Restarts and reinvention are nothing new to the Victoria high-tech sector, and it appears the industry sees a restart in 2022 as another opportunity for it to evolve further and build on what was, by many accounts, a record year for tech in the city.
The pandemic has underlined the ability of tech firms to pivot, adapt and change in the face of adversity, said Dan Gunn, chief executive of the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council. The council represents about 500 Greater Victoria companies with a combined annual revenue in excess of $5 billion,
“(Last year) may have been the strongest year for the tech community in our history,” he said. “I’m quite an optimist and I believe greatly in these entrepreneurs and these companies and the people who work with them, but it was a surprise even to me how much of that happened.
“There are parts of our community definitely feeling a number of pain points, but the sector did do quite well in the face of it all.”
A VIATEC survey taken early in the pandemic showed a small segment of the tech sector was struggling while most said they could survive the restrictions and at least half of the firms indicated they intended to add staff.
That cautious approach seemed to give way to unbridled optimism in 2021 in some circles. In gaming there was a massive increase in users and revenue, while several local software firms grew by acquisition – in some cases making a grab for talent and in others adding complementary services to their software products.
Scott Phillips, chief executive of StarFish Medical, the country’s largest medical-device design company said he expected his company to realize a 40 per cent increase in revenue in 2021 and it was casting around widely to find more staff to handle the coming workload.
“There’s no indication that 2022 will not carry on that momentum,” said Gunn. He said his organization is still formulating a gameplan for 2022, but he did identify a few themes they will consider keeping near the top of the agenda – attracting new companies to Victoria, bringing more talent to the region from across Canada and ensuring the local tech industry gets together in person more often. “Those are areas where I know we can have an impact.”
Gunn believes one of the more valuable things they have done over the years is help local companies grow in the region rather than trying to lure established names to the Island.
“But what we tapped into during the pandemic was we became a partner of the federal government for the start-up visa program,” he said.
That program is aimed at attracting immigrants from around the world who want to build a company from scratch in Canada.
“That worked better for us because what we know is when it starts from seed and grows in Victoria, the roots get so deep,” he said.
After sifting through hundreds of applications, VIATEC is supporting 87 new ventures that have a shot of becoming established businesses.
Gunn notes they have provided 17 of those companies with letters of support to Immigration Canada and have helped six of them set up in Greater Victoria.
As for attracting talent, Gunn said they have a strong track record. “Part of that is telling the story that there is a thriving tech community here, and part of that has been providing support services so we’re supporting the ecosystem here.”
Gunn said it’s a global challenge and they are competing for talent with everywhere else. “But we have some great advantages of being the place that we are in the quality of life and quality of opportunities that we offer. Working on a way to strategically support our companies and attracting more of that talent they need and developing more of it locally at home is a natural fit for us.”
He also noted getting the tech community together more often will be key as it helps create the civic glue that makes the community stronger.
“When there’s this commonality where people can actually physically share a space and share a vision of where they’re trying to go, it provides energy and momentum and recharges people,” he said. “We want to do as much of that as we safely can do.”