Once touted as a local win, RocketSpace shuts down before ever establishing Calgary office

A tech accelerator once touted as proof Calgary can attract Silicon Valley talent has shut down, three years after it was announced that it would be opening its first Canadian headquarters in the city.

Now competitor WeWork has moved into the building instead

The Edison would have been home to RocketSpace, which had said it was opening a Calgary headquarters in 2018. Now, it's home to competitor WeWork. (Google Maps)

A tech accelerator once touted as proof Calgary can attract Silicon Valley talent has shut down, three years after it was announced that it would be opening its first Canadian headquarters in the city.

California-based tech accelerator RocketSpace pulled out of the UK in December 2019, and a message currently posted to the company's website states it is closing down entirely.

CEO Duncan Logan confirmed to CBC News that the company is closing down due to what he described as a partnership with Chinese investors that did not work out as hoped.

RocketSpace announced in May 2017 it was renovating a 75,000-square-foot office in the Edison building at 150 Ninth Avenue S.W., to create co-work space for up to 1,000 people hoping to grow their tech startups.

It would have been the company's first Canadian office.

An article on Calgary Economic Development's website at the time touted the company's decision to establish a Calgary HQ as a turning point for the city — CEO Mary Moran and Mayor Naheed Nenshi had publicly credited a trade mission to San Francisco as luring the company up north.

"This is our moment, Calgary," the June 2017 article read.

"So what does the RocketSpace win mean for Calgary? It means our strategy to put Calgary on the map in [Silicon Valley] is working. It means our instincts are right — we have all the ingredients (proximity, talent and inexpensive real estate) to court the big tech companies."

Calgary Economic Development did not respond to a request for comment.

Logan said the friendliness of Calgarians and CED was part of what drew the company to Calgary, and that while he knows Calgary is currently facing challenges, he wishes the city success.

"We were super impressed by the Calgary Economic Development team and for sure it was a main reason we chose Calgary over other Canadian cities. We weren't actually offered any financial incentives to come to Calgary but the team did an excellent job in introducing us to the key stakeholders to be successful in Calgary," Logan said.

Rival co-working space WeWork held a ribbon-cutting to officially open an office in the Edison building on Feb. 20.

WeWork has also had its share of troubles, from its valuation dropping by tens of billions of dollars, to recent accusations of sexual impropriety within the company's office culture.

CBC News contacted Aspen Properties, the building's landlord, to ask if the WeWork office is the same space that would have been occupied by RocketSpace.

Executive chair Scott Hutcheson said Aspen Properties moved forward with WeWork after talks stalled with RocketSpace, which never formally signed a lease for the Edison.

"It was evident that RocketSpace was not on the same timeline that they originally thought they were," Hutcheson said.

"Approximately 18 months ago, there was enough delay in the RocketSpace progress that we started to explore other options."

Hutcheson was unaware that RocketSpace appears to have shut down entirely.

"If they're closing their operations down entirely, it's unfortunate, because they are a great management team," Hutcheson said.

With files from Hannah Kost


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