This bustling tech hub in a retirement town is Canada’s best kept secret.
Growing up on Vancouver Island, in beautiful BC Canada, I remember the tired and crude cliché of our provincial capital as a place for the “newly wed and nearly dead”. It is true that Victoria has some of the best Universities in the country, drawing in a large student population, and stunning oceanfront property that entices retirees from around the world, but there is another layer to the economy here that is unknown to most — an incredible tech hub that is attracting millions of dollars in investment to some of the most innovative startups on the planet.
These digital businesses are thriving, yet walking the streets of the downtown area, you’d be forgiven for missing their presence completely. I met with Jason Jubinville of Echosec, a local startup using data analytics and geofencing to unlock useful insights for businesses as varied as police forces and Swiss watch makers. Jason says “we are the second story businesses no one can see, serving customers around the world”. There are no storefronts, many of these startups are clustered together in shared spaces of outwardly bland buildings. Behind these unassuming exterior facades, you will find helicopters, gondolas and bowler trailers moved indoors and converted to meeting rooms. Other businesses have integrated into these office spaces too with coffee shops like DAK keeping young entrepreneurs well caffeinated. Should you ever be lucky enough to move in these circles, you will also meet some of the brightest and most ambitious people in the country.
I stumbled upon Victoria’s tech scene entirely by accident. Our team at Market Gravity are conducting research across the country speaking to entrepreneurs and listening to their stories about the hardships and rewards of starting their own business. A common thread amongst most entrepreneurs in traditional industries is their struggle of finding startup capital, office or retail space and the ongoing management of growing your network and customer base. Not so in tech. In fact, tech investment is so lucrative here in Canada that venture capitalists from America are starting to migrate north as an alternative to the competitive and saturated environment of Sillicon Valley. Organizations like the Alacrity Foundation, which began in Victoria and now operates in cities around the world, works with the Government, local universities, VC’s and angel investors and connects these resources with young entrepreneurs in need of capital and resources to get their big ideas off the ground and into market. Since its inception 7 years ago, Alacrity has provided millions of dollars in funding and also carved out innovative spaces to nurture and grow new tech companies. Traditional banking products like business loans and advisors aren’t even on the radar here. But could they be?
Tech investing is high risk, high reward and exists in its own bubble. It has a language spoken by a group of highly educated and ambitious people who support one another. Investors are often more than just money, offering council, and strategic direction to young CEO’s. Could financial institutions collaborate in this realm? I say yes; Democratize where the investment capital comes from, convert your dying branch network into a community of wework style office spaces, offer a group advisory model, and rework credit and lending products to reflect the new age of facebook ad contracts that are powering the explosive growth of digital business.
As traditional FSI providers continue to be disrupted, it is exactly this type of radical thinking that will be needed to keep big banking relevant in the coming decade. Over the next 5 weeks, Market Gravity’s D5 project will explore these opportunities and more. We believe there is a revolution on the horizon for financial services and their relationship to Canadian entrepreneurs. Watch this space as our research study continues: www.thed5project.com