Investment in Alberta's tech sector soars

·4 min read
Investment in Calgary's tech sector is fueling a hiring and office expansion boom. (Bryan Labby/CBC - image credit)
Investment in Calgary's tech sector is fueling a hiring and office expansion boom. (Bryan Labby/CBC - image credit)

Several Calgary-based tech companies are planning to hire more people and expand their office space as hundreds of millions of dollars flow into the sector.

Through the first half of the year, Alberta has attracted nearly $500 million in investment, according to briefed.in.

"We're growing very, very quickly," said Nic Beique, the founder of Calgary-based Helcim, which offers online payment services for small businesses across Canada and the United States.

The company recently received $16 million in venture capital funding from investors in Toronto and New York.

"We've doubled our business in the past six months alone, so our investors are already quite happy with that progress," Beique said from the company's headquarters in Eau Claire.

Bryan Labby/CBC
Bryan Labby/CBC

Beique says the company has grown by 400 per cent in the past year. It's gone from 80 employees late last year to 145 today. He plans to hire 100 more people by the end of next year.

"My long-term goal is to build an anchor tenant in the Calgary tech scene. So when people think about Calgary, they think about Helcim … the way Shopify was able to do that with Ottawa, where they really kind of put them on the map for tech. I want to do that in Calgary as well."

According to briefed.in, Alberta's tech sector recorded $268.6 million in venture funding in the second quarter alone — in the same quarter a year ago, only $16 million was raised.

Hirings, office expansion

Another rising star in the city's tech scene is Virtual Gurus, which provides companies with virtual assistants to carry out a range of administrative duties for businesses in Canada and the States.

Two years ago, the company had five employees. It now has 40 and plans to double that number by the end of the year, which will require more office space.

"We're looking at expanding upstairs in order to facilitate that growth," said Margaret Glover-Campbell, the company's chief operating officer.

Bryan Labby/CBC
Bryan Labby/CBC

Virtual Gurus, which aims to hire more people from minority groups, including people with disabilities and members of the LGBTQ community, recently received $10 million in funding from several venture funds. The money will be used to help the company grow and launch a new app in the coming months.

New funding sources

Calgary-based startup ZayZoon, which previously relied on individual, private investors, recently raised $25.5 million in funding to help it expand. ZayZoon offers people early access to their earned wages and has partnered with approximately 3,000 businesses in the U.S. The company has 70 employees but plans to hire 15 more by the end of the year.

One of its investors is Alberta government-owned ATB Financial, which is providing a $13-million debt pool for the company to use when clients seek an advance on their earnings.

Tate Hackert/ZayZoon
Tate Hackert/ZayZoon

Tate Hackert, one of the company's founders, says ATB's support is a boost for his company and the city.

"It's just such a great story for Calgary," he said.

"It just shows that there is more to invest in here than oil and gas, and we're really looking forward to being part of that success story, right?"

Finding employees a challenge

An ongoing challenge for most tech firms is finding employees to support their expansion plans.

"We're absolutely hiring as many people as we can. It's a really tough market in Calgary because we do have so many tech companies here that are trying to hire people," said Glover-Campbell.

Helcim says it takes a unique approach to hiring and provides greater opportunities for recent graduates of post-secondary schools. It aims to hire young professionals right out of school and provide on-the-job training and mentorship.

Bryan Labby/CBC
Bryan Labby/CBC

"Our focus is on giving these young professionals the ability to start their career at Helcim instead of fighting for senior talent," said Beique.

He also says recent cooling off in the sector could help level out the demand for talent and help his company attract and retain staff.

Calgary has a lot going for it, Beique says, including an affordable cost of living and a good quality of life. He says 20 per cent of the companies' recent hires are coming from outside the city.

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @CBCBryan.