The emergence of Calgary’s startup tech sector is no longer just a Canada story — it’s beginning to gain recognition on a world-wide level.
The city has cracked Startup Genome’s Global Startup System Report top 100 for the first time and took a big jump in its emerging market rankings on Thursday. Startup Genome is a global policy and research organization geared towards boosting the startup ecosystem.
It has 300 markets from around the world in its rankings and Calgary is one of its fast risers, improving by 14 places over 2022, to 91 overall and No. 51 on its emerging markets list.
“For us to break through some of those preconceived notions, that’s what’s happening now,” said Brad Parry, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development. “We got to keep our foot on the gas. You can’t stop telling the story about what’s happening in our ecosystem.”
Critical to the jump was three companies that exited the startup market either through IPO or acquisition, led by Circle Cardiovascular which sold to Thoma Bravo in March for $213 million.
Exits are critical to the market. They represent the ability for a company to reach a maturation point and move onto the next stage, like a professional sports team’s ability to develop top prospects into top pros and its impact on an entire organization.
This breeds further success and development in the startup ecosystem with employees and founders who know how to take an idea from the back of a napkin and turn it into a thriving company. Often those entrepreneurs then turn around and put money back into the system into the next big idea.
“They seed the next generation of startups, so I think the fact that Calgary had a few of these last year is very promising,” said Forrest Wright, assessment lead with Startup Genome.
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Startup Genome pegs Calgary’s created ecosystem value at $5,198,311,375 between July 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2022, representing 34.92 per cent in compound annual growth over the previous 30-month period. This measures economic impact, calculated as the value of exits and startup valuations.
Calgary scored particularly well among its North American competition in three specific categories, finishing top 10 in affordable talent, top 30 in funding and top 40 in talent and experience.
It has been a long process for the marketplace to gain this type of recognition on a global spectrum. Parry has been on an international tour the last two weeks with stops in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and London, selling companies on Calgary, and eyes are starting to open to what is going here.
The clean tech industry, where Calgary is a leader, is driving the city’s status, ranking it 24th globally. It’s a natural fit for the city with its roots in oil and gas and now pushing towards an energy transition and decarbonization goals. This can serve as beacon for other tech sectors and the market. The city also has a strong reputation in fintech, life sciences, and agtech and new food sectors.
“Investors will find emerging areas, so anything that puts us on a global map and make our our city stand out and attract investment and that creates a flywheel effect — more people see us, more people want to be part of it, more people see it,” said Terry Rock, president and CEO of Platform Calgary.
He added tech jobs are more transferable than other industries which provides flexibility within the sector, both from entrepreneurial and technical skill standpoints.
Key to the market’s development has been collaboration between many different organizations, including post-secondary as a talent developer and innovation incubator.
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‘There’s no reason why we can’t actually be one of the top 50’
CED, Platform and Calgary Innovation Coalition are also entering a partnership with Startup Genome which will allow for more international collaboration, expanding the resources and borders on the work that is being done locally.
Platform is celebrating its one-year birthday on Thursday. Rock said he has been inspired by the work and innovation he sees on a daily basis in Calgary. That ecosystem spirit is a big part of the reason why Calgary continues to attract record capital venture development during a global downturn, and Platform is preparing to launch investor hubs to improve the connection between startups and investors.
For Rock, this year’s ranking is just the start. He envisions a time in the next decade when Calgary is no longer on the emerging list but is mentioned in the same breath as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.
“We really want to be in that top 50 globally over the next five to 10 years,” he said. “When we look at the how these rankings are created, then we look at the fundamentals we have in terms of the capital available, the talent we have here, the global headquarter companies we have and then the entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial nature of Calgary, there’s no reason why we can’t actually be one of the top 50.”