Local techies welcome influential 'outsiders'

More than 250 technology experts invade

It's made itself heard and raised its profile locally with a multi-platform information campaign.

It's created a new brand for the city - Tectoria - and long ago surpassed tourism as Victoria's biggest private industry.

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But now the high-tech sector has set its sights on making some noise beyond the Capital Region's borders.

And with that in mind, the Victoria Advanced Technology Council kicks off Experience Tectoria today, a three-day conference and networking event that brings together hightech leaders from all over North America.

"The Victoria tech sector is getting more recognition in B.C., but abroad it is still largely unknown," said VIATeC executive director Dan Gunn. "So we wanted to hold an event that would bring some influential outof-town people from the tech sector to Victoria to learn why we're Canada's smartest city.

"They will get to see what we have within our infrastructure and why we're thriving and why they should come here to invest, start companies or even seek work."

Experience Tectoria offers a variety of seminars, workshops and pitch opportunities for local companies to strut their stuff, while visiting VIPs personally invited to Victoria for a high-tech familiarization tour will get a peak behind the scenes of the $2.5-billion sector.

"It's fair to say, for a lot of them, it may be their first trip to Victoria and they may not fully appreciate or understand it yet," said Gunn.

The city has three postsecondary schools and ten federal research labs - all reasons Victoria has a tech sector, and Gunn wants to show this to visitors, he said.

"We hope they leave with a better understanding of the diversity, strength and robustness of our tech sector and want to go home and tell people about it."

For Terry Doyle, the California-based director of corporate development for Nokia, the trip to Victoria is a chance to simply soak it all up and see how this tech hot spot compares with others that have emerged.

"There are hallmarks to these types of areas and I'm interested in finding out more about Victoria," Doyle said. He noted Silicon Valley grew out of defence spending cuts in the U.S. and venture capital flooding to the region to fund a lot of very smart people who were looking for work.

"And you see that in many places, like Colorado where the U.S. Geological Survey was set up. A lot of smart people there ... big surprise companies like Google and Microsoft have offices there," Doyle added.

He said he comes to the event with no preconceived notion, but said Victoria may have an advantage over some other high-tech communities.

"One of the things that can happen in some of these areas like Silicon Valley is a herd mentality develops and people tend to look at a problem the same way. Being removed creates opportunities for people to look at the problem in different ways and come up with solutions that may be unique," Doyle said.

VIP guests like Doyle will be toured through the city by high-tech leaders from around the region who will be on hand to answer questions and facilitate networking opportunities.

At VIATeC's offices, which houses the 16,000 square foot Accelerator Centre where start-up companies are fostered and helped to grow by business mentors, there will be a series of panel discussions and seminars geared for the local market.

Mike Volker, an industry veteran and angel investor from Vancouver, will be part of a panel on investing in the industry. He looks at the three-day event as a chance for Victoria to showcase its up-and-coming companies and success stories.

"There may be a perception [outside the city] that there's not much happening in Victoria, but you have to remember Victoria is a lot smaller than the Mainland, so it wouldn't have that same kind of visibility," Volker said. "But it never hurts to [raise a profile], especially when there are strong companies. It boosts investor confidence when they see that."

As for the investment climate, Volker said there's a lot of capital available from investors for the right deal. "A lot of entrepreneurs will tell you there isn't much money out there, but usually that's because they're not ready for it," Volker said. "I rarely see companies going unfunded unless there's something wrong with them."

During Experience Tectoria, some of those startups will get a chance to test that theory with a demonstration camp to show their wares and a gladiator-styled arena for quick pitches in front of investors.

Gunn said Tectoria's partnership with the Rifflandia music festival will see Tectoria passholders and VIPs taking in concerts around the city. "What I've learned about going to conferences is you can combine it with the arts and culture to get a much more well-rounded story."

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