Edmonton’s startup ecosystem

This article was written in cooperation with Innovate Edmonton in preparation of Startup Ecosystem Ranking Report 2019 that ranked Edmonton in spot 95 out of 1,000 cities.

Click here to view Edmonton’s Startup Map

Edmonton is one of Western Canada’s most dynamic startup ecosystems, being home to over 394 tech companies that excel at developing businesses in the fields of AI and Machine Learning, Augmented & Virtual Reality, Web and Mobile Apps, Video Games, Health Technology and Big Data.

Together with the community, Edmonton’s service providers have started building an ecosystem that supports the commercialization of the knowledge and research coming out of our post-secondary institutions and engaged citizens. Edmonton counts 11 co-working spaces, three accelerators and 20+ organizations offering incubation programs and services; and is home to the third best university incubator in the world (TEC Edmonton).

As Canada’s northernmost metropolis, Edmonton isn’t the first place people look to when thinking about technology and innovation. We’re a dark horse. But our growing ecosystem is already solving some of the world’s most complicated problems — from closing the global radiology gap (Medo) to treating tumors with biodegradable microspheres (IMBiotechnologies).

Current momentum of Edmonton’s startup ecosystem

Edmonton’s technology and innovation ecosystem is evolving rapidly. Over the past five years, the city has seen the creation of three health accelerators (all based out of TEC Edmonton.) In 2018, the provincial government announced funding 3,000 new post-secondary seats in tech-related programs over the next five years. In the past year, Edmonton saw more than 145 new seats added to programs like NAIT’s Digital Media and Information Technology Program, Concordia University of Edmonton’s Masters of Information Systems Security Management, and more.

The provincial government also announced an Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit that will cover up to 25 per cent of labour costs. This announcement will help level the playing field for video game developers based in Alberta. The investment is already paying off: in September, U.K.-based Improbable announced it would build an office in Edmonton.

Most recently, the Government of Alberta pledged $100 million to the AI/ML sector over the next five years. A portion of this funding will go toward establishing a technology accelerator program to help Alberta researchers and entrepreneurs commercialize their tech research into viable products.

In 2018, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, the city’s arms-length economic agency, created Innovate Edmonton. Innovate Edmonton contributes to Edmonton’s economic growth and diversification through the creation of new tech-enabled businesses, by helping high potential businesses scale up, and by inspiring action to fuel growth in our city’s innovation and technology business community.

The biggest success stories

Edmonton’s innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs are making a global impact and have been doing so for a long time. From building a top 10 global architecture firm in the 60s (Stantec) to establishing North America’s largest chain of specialty running stores in the 80s (The Running Room), Edmontonians have always punched above their weight.

More success stories include: developing Canada’s best-selling financial and tax software (Intuit); establishing two of Canada’s leading telecommunications companies (TELUS and Shaw); and developing the most comprehensive and frequently visited website for investor education (Investopedia).

We also lay claim to Canada’s largest provider of online training, testing and certification (Yardstick); have collected Orders of Canada for our game development skills (Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuk, BioWare); helped online retailers get more bang for their buck (Granify); and allowed Internet users to register for a website through a social media account (LoginRadius).

The following startups and scaleups have also started making a name for themselves in their respective fields:

