Entrepreneurialism and Edmonton:
a Brief History
If you haven’t been to Edmonton before, no one will blame you. Located in Central Alberta (that’s Canada, if you’re not familiar), Edmonton is the Northern-most city in the world with a population of greater than 1M people. It also happens to be one of the least densely populated cities in the world with a geographic footprint bigger than cities far larger in population. Draw your own inferences, but know this: our roads are always in repair.
However, Edmonton also happens to be a burgeoning hotbed of entrepreneurial talent likened to more traditional economic hubs like Calgary, Vancouver, & Toronto. According to a 2012 study from the CFIB (Canadian Federation of Independent Business), Edmonton is actually rated far better in terms of it’s “Entrepreneurial Index” than these larger business centres and is ranked 8th/103 cities in Canada. The Capital Region is represented quite well actually, with Grande Prairie (1st) to the North and Red Deer (6th) to the South bordering the city from a geographic and economic perspective.
So, “what makes Edmonton so special” you might ask?
Well, it’s a combination of factors, including:
- The launch and growth of Startup Edmonton, self-described as “an entrepreneurial campus and community hub. Since 2009, we have been creating collisions — between developers, designers, makers, founders, investors and mentors — transforming ideas into companies. We are a non-profit company headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta.”
- The establishment of TEC Edmonton, a joint-initiative between the University of Alberta and the City of Edmonton. The technology-based business incubator and accelerator TEC Edmonton was named Incubator of the year in 2014 by Startup Canada while Randy Thompson, Edmonton based director of TEC Edmonton’s TEC Venture Angels investment group was named as Investor of the Year.
- Recent growth in a number of business plan competitions and incubator space at the post secondary sector, including the University of Alberta’s eHub.
- A surplus of intellectual talent. The University of Alberta is one of the top universities in the world while NAIT and MacEwan also serve as great educational institutions and serve as entrepreneurial hubs of their own, featuring both business plan competitions and co-working spaces.
Edmonton is also going through an intense period of gentrification and densification of its downtown core after growing outward for the past 30+ years. After West Edmonton Mall (the largest mall in North America and 10th largest globally), finished construction in 1981, much of Edmonton’s commerce grew into the surrounding out West and South areas in a period of extensive construction of single-family detached homes and multi-family units.
More recently, the construction of the downtown Rogers Arena and the surrounding arts and culture zone has spurned on investor appetites, culminating in the construction of several new towers along Jasper avenue and the 104th ave area on the north shore of the North Saskatchewan River.
Historically, Edmonton’s entrepreneurial roots date back to 1795 when The Hudson Bay Company constructed Fort Edmonton as a trading post to compete with the North West Company’s Fort Augustus, found at the junction of the Sturgeon River and North Saskatchewan River and near the present-day city of Fort Saskatchewan.
For nearly a century, Fort Edmonton competed for beaver and animal pelts that were shipped east to satisfy the demand in Upper and Lower Canada. The Fort was made and remade 5 times throughout it’s history, changing locations, moving north and south along the river in search of the perfect location to settle permanently.
For the past 220 years, Edmonton has been a bastion to the north, pushing back the wilderness and providing a place to call home for the European settlers who braved the Canadian Winters in the search of a better tomorrow. From these humble roots, Fort Edmonton has grown and expanded, merging with the surrounding communities of Strathcona, Sherwood Park, St. Albert, Stony Plain and Spruce Grove to having been ranked as the top Canadian city to live in as recently as 2014.
Although the North Saskatchewan river valley was responsible for the city we now call Edmonton, it also happens to form the largest expanse of urban parkland in North America (suck it Calgary!) and hosts a bevy of creative co-work spaces, coffee shops and running trails, perfect for Edmontonian’s and entrepreneurs alike to take advantage of and enjoy.
As an end-note, it’s worth sharing that they call Edmonton ‘The Festival City’, and so if you’re planning a visit, you can be sure there’s a festival for every type of crowd. I’ve assembled a short list below, but check out the above link for the Wikipedia page dedicated to Edmonton’s festival scene!
The Edmonton International Fringe Festival, Edmonton Folk Music Festival, Edmonton Heritage Festival, Edmonton International Street Performers’ Festival, Edmonton International Film Festival, Edmonton Pride Festival, The Taste of Edmonton, K Days, Sonic Boom, The Interstellar Rodeo, The CFR and The Symphony Under the Sky.