5 Things That Are Hurting Edmonton’s Tech Startup Ecosystem

This is my third and last article on Edmonton’s startup ecosystem. You may want to read the previous two articles — ‘How Edmonton’s Startup Ecosystem has Evolved Since 2006’ and ‘How Edmonton’s Startup Ecosystem Helped Us Dramatically Grow LoginRadius’. This current post was written in 2015 and I have moved out of Edmonton a year ago but I’m publishing it now.

I have been observing the evolution of Edmonton’s Startup Ecosystem since 2010 and it has come from a long way to have its presence felt in western Canada. However, the last two years have been comparatively slow, especially in terms of the community growth in size as well as the number of new startups. And that is really worrying to many, including me.

So I asked myself other day, what is stunting the growth of Edmonton’s startup ecosystem? I rewinded the last two years of being in the community, and after reflecting on my experiences and observations, I believe these five factors are harming Edmonton’s startup ecosystem. However, I do not want to get into how to fix them, as there are enough smart people in the community who know the solutions, and maybe, some of the issues cannot be fixed.

1. Lack of Sense of Community

There is great sense of community among people who are in the driver’s seats, especially the executives at StartupEdmonton, TEC Edmonton, The A100, and EEDC. However, these guys make up less than 5% of the community. I am mainly referring to the rest of us — from a new junior person to startup founders to mentors and investors that make up the remainder 95% of this community. Most of the people in this 95% do not seem to be on board with idea of building a big and successful startup ecosystem in Edmonton. They don’t understand that they are vital for the ecosystem’s growth and success. They don’t see themselves as leaders in building the community. They are very self-centric and do not give a damn about other community members. They highly lack the sense of community.

For example, I received an email from a senior member of our startup community (yes, someone who built a company, sold it, and now invests in other startups) calling my team a ‘bunch of jokers’. Then, threatening me to offer our services for free otherwise he was going to use his ‘considerable reach’ to damage our brand.

This person used our services back in 2013 when we were in beta, and these were his encouraging words! I have experienced many such incidences from junior members to startup founders to successful entrepreneurs, which clearly demonstrate the lack of sense of community in Edmonton’s startup ecosystem.

2. Talent — I Mean NO Talent

The right mix of money and talent acts as the fuel to run a startup engine. Founders have been bringing money from outside of Edmonton, but what about talent? We have NO talent in Edmonton and the city fails to attract talent aside from foreign immigrants. I am saying this after investing a few million dollars in the last two years and interviewing over 500 candidates. I didn’t find a single experienced and skilled person, whether in Sales, Marketing, Engineering or Customer Service; so I always end up hiring fresh graduates. This causes another major problem because recent graduates immensely lack startup perspective and motivation as they haven’t heard about tech startups before. The whole city is gripped with the laidback oil and gas mindset!

More importantly, the talent that is coming out of universities doesn’t stay in the city. So Edmonton not only failed to attract new talent, but also failed to retain the talent.

3. Edmonton Doesn’t Sell

As much as I love you, Edmonton, I have to honestly tell you that you are geographically f***ed. Sorry! Not your fault, but it is a big FACT that you need to live with. This earned you such a bad name in the market, and people think you are just a few kilometers away from the North Pole. And the funny part is that the rest of Canada also sees you that way. I mean, people in the rest of Canada who experience same winter as you (except Vancouver) think you have a really harsh winter. Really, people?

Simply because of that, Edmonton’s name doesn’t sell among young people, investors, tech companies, or anyone outside of the city. No one wants to engage with Edmonton, no one wants to move to Edmonton, or even to visit. In my last 4 years of experience, I didn’t meet a single startup person who is planning on moving to Edmonton.

4. Thinking Local

From day one of LoginRadius, we were thinking of serving the global market, but when I became a member of the community, I was surprised to see that everyone was thinking so locally. Their business strategies evolve around the local Canadian market. This applied not only to the young and new entrepreneurs, but also senior members and investors.

Canada is such a small market, and in today’s globalized world, companies have to compete on an international level with the Chinese, Indians, Americans and the European counterparts. I am not sure why people do not see the world outside of Canada. Edmonton will never establish itself as a tech center of Canada without serving the global market.

5. No Big Tech Companies

There is no presence of a single tech Fortune 1000 company in Edmonton. It is still a concentrated oil and gas economy with no attention to tech. The city is even failing to keep Intuit, and I am afraid Edmonton will never able to attract big names.

I hope startup scene improves in coming years in Edmonton.