  • Drivewyze: Drivewyze is North America’s largest weigh station bypass service. It provides bypasses at almost 800 sites in 44 operational and in-progress states and provinces. Technology that allows commercial vehicles to bypass weigh stations has been around for many years but is traditionally delivered by hardware-based systems requiring a lot of infrastructure. Drivewyze’s preclearance technology allows drivers to bypass scales with heads-up alerts from a smartphone or tablet.
  • Jobber: Jobber helps home service businesses quote, schedule, invoice, and get paid—faster. Founded in 2011, Jobber has helped thousands of users around the world manage over 15 million customer visits and send nearly $2 billion in invoices. With Jobber’s rapid but measured growth — from just two employees in 2011 to over a hundred — it’s poised to become one of Edmonton’s breakout new companies.
  • Scope AR: The company has quietly revolutionized workplace training and equipment maintenance in traditional industries, such as manufacturing, natural resource development and aerospace for over seven years. But the release of staggering new return-on-investment figures by one of its biggest clients could change everything for this sleeping giant. In May 2018, Lockheed Martin reported seeing up to 99 per cent efficiency gains using one of Scope AR’s products during the manufacturing of NASA’s Orion spacecraft. Their tech is even being considered as a way to help astronauts be more self-reliant during missions to deep space. Scope AR counts several other multi-billion-dollar clients, including Unilever, Caterpillar, Boeing and Atlas Copco.
  • Showbie: Showbie built a free educational app for teachers and students that makes creating and completing assignments, providing assessments, and storing grades easy. The app is used by 3 million teachers, parents and students in more than 135 countries.
  • Clynisis: In 2017, Clynisis, a provider of cloud-based products for the healthcare industry, partnered with Microsoft to deploy their emergency medical record software with Azure. Microsoft’s cloud platform, to provide timely and effective access to patient records for healthcare professionals.  
  • Gfycat:  Gfycat (pronounced “jiffy-cat”) was founded in order to upgrade the GIF viewing experience to the 21st century by allowing users much faster delivery and more playback options. The company has raised $12M in investments since being founded in 2013. Gfycat was ranked in the top 75 most visited websites in U.S. (ahead of Hulu, Soundcloud, Forbes, USA Today, Vice and WSL).
  • Zept: Zept is like Tinder, but for international students looking for the right post-secondary institution. All students have to do is enter their high school grades and what they want to study and Zept’s algorithm will recommend schools that are a good match. The company has raised $11M in funding since it was founded in 2016.
  • SAM: SAM uses artificial intelligence to sort through social media posts and notify their clients of disruptive events, such as natural disasters. SAM works with security teams, emergency responders, banks, analysts, NGOs and other entities that depend on the delivery of fast, accurate data. SAM typically detects events an hour before major media.
  • Umay Care: Founded by brother-sister duo, Ali Habib and Dr. Sharmin Habib, the company’s flagship product Umay Rest is the first at-home solution for the effective treatment of dry eye, a symptom of Digital Eye Strain (one of the most common ocular problems in the world.) The wearable tech device helps reset the effects of screen time through a process called Thermal Meditation™. It was named a 2019 CES Innovation Award Honoree for Tech for a Better World.

What makes Edmonton a great place to start a startup and build a startup community?

  • Talent pool: Edmonton produces more than 550 tech-sector graduates each year, including some of the best in the world (5 of the top scientists at Google are U of A graduates.) More and more of these graduates want to stay in Edmonton as it continued to develop into a vibrant metropolitan.
  • Collaborative community: The city’s entrepreneurs, service providers, government agencies and post-secondary institutions are working together to shape the future of Edmonton’s innovation ecosystem.
  • Innovation is in the city’s DNA: The municipal government currently has six innovation projects as part of its priorities (Health City Initiative, Open Data Portal, CITYLab, Business Technology Strategy, Autonomous Vehicle Pilot Project, Smart City.)
  • Top post-secondaries: Edmonton is home to the third best post- secondary in AI and Machine Learning, which feeds the ecosystem with some of the brightest minds in these emerging fields.
  • Favorable tax market: Edmonton has some of the lowest taxes in the country, with no provincial sales tax, no payroll tax, no health care premiums, and some of the lowest personal and corporate income taxes in Canada.
  • Affordable cost of living: Relatively low home prices combine with high median incomes make Edmonton the most affordable major housing market in Canada.

Innovate Edmonton- biggest player in the ecosystem

  • Innovate Edmonton: Innovate Edmonton is a division of Edmonton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), whose mandate is to cultivate the energy, innovation and investment needed to build a prosperous and resilient Edmonton economy. Innovate Edmonton contributes to Edmonton’s economic growth and diversification through the creation of new tech-enabled businesses, by helping high potential businesses scale, and by inspiring action to fuel growth in the city’s innovation and entrepreneurship community.

Innovate Edmonton does this through five innovation and entrepreneurship communities:

