Tech business incubator StartUp Edmonton celebrates 10th anniversary

It started like so many things in Edmonton do, a little off-the-wall idea, fuelled by volunteers. A decade later, StartUp Edmonton, a small-tech incubator, is celebrating a big milestone.

'This is a phenomenal place to grow a business'

David Filewich, founder of Intello, works on his tech-based business at Startup Edmonton. (Rick Bremness/CBC)

David Filewich calls the third floor of the historic Mercer Warehouse in downtown Edmonton home.

The entrepreneur and father of two doesn't live in the 1911 renovated brick gem at 103th Avenue and 104th Street but sometimes it feels that way. 

He's been spending a lot of time in the StartUp Edmonton space getting his business off the ground.

"I think the biggest thing it did was open up doors that otherwise there's no way would have been available to me," Filewich said.

'I started playing around with a few ideas'

2 years ago
Duration 1:51
When David Filewich wanted to create a new app he sought help from Startup Edmonton, an organization that has spent the last decade providing support and resources to entrepreneurs. 1:51

This month StartUp Edmonton is marking a decade of helping launch tech companies in the city.

The organization, managed by Innovate Edmonton, a division of Edmonton Economic Development, is funded through a variety of channels including all three levels of government. 

"People come to us and say, 'Hey, I have an idea. Where do I start?' and we provide a variety of resources and support for them," said CEO Tiffany Linke-Boyko.

What grew from a couple of local entrepreneurs, Ken Bautista and Cam Linke, and a handful of volunteers, has  ballooned, with 440 individuals and companies enrolled in Startup programs. 

"I think last year we were around like 25-per-cent growth which is pretty exciting," Linke-Boyko said. 

"We anticipate that to continue to increase as more people realize, 'Hey I could build a tech company here in Edmonton; I don't have to leave for somewhere else; there's great things going on here.'"

Startup Edmonton CEO Tiffany Linke-Boyko (Rick Bremness/CBC)

Filewich spent a dozen years in accounting before he began working for himself and experiencing the "pain of self-employed taxation."

"Organizing my own transactions, getting all my receipts together, getting all the forms, it was just much, much more painful. And with my knowledge of modern technologies, I just knew it didn't have to be this way."

That was when the idea for Intello, a small-business online-bookkeeping service, was born.

"It really excited me. I decided to take the plunge and actually try and build something myself," said Filewich who credits StartUp Edmonton with his launch.

Intello isn't alone. Local tech startups like Jobber, Scope AR, Poppy Barley, and Zept will be honoured at the 10th anniversary launch party during StartUp Edmonton Week Oct. 21-25.

StartUp made all the difference for Fouad El-Masri's company. El-Masri is CEO and cofounder of Visio Media, now Vertical City, which installs digital screens in the elevators of high-rises. The screen plays messages from the property manager as well as business ads.

Fouad El-Masri CEO and cofounder of Vertical City. (Ashley Champagne)

"They helped us put together a business plan, helped connect us with investors, worked on our pitch, worked on our product, how to gain traction in the market and really introduced us to a ton of people that are still our clients today," El-Masri said.

The company, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal and elsewhere, has grown this year from 12 employees to 42.

The company recently decided to expand internationally, but El-Masri said he plans to keep the company's headquarters in Edmonton.

"I'm an Edmontonian first and a Canadian second and this is a phenomenal place to grow a business."

StartUp Edmonton has been an important part of the tech scene in the city, said CBC's Edmonton AM tech columnist Dana DiTomaso.

"The fact you could just have somewhere in the city to go to work on tech-focused, really speculative projects is an important part of an ecosystem, particularly when you're thinking about expanding your economy out of traditional oil and gas areas," DiTomaso said.

DiTomaso has followed StartUp Edmonton over the decade.

Her advice for the next 10 years?

"Don't break what's already working.

"You've got that 10 years of people who have grown as a result of your initial mentorship, so re-involve those people so they can get the next 10 years of people involved."

You can see more from the Mercer Warehouse this week on Our Edmonton on Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday and noon and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV on CBC Gem or on demand here

The creative space on the third floor of the Mercer Warehouse. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)


Adrienne Lamb is an award-winning journalist based in Edmonton. She's the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. Adrienne has spent the last couple of decades telling stories across Canada.


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