After a stellar year in 2014, Victoria’s booming tech sector shows no signs of slowing down.
A report recently released by the Victoria Advanced Technology Council (VIATeC) discovered at least 900 tech companies call the provincial capital home and directly employ 15,000 tech workers.
The combined revenues of the Victoria tech sector’s 25 biggest tech firms measured by to revenues has reached $1.16 billion.
Attracted by Victoria’s tech talent, well-known companies from the US including Kixeye, Change.org, Zynga, and RealNetworks have all set up shop in Victoria.
“Victoria’s tech sector is vibrant and it’s diverse,” says Dan Gunn, who has been VIATeC’s CEO since 2005. “There’s also that ‘DIY DNA’ that makes Victoria such a creative, entrepreneurial place.”
And, to cap off 2014 as a big year for Victoria’s tech sector, VIATeC purchased and transformed a heritage building into a new community hub it calls Fort Tectoria.
Fort Tectoria: Victoria’s newest community hub
Many of the more than 300 technology companies that operate out of downtown Victoria are located behind closed doors in office buildings, says Gunn. These companies have had few chances to connect with their peers in the tech community.
Billed as the place the tech sector goes to feel at home and connect with peers, VIATeC launched Fort Tectoria in September 2014 on Fort Street in Victoria’s downtown core.
The name of the building is a nod to Fort Victoria, which gave Victoria its start.
Fort Street is starting to shed its image as “Antique Row.” In 2013 Owen Matthews, an executive at Wesley Clover, a Canadian investment firm specializing in technology, converted a bottle depot into a “mini-tech park” just up Fort Street from VIATeC’s new home.
Two blocks away in the other direction, the wood and brick buildings that line the Inner Harbour are home to tech companies specializing in everything from mapping to games.
The tech sector needed a home base downtown to serve this cluster of tech companies.
“Fort Tectoria features 16,000 square feet of everything from board rooms to co-working space and offices for startups to small rooms for one-on-one meetings,” says Gunn. “And most importantly: there is a street-level cafe with great coffee, desks anyone can work at, and crazy-fast internet.”
Thirty-five tenants have already moved in. Gunn points out that VIATeC purchased the building without relying on government funding.
“The Victoria tech community decided to make the purchase of our own building happen,” Gunn says. “We as a community got creative, we did our due diligence, and we moved quickly to buy our own space. We bootstrapped like a startup.”
The four-storey building provides closed-door offices for more mature companies, and plenty of coworking space for Victoria’s large population of independent entrepreneurs who are not quite ready for an actual office.
“Other startup cities like Boulder, Colorado actually have a ton of affordable office and coworking space in the downtown core,” says Gunn. “”VIATeC has spent more than 15 years serving early stage tech companies. We knew based on our other programs and spaces that there is need for space to grow early stage companies.”
The VIATeC Accelerator Program: fostering ambitious entrepreneurs
The decision to buy Fort Tectoria was also prompted by the success of the VIATeC’s Accelerator Program. The program guides, coaches and fosters ambitious early-stage technology companies.
“When VIATeC’s current Accelerator Program launched in 2012 it was immediately full,” says Gunn. “We realized we needed a long-term home for startups, so we looked for a building to buy.”
Since 2012 more than one hundred new jobs have been created by more than twenty successful VIATeC Accelerator Program graduates.
Structure is the key to the success of the VIATeC Accelerator, which incorporates programming from the BCIC Venture Accelerator Program.
“Entrepreneurs are matched with experienced advisors, and performance is evaluated regularly,” says Gunn. “While we provide lots of support, some companies flame out. Only the strong survive to graduate as high-growth, revenue-generating companies.”
Gunn also notes that, unlike private accelerator programs, VIATeC does not take an equity stake from Accelerator Program participants.
Victoria as a Canada Startup Community
Victoria’s bootstrapping approach to growing the economy has caught the attention of other communities.
The next month Gunn was invited to attend Startup Canada Day on the Hill to share with communities across Canada what he’s learned from the success of Victoria $3.15 billion technology sector. The audience included Prime Minister Stephen Harper and future Alberta Premier Jim Prentice.
“My new role as a Startup Communities advisor is a great opportunity to raise the profile of Victoria’s vibrant tech scene on the national stage while learning from other technology community builders from across Canada,” says Gunn.
Victoria is lucky to have a tech sector has grown so much over the past ten years, says Gunn.
“There’s more tech companies in Victoria that we can count on for help,” Gunn says. “This allows VIATeC to be nimble, resourceful, and entrepreneurial, much like a startup.”
Fort Tectoria is just the next step in the evolution of Victoria’s tech community.