  • Startup Edmonton is an entrepreneurial campus and community hub delivering programming and mentorship that transform ideas into tech-enabled companies.
  • TEC Edmonton is a joint venture partnership between EEDC and the University of Alberta, focused on the commercialization of inventions, innovation, and research coming out of the University.
  • Edmonton Research Park is home to more than 1,500 members at 55+ companies in diverse fields from biotechnology to energy; and includes incubator space at the Advanced Technology Centre.
  • Edmonton Made is both a program and a marketing platform for local businesses that connects them with consumers and offers access to resources and programming to help them grown and scale.
  • Make Something Edmonton is an award-winning open project platform showcasing the work of engaged citizens who are shaping our city.
  • TEC Edmonton: TEC Edmonton works with entrepreneurs to commercialize their research out of the University of Alberta. Since 2013, TEC has ranked as one of the world’s top university business incubators by UBI Global. In 2018, it was ranked the world’s third best university linked business incubator. In the past seven years, TEC has created 37 spin-off companies, with a survival rate of 97 per cent year-over-year. TEC’s dual mandate of working with both private sector and university-based innovators to commercialize inventions is unique in Canada. TEC offers several programs and accelerators, including:
  • Merck Invention Accelerator:  A partnership with pharmaceutical giant Merck, the accelerator provides emerging pharmaceutical and health tech companies with funding, expertise and access to TEC Edmonton’s new wet lab, which opened in October 2018.
  • TEC Health Accelerator: In 2014, TEC launched a health specific accelerator program to better support the increasing number of health-related startups in Edmonton. The health accelerator has supported more than 340 companies; helped raise over $15M in financing; and successfully formed partnerships with some of the biggest names in the biotech and pharmaceuticals industries, such as Sanofi, Jansen Inc., Johnson & Johnson Medical Products and Boehringer Ingelheim.
  • DynaLIFE Accelerator: A partnership between DynaLIFE, TEC Edmonton and Health City, the program validates cutting-edge diagnostics technologies in a real-world lab setting for approval into the healthcare system.
  • Startup Edmonton: Since 2009, Startup Edmonton has brought together entrepreneurs, developers, students, founders, mentors and investors to transform ideas into some of Canada’s most exciting and successful startups and scaling companies. Startup Edmonton supports the tech community in four ways: providing access to mentorship and programs, offering workspace, connecting companies with talent, and fostering community. Startup Edmonton developed and tested curriculum using best practice tools and processes from innovation leaders around the world. Foundational workshops in Business Model, the Lean Canvas, and Design Thinking, lead into Preflight, a cohort-based multi-session program that pairs instruction with mentorship and access to resources, such as accounting and legal advice.
  • Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii): Over the past 15 years, Amii has built a team of world-renowned researchers and advisors and established itself as a world-class AI and ML research centre. In 2018, Amii became a not-for-profit so it could better support local companies looking to build up their in-house AI capacity. Amii also boosts machine intelligence literacy in the community, while continuing to support world-class research and training.
  • Alberta Innovates: Alberta Innovates is a provincially funded corporation with a mandate to deliver 21st-century solutions for the most compelling challenges facing Albertans. The corporation focuses on the province’s research and technology strengths in the core sectors of health, environment, energy, food and fibre, and platforms such as AI, nanotechnology and omics.
  • Health City: The Edmonton Health City Initiative, sponsored by the City of Edmonton, has a mission to provide a supportive policy environment for development in health technology. Since its launch in 2017, it has supported more than 340 companies, helping to eliminate the systemic barriers faced by entrepreneurs in this complicated and competitive space.
  • NAIT Productivity and Innovation Centre: Opened in November 2018, NAIT’s state-of-the-art Productivity and Innovation Centre includes advanced manufacturing labs, acceleration spaces for small and medium-sized businesses and a dedicated hub for applied research activity. PIC is the first building at NAIT dedicated to helping industry partners become globally competitive. The centre also hosts NAIT’s Centre for Oil Sands Sustainability and the Centre for Sensors and System Integration.
  • Valhalla Angels – Edmonton Chapter: Valhalla Angels is one of Canada’s most active angel investment groups — investing more than $61M. It was also named Canada’s 2018 Angel of the Year. The Edmonton chapter is one of the cornerstone chapters in the Valhalla family. It has supported entrepreneurs through capital investments, as well as in management, advisory and board capacities.
  • Taproot: A startup itself, this local journalism platform keeps Edmontonians informed and engaged in the tech community. Delivered to your inbox free, the Health Innovation and Tech roundups summarize the latest on research, tech, companies and people influencing the healthcare and tech scenes in Edmonton.
  • Work Nicer – Beaver House:  Founded in Calgary in 2015, Work Nicer has grown to be Alberta’s largest coworking community, with over 400 members and spaces in both Calgary and Edmonton.  
  • Ashif Mawji: A serial entrepreneur and venture partner with Rising Tide (a San Fransisco-based venture capital firm), Ashif Mawji was a driving force behind Alberta’s AI Business Plan — the proposal that led to the provincial government’s recent funding announcement of $100M in artificial intelligence over five years.
  • Venture Mentoring Service (VMS): The University of Alberta’s Venture Mentoring Service works to develop, inspire and empower the university’s alumni entrepreneurs by engaging them with teams of experienced mentors. Dr. Ray Muzyka (co-founder of BioWare) was one of the founders of the program and continues to serve as Founding Chair — providing strategic guidance in the creation and scaling of VMS, while also acting as a mentor himself on multiple U of A VMS teams.
  • Alberta Enterprise Corporation: Since it was created by the provincial government in 2008, Alberta Enterprise has connected Alberta inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs to money, markets and mentors — by fostering a thriving venture capital (VC) industry. Alberta Enterprise manages a fund which, via its venture capital partners, invests in technology and innovation companies. It has invested $440M in 33 companies to date.
  • Bruce Johnson: Bruce Johnson co-founded Canadian personal income tax software company WinTax, which later became Intuit Canada. Johnson served as CEO for Intuit Canada until 2004. Since then he has ventured into several local technology startups, such as SAM, Campbell Scientific, and Visio Media. Johnson also serves as chairman of the board for Amii, and is part of the A100, a group of founders or C-level executives with a common goal of seeing Alberta’s technology industry flourish.

