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Calgary: Canada’s Most Adventurous Tech City

Three people in their twenties eating by a food truck
Three people in their twenties eating by a food truck

Think Calgary — big skies, a Rocky Mountain playground, and energy come to mind. But there’s now a new kind of energy that’s creating Canada’s most adventurous tech city. 

Calgary is home to a robust tech and innovation ecosystem. Entrepreneurs are embracing the disruption brought on by digitization, taking risks, and creating startup and scaleup companies in a city focused on resolving global challenges in energy, transportation, food, and health.

“Calgary has a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem,” says Court Ellingson, Vice-President of Research and Strategy at Calgary Economic Development. “Where there are entrepreneurs, there’s innovation.”

Entrepreneurial activity is a driving force in the city’s economic strategy, called Calgary in the New Economy, and it’s gained traction with the structural change in the energy sector. 

The growth of the ecosystem was apparent in November when 1,200 people attended Startup Calgary’s 10th annual “Launch Party.” The event showcased more than 50 successful local companies as part of Innovation Week. 

Calgary has a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. Where there are entrepreneurs, there’s innovation.

Court Ellingson, Vice-President of Research and Strategy at Calgary Economic Development

A 2019 report by Startup Genome ranked Calgary as a top-five ecosystem for connectedness among 50 cities globally. Innovation has long been the hallmark of the energy sector, but the report singled out Calgary’s new strengths in cleantech and life sciences. 

Calgary has the highest concentration of head offices in Canada, and that creates opportunities for new businesses to do industry-disrupting work. 

Calgary also has among the highest concentrations of small businesses in Canada, with three out of four tech companies in Calgary being a startup. The city is home to more than 60% of Alberta’s tech companies.

A number of Calgary startups and scaleups are attracting significant funding, support, and international attention, while many of the one-time small businesses aren’t so small anymore. Solium Financial and Parvus Therapeutics, for example, were both part of billion-dollar investment deals this year in fintech and life sciences. 

Attabotics — a company revolutionizing supply chains for modern commerce with its robotics-based fulfillment system — got a special mention on TIME Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2019 list.

From software to hardware to services, digital transformation is a driver of tech investments by Calgary industries. A study by Calgary Economic Development and IDC Canada forecasts that Calgary companies will lead the $18.4 billion spend on digital transformation in Alberta through 2022.

From cloud computing and artificial intelligence to robotics, tech is now the way to do business, for all businesses.

For decades, industries such as energy, agriculture, and transportation have incubated companies by leveraging the talent and ideas from the post-secondary institutions in Calgary. The health and life sciences sector is now doing the same.

Calgary bridge at night

A research university drives innovation and the University of Calgary is home to the International Microbiome Centre, which has Canada’s largest germ-free facility, as well as real-time imaging and droid robotics. The Tom Baker Cancer Centre conducts state-of-the-art research in precision oncology, and is set to be the largest cancer research centre in Canada by 2024. 

There are over 60 companies working in Calgary addressing health issues and this is poised to grow with the Life Sciences Innovation Hub at the University of Calgary opening this year to better link the ideas emerging at the university with business.

The Life Sciences Innovation Hub is among the more than 50 shared workspaces in the city to serve the startup and scaleup communities. Calgary is the third-fastest growing “flexible office” market in Canada, having doubled in size since 2017.

Calgary is a prime market for change-makers of all sizes, from all industries. It has competitive costs to do business, is rated the most livable city in the Western Hemisphere, and has a tech ecosystem that’s transforming our industrial sectors.

There’s a lot more happening in Calgary than might be expected. In fact, it’s the only place in Canada to truly live tech and love life.

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