Saskatoon

Government invests in Saskatchewan's 'hidden tech industry'

It was a tough budget year for many people in Saskatchewan. But one growing sector saw a injection of cash.

Tech startup incubator gets $250K injection as government tries to spur on growing industry

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall hears pitches from young entrepreneurs at Tuesday's launch event for the province's first tech incubator. (CBC)

It was a tough budget year for many people in Saskatchewan. But one growing sector saw a injection of cash. 

A group of young tech entrepreneurs received $250,000 in this year's provincial budget.

The group is what is known as a "tech incubator" and had its official launch on Tuesday. It's made up of startups ranging from a Saskatoon-based electric bike company to one that's developed a mortgage broker smartphone app.

Located at Innovation Place — adjacent to the University of Saskatchewan — the incubator "is designed to provide early-stage technology startups with the skills, mentorship and support required to build successful technology companies," the province said in a Tuesday news release.

Other members of the incubator, called Co.Lab, include a company creating virtual reality medical school equipment, an augmented reality app that will give virtual tours of art galleries and museums, and a company that manufactures "personal alert devices" that look like jewlery.

The idea, according to the Co.Lab's Jordan Dutchak, is to give Saskatchewan's young technology companies a leg up in the highly competitive international environment.

"We have this hidden tech economy," Dutchak told reporters at the government announcement Tuesday. 

"This is economic development. We are creating jobs."

Wall says money needed for diversified economy 

The government says more than 3,000 jobs were created in Saskatchewan's tech industry between 2015 and 2016.

Dutchak and a host of other tech entrepreneurs were on hand pitching Premier Brad Wall on their ideas at Tuesday's event. 

Wall defended the decision to inject money into Co.Labs in a year when other sectors saw drastic reductions in government funding. 

Brad Wall and Co.Labs's Jordan Dutchak at Tuesday's launch event.

People across Saskatchewan are feeling the impact of the budget, which raised the PST to six per cent and asked government workers to swallow a 3.5 per cent pay cut across the board.

School divisions are also laying off staff and the Saskatchewan Transportation Company was forced to shutter its doors. 

Still, Wall said funding things like the province's first-ever tech incubator is essential for a diversified economy. 

"In this last budget, as difficult as it was, we wanted to send a signal that Saskatchewan was going to come up with very progressive and aggressive policies to promote what was possible in the innovation sector," Wall said.

He said aside from the new money for the tech incubator, the government is also creating more tax credits for tech startups, and certain exemptions for people inventing things in Saskatchewan. 

"This will truly be a centre of creativity and jobs and economy for the province," Wall said. 

'Gives people a reason to stay'

Jeff Dyck is with Solido Design Automation, a Saskatoon company that designs computer chips used in things like smartphones. 

Dyck said while Solido is successful, having something like Co.Labs when he was starting out would have helped grow the business 

"It would have saved us some bumps and bruises," Dyck said. 

Along with another tech heavyweight, Vendasta, Solido is now one of the elder statesmen of Saskatchewan's tech industry. 

Dyck says he's working with the incubator to make Saskatchewan a hotbed for technology companies. While the trajectory for successful tech companies used to involve leaving the province, Dyck says the industry is now growing and becoming sustainable.

"This gives people a reason to stay," he said. 

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