Startup initiatives in Edmonton

  • Student DevCon: Produced by Startup Edmonton, this annual event encourages students to start planning for life beyond the classroom, with a focus on connecting with local startup and scaling companies to learn about career options and gain hands-on experience that they’ll need to join high-performance teams. Students, from six post-secondary schools and a variety of technical programs, gather for a day of workshops, keynote sessions, and networking opportunities to learn new skills, be inspired and meet the teams at companies. In 2019, Startup Edmonton teamed up with local partners to deliver specialized streams in AI & Machine Intelligence, Data & Visualization, UX and Augmented Reality.
  • Talent program – Startup Edmonton: Startup Edmonton’s Talent program helps foster relationships between companies and the students they might one day hire. More than a pipeline for talent, however, the talent program helps shape the skills students will need to be successful after graduation and inspires them to stay in Edmonton to pursue their careers.
  • Edmonton Innovation Ecosystem Community (EIEC): A network of service providers, entrepreneurs and investors, the EIEC is dedicated to creating the best possible environment for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship in Edmonton. The open group gathers once a month to share news and strategize about expanding the innovation ecosystem in edmonton.
  • YEG Innovation Compass: This full-scale entrepreneur engagement effort, led by Edmonton-based marketing firm ZGM, will shape the future of Edmonton’s innovation ecosystem through a set of community-defined questions.   
  • Edmonton Advisory Council on Startups (EACOS): This diverse group of 13 students, entrepreneurs and investors was formed in 2018 to act as the voice of their respective entrepreneurial communities.
  • SingularityU Canada Summit: In April, Edmonton will host the 2019 SingularityU Canada Summit — the country’s premier innovation and technology summit. The summit will bring together hundreds of top minds from across Canada and around the globe.
  • Community learning and sharing: The Edmonton startup community hosts more than 280 events, workshops, meetups, conferences, forums and parties each year; and Edmonton’s meetup scene is one of the most dynamic.

One of the most enduring community gathering events is DemoCamp. Now in its tenth year, DemoCamp brings together developers, entrepreneurs, teams, and investors to share what they’re working on and to find others in the community interested in similar topics. The rules are simple: 7 minutes to demo real, working products, followed by a few minutes for Q & A – no slides allowed. DemoCamp has become the destination for recruitment of technical team members, source co-founders, and sort out technical challenges.

  • Startup Week and Launch Party: For five days in October, Edmontonians celebrate their local startup community with over 50 different events, workshops, socials and panels. The pinnacle of the week is Launch Party, the city’s flagship startup event that celebrates and showcases the hottest startups in town.
  • Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii): Amii is one of the world’s top machine learning and artificial intelligence research groups. In 2018, Amii became a not-for-profit so it could better support local companies looking to build up their in-house AI capacity. Amii also boosts machine intelligence literacy in the community, while continuing to support world-class research and training.
  • Smart Cities Application – City of Edmonton: Answering the call to Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge, the City of Edmonton partnered with other orders of government, local organizations, educational institutions, business, community and Edmontonians to use technology and data to improve the health and wellbeing of residents. Through this challenge, Edmonton has a chance to win up to $50 million, money that will be used to implement innovative solutions to some of our most pressing challenges using data and connected technologies, improving the lives of residents.
  • Alberta AI Business Plan: In February 2019, the work of the informal Alberta AI Business Plan steering committee paid off in the form of a $100M funding announcement for the AI/ML sector over five years by the provincial government.
  • Health City: The Edmonton Health City Initiative, sponsored by the City of Edmonton, has a mission to provide a supportive policy environment for development in health technology. Since its launch in 2017, it has supported more than 340 companies, helping to eliminate the systemic barriers faced by entrepreneurs in this complicated and competitive space.
  • Connection Silicon Valley: The Government of Alberta has selected Connection Silicon Valley and JPC Corp as an independent contractor to provide Alberta businesses with access to Silicon Valley customers, capital and other resources to help them scale. The partnership is meant to help Alberta startups access the billions of venture capital funding floating around the Bay area, and to draw tech investment to the province.