October 21, 2019
Category: DT Advantage Fall 2019
The Downtown Business Association releases a report outlining how the core could become Canada’s next big tech hub.
On a sunny afternoon last August, Downtown’s tech community, property managers, city planners and economic developers packed Yellowhead Brewery to hear the findings of the DBA’s annual business report. One by one, the who’s who of Edmonton’s business community filed into the room. There were friendly handshakes, jovial laughter and business cards exchanged.
Every summer, the DBA hires an Alberta School of Business MBA student to produce its business report on a topic of importance to Downtown. This year’s choice of how to build a tech hub Downtown was an easy one for a few reasons. In the past 24 months, there has been no shortage of local and international tech companies that have moved Downtown. Then in May, the Global Startup Ecosystem Report, that ranks 1,000 cities and 100 countries worldwide, called out Edmonton as a city to watch.
By the time University of Alberta researcher Karolina Korzeniewski hit the stage to present “Accelerating Tech in Downtown Edmonton: Impacts and Opportunities,” it was standing room only. “Great ideas happen when people come together and have great spaces where they can collaborate and collide,” asserted Korzeniewski. One by one, she laid bare the five recommendations to grow tech in Downtown – the establishment of a Downtown accelerator, more tech-focused buildings, retain homegrown talent, enhancement of the Downtown urban experience and more collaboration with EACOAs and other organizations in the tech system.
The first three recommendations needed no convincing at all. The nature of work is changing, and with it the workplace. Shared boardrooms, breakout rooms, coworking spaces, community hubs and a variety of building amenities are the new normal when it comes to attracting top tech companies and talent.
Heads nodded again when Korzeniewski pressed the group to come up with solutions to stop the tech brain drain. Edmonton’s post-secondary institutions can’t keep up with the local demand for grads and many skilled employees later move away to larger cities.
More complicated was the report’s recommendation for a Downtown accelerator and the need for more collaboration, especially with the Edmonton Advisory Council on Startups (EACOS). The crowd stirred when Korzeniewski highlighted many examples of great Edmonton collaborations but pointed out that the tech ecosystem in Edmonton is siloed. “Our hearts are in the right place, but we need to start coordinating and collaborating more.”
But it was the blunt panel discussion hosted by Jeremy Heyward of solūt that raised even more eyebrows. “Edmonton doesn’t have an innovation ecosystem. It has an innovation industry,” said panel member and Yardstick CEO Chris LaBossiere, insisting that perhaps the system needs to be entirely reset. Bruce Alton of A-Partners suggested that support organizations be reviewed every three or four years to ensure they meet the industry’s needs. Ashlyn Bernier, COO of SAM Inc., pointed out that an accelerator and/or incubator is not the “silver bullet” that we’re looking for.
It was clear from the evening’s discussions that much still needed to be done to grow tech in Downtown Edmonton. But one thing everyone agreed upon is that more events like this are needed.