Edmonton IT Community: What are your top 5 needs?

Along with a few other usual suspects I’ve been invited to take part in an informal IT Circle later this week. The goal is to come to some consensus about what the top 5 or 10 needs of local startups and growing IT companies are, so that we can start trying to address them. I feel very strongly that we need to be doing more for the tech community in Edmonton, particularly the part of the community that is often overlooked – web & software. I’ve written about this in the past, most notably here.

The meeting is being hosted by EEDC, who I openly criticized in that post. I’m encouraged by the progress I’ve seen them make over the last six months – I think they’re really making an effort to listen, to learn, and slowly to participate in the community. I hope to see that trend continue, through this meeting and other initiatives.

So now I need your help. If you’re a member of the local IT community, whether it’s biotech, public sector, startups, or something else, what are your top needs? What’s on your wishlist? How can we make the tech community in Edmonton better? Let me know, and I’ll bring that to the table this week. Thanks!

FWIW, here are a few on my list:

  • Micro/seed funding. Small amounts of money to enable entrepreneurs to try things out.
  • Exposure to external experience. How can we connect with people who in other places that could teach us a lot?
  • Storytelling. I talk about this a lot…how can we do a better job of telling local success stories to others?

10 thoughts on “Edmonton IT Community: What are your top 5 needs?

  1. My advice – keep government out of it. Ok, that is a little extreme, but there is a lot of truth to it. In order for Edmonton’s tech community to grow and flourish it takes the leading of serial entrepreneurs who can change the attitudes and perceptions of people, both local and distant. This can not be done by government.

    The best way government can help is by providing resources that aid these entrepreneurs and help educate people. Setting up programs, complicated vouchers or anything that is run by people who do not understand the current technology landscape nor what it is like to be an entrepreneur do not provide a significant return.

    If Edmonton wants a real example to look at, it should look no farther than Boulder, Colorado:

    http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/apr2010/sb20100421_531161.htm

    I love the enthusiasm in Edmonton for tech and feel that it will have a long term payoff. However, managing a seed fund that caters directly to the types of companies and people that Edmonton wants to see has not produced many opportunities for us. Most of our activity has been in Vancouver, and of the investments we have done locally, none have come out of any government programs.

  2. Hey Mac, here is our list from GameCamp Edmonton with regards to items that we feel need to be changed or looked at to make the industry here better. Apologies if the formatting sucks.

    1. Incubation space.

    For the most part the city lacks good, effective incubation space for people to startup at that is applicable to our sector. What little does exist is either not applicable to this industry or simply does not welcome it outright.

    What we feel is truly needed is a solution that allows for a company to move out of its basement and grow from a startup to a full fledged business by providing a set of tiers that evolves with a companies needs as they grow. This would not only allow the business to look more attractive to an investor, but it would also help form a creative core that would foster partnership, growth and mentorship by having so many talented developers in a common field working in a single location or hub.

    What is important for this incubation space is providing things such as office space (both private and meeting rooms), internet bandwidth, business assistance (project management, legal, accounting, reception and HR help) all provided at a subsidized rate. For the first year “start up” the level of subsidization needed would be high, however this rate should decrease based on each year the business operates in the incubator and other factors like size and revenue to ensure that the incubator is being fairly utilized.

    2. Developers Conference.

    One key element towards growing our industry faster is ensuring that we can professionally develop the talent that we do have here with tools and techniques that are new and upcoming by having speakers from within the province and abroad come to visit and speak.

    In the past we have seen the City of Edmonton support initiatives like this through events such as TechnoCon. As such we here at GameCamp Edmonton are curious if the city would be willing to look into working with us to hold a professional conference which would help align Edmonton with efforts such as Canada 3.0 and Interactive Industry efforts put forth by the Government of Canada.

    3. Business startup support.

    We hear a lot of comments from people that want to start a business within the city but find that there is a serious lack of resources and information available to make this kind of thing happen.

    As such we feel that this ball might very well be in the city’s court with regards to helping make these first few steps easier by providing resources, information and staff to help make this difficult step go by easier.

    4. Profile the local sector more with the EEDC.

    There is simply no information on the EEDC about this sector, yet it is a sector that is larger, more vibrant and draws in more revenue and business to the than the Film industry (which gets its own profile page on the site as well as other resources provided by the city).

