Vice President, Innovate Edmonton
“Tech hub” brings to mind Silicon Valley, Beijing, or Toronto and Montreal, if one looks closer to home. There’s no denying that these cities are powerhouses for churning out technological innovation, but Edmonton deserves a close look from entrepreneurs searching for a place to launch their business. With a diverse pool of local talent and heavy interest and investment in the industry from all three levels of government — especially via Innovate Edmonton, a division of the Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) — the city ticks all the boxes for a fledgling tech hub, and offers a few advantages over its higher-profile counterparts.
Why Edmonton is moving up in global tech rankings
This year, Edmonton moved into the top 10 for CBRE’s Scoring Canadian Tech Talent Report, which assesses cities based on quality of labour, cost to operate, and the concentration of tech labour, among other metrics. Edmonton had the largest score improvement of any market in the country. CBRE noted that the city saw a 26 percent increase in tech jobs over the past five years, produces over 1,000 graduates from tech programs annually, and has a “very high” quality of labour at a lower cost, relative to other major cities.
Meanwhile, the University of Alberta ranks in the top five in the world for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, according to CSRankings, and the federal government has recognized Edmonton as one of three national hubs for the AI sector in its Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy. The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Science and the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute are among the driving forces behind this success.
Why did Edmonton’s score improve so much relative to other markets? In part, it’s a natural consequence of the local talent pool, thanks to the presence of the University of Alberta, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, and Concordia University, to name a few post-secondary options in the area. There’s also a high standard of living and relatively low operating costs.
But a large portion of the city’s progress comes down to government funding and support, which are crucial variables for young tech businesses. “Emerging tech startups require a different support ecosystem than traditional businesses, and we’ve focused on developing those systems of support,” says Cheryll Watson, Vice President of Innovate Edmonton.
The city ticks all the boxes for a fledgling tech hub, and offers a few advantages over its higher-profile counterparts.
How Innovate Edmonton supports tech startups
Access to mentorship to help burgeoning tech entrepreneurs navigate the ecosystem is one key variable. Startup Edmonton, which is managed by Innovate Edmonton, provides mentorship, structured educational programs, and other resources for tech workers in the city. Through the efforts of this organization, more tech talent is staying within the city’s borders than ever before — and it’s a major part of the surge in tech jobs behind the city’s CBRE ranking.
Meanwhile, Innovate Edmonton also works directly with the local investment community to increase its focus on tech startups. “Early-stage funding is essential for a new business,” says Watson. “At our most recent startup week, we saw a strong focus on tech investment.” Connecting students to the tech community is also a key part of the effort, which is why Innovate Edmonton and Startup Edmonton have a strong presence on university campuses and help enable direct recruitment from startups.
Speaking of startups, Edmonton is churning out success stories. Startups such as Jobber, a rapidly-growing services scheduling company, Drivewyze, provider of the world’s largest connected-truck safety network, and Beamdog, the largest indie game studio in the city, have all built their businesses in Edmonton.
With the combination of variables in the city — talent, lower operating costs, a world-class university for AI, and governmental support — it’s a trend that looks set to continue.