Forget Silicon Valley North, Let’s Make Vancouver ‘Canadian HQ’

Many Canadian cities have tried to lay claim to the title “Silicon Valley North,” yet the debate rages on. A quick search for the phrase on Techvibes delivers numerous articles spanning the past several years. Having spent much of my life in Silicon Valley before relocating to Vancouver four years ago, I feel it is misguided for any city or region to proclaim itself the “Silicon Valley of…” as there really is only one Silicon Valley.

Instead we should collectively support all efforts that encourage entrepreneurs to build amazing businesses here in Canada. And rather than argue over which Canadian city is best emulating Silicon Valley let’s celebrate any Canadian company that achieves success on par with an American peer.

But I’m not writing this post to debate whether Silicon Valley North exists or is a worthy aspiration. Rather I want to make a case for why Silicon Valley companies that are looking to launch in Canada should be turning their sights due north and making Vancouver their Canadian headquarters. I’m prepared for the comments to roll in from Toronto but it is time to pass the mantle westward.

Sure, if your business is primarily a media business then there are advantages to Toronto as the hub for Canadian media and agency business. That said, lots of successful online media companies call Silicon Valley home with a strong sales presence near Madison Avenue. A similar approach can work in Canada. And for other tech businesses proximity to media buyers is inconsequential.

So why Vancouver? I’m not factoring in the quality of life arguments — the mild climate, amazing skiing at Whistler, or the fact that Vancouver is once again near the top of The Economist’s annual list of Most Livable Cities. Instead I will focus on four factors:

Demographics– The numbers don’t lie and census data shows that Canada’s population is moving West. In 2011, for the first time more Canadians lived West of Ontario than East, and that trend is continuing.  The three fastest growing cities in the country are Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. And the ten fastest growing metropolitan areas are all in Western Canada. With this migration the economic balance of power is shifting as well.

Proximity– I realize that dealing with employees in multiple time zones is a reality for any global business, but why put up unnecessary barriers? Being in the same time zone facilitates communication between Canadian and US headquarters. Not to mention the 2 hour and 15 minute flight from San Francisco to Vancouver will save 6 valuable hours (with the time change) versus traveling to Toronto.

Talent – In the past six months both Facebook and Twitter have established offices in Vancouver to develop engineering talent. Not only are there many talented developers in Vancouver coming out of local universities, but also it is easy to recruit talent from across Canada to come to Vancouver. Now imagine building a technical team from candidates that have cut their chops at Facebook or Twitter. Not to mention Hootsuite, which will make big contributions to the talent ecosystem on both the technical and commercial side as early employees inevitably move on to new opportunities.

Mindset – This may be the toughest argument to prove but I believe Vancouverites have a lot in common with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. And it seems the researchers at Startup Genome agree, as their recent report shows Vancouver second only to Silicon Valley in terms of entrepreneurial mindset. In the same way that pioneers moved to California in the mid 19th century in search of gold to make their fortune, a similar migration pattern happened north of the border. I’ve seen the pioneer ethos alive and well in Vancouver. There is an entrepreneurial spirit (even if it tends to be more modest in its ambition than in the US), creativity, and open-mindedness to new ideas. The organizers of TED recognized this when selecting Vancouver to host their 30th annual TED conference in 2014.

I have had the pleasure recently of speaking to several Silicon Valley companies about the possibility of establishing a presence in Vancouver, and I hope to rally more support locally to encourage these businesses to choose Vancouver as their Canadian home base. In the next few years I would love to see the continued growth of Vancouver’s own startup ecosystem but also the arrival of more US companies that recognize the city is a great place to launch their efforts in Canada!

Photo: ASQ Vancouver