    We are more than willing to work with the city here to help improve this with the EEDC including providing information, contacts and success stories when they arise to start with. But we would like to see the EEDC put more of an emphasis towards supporting the Digital Media sector and its importance to Edmonton and its economy.

    5. Support those that are here more by offering them incentives and programs to stay by working with the industry and/or the province to make Edmonton and Alberta a better place to stay and do business in. For example, the city made an effort a few years back to lure Dell here to employ 500 low-paying, low skill jobs by finding a way to create incentives… where are those incentives for a company like Bioware, 3DI, Beamdog, Xgen, eQube, or the many other game developers (or digital media or technology companies) to operate in Edmonton or to increase its employee count instead of hiring more people in other locations in Canada that offer tax breaks, grants and funds to operate in? (ie. Quebec is 50%, Ontario gives 40%, Manitoba gives 40%, BC is 33%, PEI gives 35% and Nova Scotia gives 50%)

  3. Greetings Mack,

    My Edmonton based web hosting company has been renting for over 10 Years and have gone through enough second rate landlords. I have found it extremely difficult to find a stand-alone building of 2000 to 5000 square feet for purchase in a non-retail area. With no small tech-industrial park in Edmonton other cities with smaller commercial buildings are being considered to re-locate my business.

  4. @Kevin Swan, I 100% agree. The government should be very open to new and innovative things but they shouldn’t attempt to produce them or coax them into happening. In now way should our tax dollars be used to pay for incubation space, or startup support. Our tax dollars should be used to enable entrepreneurs to help each other.

    @Jerry Aulenbach DEFINITELY!

  5. Hey Mack,

    Something that I would love to see is a categorized yellow pages website with local talent. Something where if I want to find a WordPress developer in Edmonton all I have to do is go to this site and search. You could do the same for any IT skill.

    I also think that this would help a lot more of the IT community connect.

    Good luck!

  6. I agree with everything above but would think inviting people to have things like the recent “Techcrunch Disrupt” ( http://disrupt.techcrunch.com/ ) (or formerly Techcrunch50 ) or “Open Angel Forum” ( http://openangelforum.com/ )where it’s an opportunity for people/companies to pitch (not just show/demo) their companies to investors and get feedback from a VC-point of view. Not only does this highlight the startups but also would be a better way to connect startups with local/provincial/national/international investors. These events are also usually talked about a lot and are live-streamed.

    I know there’s the TEC Edmonton Innovation prize but we need something larger;closer to a conference and more open in the sense of how everyone can benefit from hearing the feedback not just the applicants.

    Democamp is great for networking and I think it’s essential to have that forum to show projects that you’re working on but having a place where investors look at your business, where everyone can hear the feedback would be great for startups to just really build out their businesses.

  7. If you want another suggestion Mack its this…

    6. Stop Turning to and using TEC Edmonton as your main partner!

    TEC Edmonton’s mandate is taking research from the U of A and trying to figure out if there is actually an applicable market for it as a product. As such its quite a wasteful endeavor that burns through a lot of cash hoping to take an idea and implement it. They should at best be considered as another private business operating in this city and should not be considered as a business or community leader that should be turned to any more than the city would turn to any of us to dictate policy.

    @All

    One interesting thing that I see from all of the comments posted so far is how dificult the task will be for EEDC to come up with an effective plan. Why? Well we are all trying to provide them input from a very wide spectrum with each of our sub-sectors having different needs, requirements and thoughts on what will best benefit our sub-sector the most.

    I would hope that the EEDC is smart enough to ensure that they get someone from each of these sub-sectors to talk so that there is a wide range of items brought up. But in case they do not it might be good to point this out to them so that they can follow up to make an effort why a particular item posted by one sub-sector is not appreciated by another.

  8. I am going to agree with Logan’s comments. It’s fine to say “keep government out of it”, but in an international market we aren’t just competing with Calgary or BC or the US, we are competing with the world. At this point in time other jurisdictions offer incentives so having a level playing field means that entrepreneurs here start at the same point instead of in the hole. There has been a metric boatload of investment cash floating around Alberta for decades, but it usually ends up in the oil and gas sector. To get the tech sector to the point of sustainable growth we need the governments on all levels to support the industry with more than kind words.

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