Downtown at 'tipping point' in quest to become Edmonton's tech hub, report finds

The Downtown Business Association released a report on the nearly 400 tech companies in Edmonton. Many are already located in the city's core but the group wants to do more to attract new tech companies and startups to the downtown.

'If we don't move ... we will be left behind'

Report author Karolina Korzeniewski presented her findings Wednesday night in downtown Edmonton. (Twitter/DBA)

The Downtown Business Association wants to help the city's thriving tech industry find a home in Edmonton's core.

The association has put forward five recommendations in a report released Wednesday on how Edmonton —downtown in particular— can attract leaders in the tech industry.

The recommendations include ideas such as establishing an accelerator program for downtown-based tech companies and retaining homegrown talent.

Downtown "is at a tipping point," the report says.

"We are punching above our weight in research, and we have had significant wins with world-renowned companies like Google DeepMind recently moving downtown.

"However, we need to keep getting big wins, or we are at risk of being leapfrogged."

DBA executive director Ian O'Donnell said his organization is working to build up the so-called "innovation corridor," an area home to tech companies which spans from NAIT to the University of Alberta. 

"We certainly see ... that downtown is that nucleus, that epicentre of that district and we really want to build off the strengths," O'Donnell said.

Nearly 400 tech companies in city

There are 394 tech companies in Edmonton, with just over 40 per cent of those companies providing IT services, according to the Accelerating Tech in Downtown Edmonton: Impacts and Opportunities report.

Of the total number of tech firms in Edmonton, 44 per cent are considered start-ups, having only been around since 2014, reads the report.

Tech companies were initially defined in the document as those that provided communications equipment or computer hardware but over time, the term has come to include software and applications that use coding as well.

The DBA creates a report each year on a topic relevant to the downtown business community. The document, including the one released Wednesday, is compiled by an MBA student who is employed by the association.

Growing industry

Tech companies continue to attract talent to the city, the report said. 

In 2018, there were 28,400 tech employees in Edmonton. The number of employees in the tech sector has grown by 26 per cent over the last five years, according to the document.

O'Donnell said with a growing industry, a vibrant downtown core is key. He believes Edmonton can compete with Canada's larger cities when it comes to attracting businesses.

"I think we need to — as some people in the [tech] community will say —  get up on the rooftops with our megaphones and broadcast what we're doing in this city," he said.

But O'Donnell and the DBA said the industry needs proper office space to grow and more financial support from all three levels of government.

The report shows that 65 per cent of Edmonton's tech companies are looking for funding.

"Innovation is key," he said. "If we're going to have a new normal in this province, tech is going to be a great way to get [there]."

He stressed now is the time to invest.

"We're going to be left behind," O'Donnell said. "This industry moves quicker than anybody can imagine. We don't have months and years to wait. If we don't move today, in a very collaborative and very thoughtful way, we will be left behind."

Downtown Business Association president Ian O'Donnell believes Edmonton's core has a lot to offer tech companies. (Twitter/DBA)

'It is the time to wave that flag'

Jeremy Hayward, president of Solut, an IT strategy company located downtown, agrees that now is the time to support Edmonton's tech community.

"It is the time to wave that flag," Hayward said. "I think as Canadians especially, we don't brag … I think we're a little too nice sometimes. I think we need to be more proud of what we're doing here."

Solut was first located on the south side relocated to new space downtown. 

"Our lease was up last year and I gave our team the ability to choose … it was a resounding 85 per cent that came back and said, 'We want to stay downtown,'" Hayward said. 

He said it's not just people but companies that are seeing the vibrancy of the core as well. 

"I think we could capitalize on that and attract those businesses to come down here. Jobber is here. Google's DeepMind is here. Why can't we keep that going?"


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