Tech in the City – Victoria’s bright future

People working in an office

The tech sector is one of Victoria’s largest employers and continues to generate jobs at levels that match pre-pandemic recruitment. VIATEC (Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council) is currently posting an average of 120 jobs, a number that hasn’t changed much in a year.“

December unemployment numbers [in Victoria] were 5.8 per cent — most cities would love to have that during a regular economy, let alone during a pandemic,” says VIATEC CEO Dan Gunn. “I think tech has a hand in that.“

One of the advantages of our tech sector is they’re very globally focused. They get very little of the revenue from their own backyard. That gives them global opportunities to try and pursue, and there’s resilience in that.”

Early this year the CBRE Group released a market ranking of the top 10 tech markets in Canada; Victoria ranks seventh above Halifax, Quebec City and Hamilton. The ranking is based on 13 metrics, including talent availability and operating costs, to gauge suitability of tech employers and prospective employees. The top seven markets, including Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, have maintained their position since 2019.

The last decade has seen the sector flourish, changing the landscape for young entrepreneurs and contributing to a culture shift in the city. Alacrity Canada started in Victoria 10 years ago with the purpose of teaching recent graduates how to become entrepreneurs by connecting promising talent with support, mentorship and capital. Over the last decade Alacrity’s portfolio companies have contributed a significant amount to the South Island’s economy.

“We started or created somewhere between 250 and 600 jobs throughout the portfolio,” says Alacrity’s general manager Richard Egli. “The annual revenues of the companies add up to somewhere in the neighbourhood of $50 million a year Canadian— that’s only across 10 or 11 companies.”

Two of Alacrity’s companies, Tutela and Echosec, were sold in the $30 to 40 million range. Another of their companies, Certn, successfully raised $43 million last year, elevating it to Victoria’s big league of tech companies with over 100 employees, making it one of the city’s fastest growing businesses. Others in that range have included Latitude Geographics, MediaCore (before it was sold to Workday) and Redbrick.

Those who have sold companies are left with money in their pockets, and Egli has watched the positive impact they made on the sector: “They’re investing in the next round of startups, they’re advising and mentoring companies and they’re in their thirties. So they’re going to get to do this for the next 20 to 30 years. It’s pretty wild —the trickle-down impact of this type of work on an ecosystem.”

Both Gunn and Egli agree that the next step in Victoria’s evolution is to retain more companies, seeing them grow to the next level — in the realm of 200 to 500employees — locally instead of being sold because it makes sense for the founders or investors. Top-level recruitment can be a hindrance, but the changing landscape of remote work may offer benefits as people are able to try out jobs from afar before moving or can undertake the work remotely.“

Victoria’s tech sector isn’t in one space. We’re not a gaming town, we’re not a software town, we’re not an alternate energy town — we have all of those things,” says Gunn. “When one area isn’t flying high, then the other ones are, and they can start pulling in the available resources and people along the way. It gives [the sector] a resiliency that helps the overall community and economy.”

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