19 Jan 2015 On the Cusp of Greatness
3 ways BC Tech Can Realize Its Full Potential
B.C.’s thriving tech sector continues to outperform the province’s total economy. That’s the key findings in the recently released British Columbia Technology Report Card, a report from the B.C. Technology Industry Association (BCTIA) and KPMG.
The report shows that tech is growing twice as rapidly as BC’s total economy. Contributing $15.5 billion to the province’s GDP, the 9,000 (and growing) tech companies in the province have produced 84,000 jobs so far. This is significant because jobs in the sector earn 66% more than the BC average salary.
The report further solidifies BC tech’s reputation as one of the province’s most promising sectors. As the founder of a Vancouver-based software company, I am thrilled to see the growth of the tech sector. I find the numbers from the report encouraging, but BC tech’s economic impact conceals the crucial fact that the sector is still very fragile.
More cities are competing with Vancouver as the next great tech hub. The likes of New York and San Francisco still dwarf our city’s tech community, while London, Tel Aviv and Hong Kong continue to earn their own reputation as emerging tech capitals. BC tech is at a critical juncture: If we want the sector to create big opportunities for future generations, we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.
So, what would it take for the BC tech sector to continue to gain momentum? I see three crucial things that we need to do in order to get there.
1. Build a stronger community
When I started Vision Critical 15 years ago, the tech scene looked very different. A few giants dominated the scene, with a few startups popping up here and there. But in the last decade, we’ve seen the rise of mobile, cloud and social technologies. These factors have empowered customers, giving them more choices and opportunities to speak their minds more than ever. These technologies also fueled the growth of BC-based tech companies, who saw the big opportunity in the customer revolution.
Today, we have more B.C. companies getting bigger, and there are also many early- and middle-stage startups. But to compete with the world’s top tech hubs, we need to build an even stronger community.
Vision Critical is in the business of connecting companies to their communities of customers, and so I know first hand that people yearn to be part of communities. There’s power in numbers. Building a stronger community will help Vancouver fulfill its full potential of becoming a top tech hub in the world.
It will take a combination of industry and individual efforts to strengthen the community. The work that the BCTIA and the B.C. Innovation Council do is important, but contributions from individual entrepreneurs like Boris Mann (Full Stack) and Mike Edwards (Mobio Technologies) are just as crucial. Overall, we’re still a fragmented community. We need to support the efforts of these organizations and these individuals as they help strengthen the B.C. tech community.
2. Acquire more support from the government
Despite the buzz it’s generating, the tech sector is still the unsung hero of the B.C. economy. Tech is still a footnote compared to resource-based and tourism industries.
The sector needs more attention both from the federal and provincial government. The good news: the government seems to be catching up. Last November, Ottawa gave away grants to business incubators and accelerators, with BCTIA receiving $10.4 million. But the government can do more.
The technology sector is on the cusp of a recruitment crunch. Tech has an unemployment rate lower than the rest of the province, and with Vancouver’s high cost of living, competing for talent is a major concern for many tech companies. Money alone won’t solve tech’s talent gap. The government needs to make it easier for companies to attract talent from other countries. If a company wants to hire a developer from Romania, for instance, it needs to be able to get that person quickly. Vancouver’s affordability problem affects the industry’s ability to attract and retain top talent, so it’s something that the government also needs to address.
3. Secure more venture funding for startups
In 2013, B.C. technology companies raised $1 billion in venture capital and public and private equity financing. That number excites many people, but the sector actually needs more capital.
Sourcing early stage funding is particularly difficult for BC entrepreneurs, a problem compounded by the risk-averse nature of our local venture community. Tech companies often need to look outside the province and outside of Canada to get funding.
I predict that in the future, we’re going to see a new breed of successful Vancouver-based entrepreneurs and investors who will help fund local startups. But until then, we need to figure out how to make it easier to access early-stage venture capital.
The BC tech sector today has energy. People want to be here because we have a beautiful city. Our laid back, outdoorsy culture fuels creative thinking and innovation. And the fact that TED relocated to Vancouver last year shows that we have the world’s attention.
It’s also exciting to see companies like BuildDirect, Hootsuite and Vision Critical take off and to watch startups like Payfirma, Foodee, Mobify, Gener8 and Tagga Media grow impressively. But the real work is just starting now. The transformation of Vancouver’s tech community into a world-class, top-notch hub is just getting started.