Oil Prices Create Opportunities for Alberta Tech Community

Ask anyone in Alberta about the current oil prices and many of them will say the same thing: We’ve been here before.

As changing oil prices are causing a ripple effect throughout the industry, from upstream to downstream and out to service providers, other industries in Alberta also feel the effects – that includes the tech sector.

We asked attendees at AccelerateAB how they thought the current downturn could affect the tech companies in Alberta.

“From my long history, normally, when energy goes down, tech goes up,” said David Edmonds, Director and Industry Chair at The A100. “I would think a piece of that is that some very highly trained and technical people become available, aren’t willing to wait for a new job and go out and start their own companies.”

Many big companies invest heavily into innovation and R&D and when the oil cycle is down, those employed in this area who may already possess an entrepreneurial spirit take the risk and build startups.

This was the case for one of this year’s roundtable companies, InstaMek, which provides on-demand automotive mechanic services. The two co-founders, Uzair Ahmed and Asem Alsaadi, are chemical engineers who had formerly worked in oil and gas. They started InstaMek two months ago and are hoping to tap into the newly available workforce for their startup.

“We get full access to some of the most talented mechanics out there who used to work for oil companies,” said Alsaadi. “They usually have heavy-duty and automotive mechanic licences as well, so we have access to them and we’re creating jobs.”

Lower oil prices also mean that oil companies are looking for ways to increase efficiency and are looking to service providers, especially in technology, to optimize their processes.

“Implementing software when you are super busy is something that is hard to do,” said Hamid Baghi, Software Engineer at InVistaWare, which builds field operations software for the construction, hauling, equipment rental and field services industries. “And when you’re selling efficiency gains, that means a lot more to people a) when they’re trying to eke out every dollar and b) when they have more time to implement software.”

Amanda Baxter, who has worked for a large enterprise in Alberta over the last few years, thought that learning about the issues startups face were also applicable to bigger corporations.

“We have to meet the demands of technology to expand our business,” she said. “If we don’t look at what’s next, then we could get left behind. I think this isn’t just for startups, I think it’s also looking at how do we develop the tech side within our corporations, too.”

Edmonds, who calls himself an eternal optimist, said that the current downturn should be viewed as a chance to create good things.

“A lot of the companies here [at AccelerateAB] need to look at this as an opportunity,” he said. “The person they could never get in front of when business was rolling at a high rate of speed now have the time to meet. It’s horrible when we see a downturn like this but we need to look at the opportunities that present themselves either from a technology point of view or from the people who can start new businesses.”

Photo: Alberta Culture & Tourism