Vancouver: Canadian West Coast Powerhouse

Content provided by David da Silva from Financial Times

While big technology names from Sony Pictures to Amazon have made headlines by setting up shop in Vancouver, British Columbia, the ground was laid for the waterfront city on Canada’s west coast to grow into a technology powerhouse by local start-ups.

The case for: Vancouver’s natural beauty and praised livability, coupled with good schools and a large talent base, gives the city an edge over rivals.

Tax breaks and government incentives are a big help too.

The case against: Because Vancouver does not have a big financial sector, start-ups may find it hard to raise post-angel funding, says Bill Tam, chief executive of the British Columbia Technology Industry Association. Most of the city’s start-ups look south to Seattle and Silicon Valley for venture capital funding.

Some locals decry the laid-back vibe, which they say makes some start-ups unambitious.

Local heroes: Vancouver was the launch pad for three Canadian “unicorns” — businesses with a valuation of at least $1bn — HootsuiteSlack and Avigilon.

Recon Instruments, which started in 2008 out of University of British Columbia, last week launched its Recon Jet smart sunglasses designed for sports and high-intensity environments.

Fatigue Science has developed a watch-like bracelet that uses software to help people sleep better. The Vancouver Canucks NHL ice hockey team and NFL’s Seattle Seahawks football team use the gadgets for their players.

Show me the money: The angel investing community is small and can be shy of making big investments. That said, venture capital funding reached C$554m last year in British Columbia. The city may also benefit from a federal government-backed “VC action plan” launched in 2013 with the aim of deploying $400m in new capital over the next few years, which it is estimated could attract up to $1bn in private sector investments in funds of funds.

Ease of reach: Vancouver International airport has direct daily flights to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, all less than three hours. Direct daily flights head to London, New York and Hong Kong. The SkyTrain metro system takes about 20 minutes to the centre from the airport. The US border is about an hour’s drive south. Seattle is two hours’ drive.

What the locals say: Pooya Kazerouni, president of Linquet Technologies, which makes tags that help trace lost items, says Vancouver is close enough to Silicon Valley to enjoy strong ties, but distant enough to not be part of that “bubble”, which helps “give perspective”.

Brad Lowe, of Wavefront, an accelerator focused on wireless businesses, says: “We are still a relative bargain. The cost of doing business in Silicon Valley is ridiculous.”

Chris Jensen, chief executive of domain monetisation company Left of the Dot, says it is “way easier” to start a company in Vancouver than in his native UK. “People here will give you the benefit of the doubt.”

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