How to Build BC into a World Leader in Tech and Innovation

Don Mattrick, Industry Chair for the #BCTECH Summit, knows how to create a successful BC-based business and make an impact on the world stage.

He was born and raised in BC and started his first company Distinctive Software Inc. in 1982 at the age of 17. After that company was acquired by Electronic Arts in 1991, Mattrick went on to become EA Canada where he became their President of Worldwide Studios. Following that he went on to run the XBox business, supply chain and hardware R&D at Microsoft for a number of years before heading to California to run social games company Zynga. Mattrick has also been identified as a “Global Leader of Tomorrow” by the World Economic Forum.

Mattrick’s now settled back in BC with ventures in Victoria and Vancouver. He believes that we have a huge opportunity to build an incredible place for technology businesses to thrive, scale and innovate through world-leading R&D.

He believes that technology companies founded and headquartered here can grow to 500+ employees, pioneer through R&D and create an ecosystem that leads to even more companies being incubated and following the same journey.

“Global access to consumers delivers increased opportunity through connectivity to the Internet, companies in all segments of the economy are now building their business upon access to the internet, mobile devices, sensors and large data sets when coupled with machine learning are creating many new experiences, business models and services,” Mattrick says, “BC has an opportunity to build upon its current base and scale up in a manner similar to Silicon Valley.”

He says that we can move away from an economic model where we rely on natural resources, and hard manufacturing, towards a more technology-centric and ‘eco-friendly’ approach where our economy is knowledge-based. “If we shift our focus from the physical aspects of our province (timber, mining, etc.) and move towards thinking of people and their intellect and creativity as our number one natural resource, we can build a global powerhouse here in BC.”

Mattrick talks about the idea of creating critical mass as being key to this shift.

“People and the creation of new technology and services, linked with the trend that in next 30 years approximately 70% of the world’s population will be living in urban centres, means that Vancouver and Victoria could and should be home some great at scale tech companies.”

He also talks about how creating critical mass becomes a “virtuous cycle.” This is where we see new companies gain great momentum – see great companies like Hootsuite, Avigilon and Slack. That results in BC attracting more attention and more investment, which paves the way for more R&D to be undertaken. This, in turn, leads to the growth of the technology community, more companies being formed, more people learning technology-based skills… the cycle continues.

Mattrick points to the Silicon Valley as an example of creating critical mass, “If you look to the early days of the Silicon Valley, we saw Bell Labs, Xerox PARC and others focus on programs of R&D and the big growth spurts happened when venture capitalists and educational institutions stepped in to collaborate and help.”

The effect of this means successful companies build local technology culture around R&D.  Centres of excellence in multiple industries are established, and that builds more companies that scale to more than 500 employees.

Mattrick says that an open culture of sharing ideas and methods is vitally important as well, “Knowledge sharing de-risks innovation and increases the value of the work that is created. Every part of the local innovation ecosystem has to step up. Now is the time for that to happen in BC.”

We see both Vancouver and Victoria leading the way. The recent announcement that Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, and Westbank Projects developer Ian Gillespie, are planning to build a “massive tech hub” in the Mount Pleasant area of Vancouver shows great promise to support upcoming technology companies. In addition, the 100,000 square foot Vancouver Technology and Social Innovation Centre open in late 2016 for digital tech startups, cleantech companies, tech accelerators, non-profits and micro-enterprises.  In Victoria tech hubs like VIATEC bolster the community by supporting the startup ecosystem, incubating technology companies and making people aware globally that over 800 tech companies in the Greater Victoria area are already contributing over $4 billion to the economy. This is attracting great attention to the region.

In addition, Premier Christy Clark recently announced a $100-million venture capital fund to give early-stage tech entrepreneurs access to money that will help grow their businesses. The Premier says, “This seed fund is going to be proof that the British Columbia government has faith and confidence in our tech industry. It will allow us to attract a lot of investment from around the world that we hope would match it.”

While we are seeing great strides and support, Mattrick warns that as we build great businesses, complacency will be one of the biggest barriers to progress.

“The idea that we are doing well and will have steady growth will ultimately mean that businesses will struggle as the online economy and access to services and products becomes even easier and as margins shrink.” He believes that we have to set lofty goals and chase after them with vigour and drive every single day, and quotes Michelangelo:

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

It is vitally important we help B.C.-based technology companies tap into the support from initiatives like the Scientific Research and Experimental Development Program (SR&ED) and the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). Also, initiatives like B.C.IC’s Venture Acceleration Program, Launch Academy, and engagement with academia is also important. Mattrick says, “On-going investment in education – with great professors mentoring great students and the inverse – help build at scale venture businesses, and find ways to support businesses and people who aspire to create, innovate will build a strong sustainable community for us.”

Mattrick sets out a call-to-action, “It’s time for everyone in B.C. – parents, community leaders, government officials, technology CEOs, business owners, and you – to step up our expectations. Let’s set that aim high and watch how quickly B.C. will reach critical mass, keep the momentum going and go from strength-to-strength.” The talent is here, and the hard working ethic is well. We have seen examples of great success and we can see more as we reach critical mass and push forward.

In celebration of innovation and new thinking in B.C., we will see many entrepreneurs, investors, industry buyers, researchers, students and government officials are coming together at the #B.C.TECH Summit on January 18-19, 2016 to make new connections, nurture existing networks and exchange fresh ideas. Find out more here about B.C.’s vibrant technology industry – and the tech trends that will affect your business in 2016 and beyond.

This article was also published on BCIC’s blog.