Alberta’s ‘absolutely bonkers’ tech boom reason for economic optimism

CALGARY — After years of economic uncertainty and calls for diversification, one sector in Alberta is going against the grain.

New offices and hubs are popping up around both Calgary and Edmonton as the technology industry experiences dramatic growth. 

The province is now home to 3,083 tech companies, according to a study done by the Alberta Enterprise Corporation (AEC). That’s compared to just 1,238 companies in 2018. 

Those involved say it’s pretty easy to sum up. 

“It is booming,” said Zack Storms of Startup TNT. “It is really booming.”

Storms organizes investment summits, including a massive Alberta pitch marathon held this week.

He told CTV News there are thousands of people waiting to get into the provincial market. 

“(This is) an all day showcase of Alberta startups,” Storms said. “We’ve got 106 startups and we’ve got nine straight hours of pitches.”

It’s a microcosm of the emerging sector. Provincial grant programs and federal incentives are driving venture capital investment. 

AEC data shows startups are pouring into the province and expanding quickly. It says between 2018 and 2020, the number of companies with 25 or more employees increased from 13 per cent to 25 per cent. 

“We have awesome entrepreneurs that are building more companies, and they’re adding more companies to the funnel,” said AEC president Kristina Williams. “Also, we’re growing the companies. It’s a combination of a lot of things.”

Much of the growth in Alberta is driven by investments in machine-learning tools and agricultural technology products.

“That means that people are coming from the traditional economies of Calgary,” said TalentMarketplace founder and recruiter Qaid Jivan.

“Or they’re transitioning into (a mindset of), ‘how can tech help these economies?’ It’s just huge.”

But Jivan says that boom has led to one issue — employment. 

Software developers are in high demand, and now that working from home is no longer an exclusive “tech perk,” Jivan says companies are having to impress talent in new ways. 

“It has been absolutely bonkers,” he said. “There are people who are getting multiple offers who normally wouldn’t be getting one.”

Pitch competitor and Levelling Up founder Mike DeBoer believes it could be a good opportunity for Alberta talent. 

“We are going to be tapping very heavily into the local economy for those developers,” he said. “This is perfect time for us. There’s very fertile soil for us to grow.”

The incoming influx of openings is leading to some of Alberta’s post secondary schools revamping curriculum to make sure young talent can enter the workforce. 

SAIT is one of the facilities capitalizing on the opportunity, offering upgrading courses in its new School for Advanced Digital Technology.

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