the very best income development at a staggering 81,732 per cent over the previous three years.

Alberta is seeing the advantages of entrepreneurs planting numerous seeds within the sector a number of years in the past, stated Neo Monetary CEO Andrew Chau.

Alberta tech corporations aren’t proof against the broader financial challenges however companies that may appeal to funding are normally assembly a better bar at the moment.

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“The truth that now we have 4 or 5 unicorns in Alberta with plenty of them being very latest . . . success helps to beget extra success,” Chau stated in an interview Thursday.

“These entrepreneurs and people within the earlier phases can look to the Benevities, the Soliums — and even the Neos — and say, this can be a workforce that was in a position to do it right here in Alberta. Which means I might do it, too.”

Neo Financial CEO Andrew Chau
Neo Monetary CEO Andrew Chau, photographed within the firm’s workplaces on the fourth ground of the Hudson’s Bay Firm constructing. Photograph by Gavin Younger /Postmedia

There’s additionally exterior recognition of what’s taking place.

Two weeks in the past, analysis agency Pitchbook launched its listing of the 20 fastest-growing startup hubs on this planet over the previous six years. Calgary was the one Canadian metropolis to crack the listing, touchdown in 12th spot.

Firms in different cities comparable to Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver proceed to draw the lion’s share of VC funding within the sector, with Calgary and Edmonton ranked in fourth and sixth place this 12 months.

Williams famous that whereas Canadian enterprise capital exercise has fallen, sitting round half of final 12 months’s general ranges, Alberta’s figures stay on tempo with 2022 report ranges.

“We’ve seen numerous unicorns . . . showcasing that Alberta know-how corporations may be grown right here,” she stated.

“That’s sending an essential sign to traders.”

Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.

[email protected]

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