The Rise of Tech in Vancouver by@twaye

The Rise of Tech in Vancouver

At the heart of technology in Vancouver is a relationship with the outdoors. The city started as an international source for the lumber trade with technology arriving in the 1960s. The roots of technology are in many ways byproducts of long term government financing and support through research institutions. The power of a natural environment isn’t something new. Its ability to liberate ideas and solutions is well known to many creative geniuses throughout history. It’s what happens when you come home to your natural environment.
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Tristram Waye

A global hub for entrepreneurship

If you were unaware of Vancouver’s prowess in technology you could be forgiven. After all, many who live here don’t realize the depth of the technology foundation that has been developed here over the last several decades.

Outside of Hootsuite, Plenty of Fish and a few other local high profile names, tech in many ways flies under the radar. That’s not because it’s not here, but rather many in the space go about their business in the typical unassuming Vancouver manner.

However, the foundation of the tech industry has a visible presence. The roots of technology just like in Silicon Valley, are in many ways byproducts of long term government financing and support through research institutions.

These research institutions were developed with an emphasis on the physical sciences making them ideal places for innovation. Students and professors then went on to pursue this innovation as entrepreneurs.

Some people come here to be in technology specifically. Others find their way to tech through a vision.

The city started as an international source for the lumber trade with technology arriving in the 1960s. The natural environment is the foundation. The former logging areas now a place of solitude and quiet productivity.

The mountains drive personal growth and perspective. They provide a unique interpretation of the world, and it’s why people come and stay. For at the heart of technology in Vancouver is a relationship with the outdoors.

Let me tell you a story.

Let nature be your mentor

The Baden Powell Trail

Imagine a moment of silence, surrounded by forest.

Alone on a mountain trail, your companion is the sound of rhythmic breathing and your feet as they move across the ground.

You stop and close your eyes as a breeze moves the trees above. The sound of falling leaves is crystal clear as they touch every branch on their journey to the ground.

Birds signal to others as you pass, falling silent as you move a safe distance beyond their secret perch.

The air seems different. Clean. A sort of freshness you only get in the mountains.

As you gaze around at the surrounding forest, you become aware that your senses are heightened here.

You take a deep breath, and as you open your eyes, you notice everything seems a little sharper. Colors and shapes more detailed. Then there’s the smell of cedar, loam and dirt.

This place is a contrast from the city where noise, phones and chaos require you to shut down to function.

Here you can think. Reflect. Solve problems.

You may be considering your next round of funding — a payroll issue. Maybe you lost a key customer or team member. Perhaps it’s time to contemplate a pivot…

In the forest, alone, your mental muscle can relax. You can tap into the power of your subconscious mind. Let the answers come to you.

The power of a natural environment isn’t something new. Its ability to liberate ideas and solutions is well known to many creative geniuses throughout history.

But in your supercharged ultra-connected world your attention is endlessly divided. Your ability to step away from the city is often difficult or impossible.

And yet here you are, thirty minutes from downtown. No cars. Your phone hidden. You are free to contemplate.

As you relax, your mind will drift. The pitch for funding will start to evolve. Whether you need to do that pivot or not will become more evident. Maybe you will dream up a new, world-changing concept.

This sudden sense of awareness is not an accident. It’s what happens when you come home to your natural environment. The forest. The mountain. Or the sea.

At this moment you feel awakened. Alive.

Vancouver is known for many things. Expensive housing. Beautiful views. Mountains, forests and oceans. These aren’t new. They have always been here.

Twenty years ago when people asked you what you did, they weren’t talking about your job. They were talking about which of the numerous outdoor activities you pursued.

Mountain bike or hike. Ski or snowboard. Sail or windsurf.

Here you can do many of these activities every day. And with adequate time and stamina, several different ones on the same day.

The power of this environment is based not merely on the aesthetics of beauty. The Vancouver environment is functional. It draws people here who want to be a part of nature as they pursue their ambitious business ideas and world-shaping concepts.

Today when people here ask you what you do, it’s: what are you working on? What startup are you working with? What experience do you value?

Borrowed from the Valley

The history of tech in Vancouver is a story of government support, research institutions and a long relationship with the Valley.

That relationship manifests itself in the presence of large tech institutions often brought here through financial transactions. Some of these are takeovers of existing assets, others based on financing.

In many ways, Vancouver borrowed a model of development from the Valley that came from Stanford under the guidance of Fred Terman. In Vancouver, we designed our take on what author and financier William Janeway called: the three player game; which is the interplay between government, entrepreneurs and the financial sector.

If we look at the history of Silicon Valley, we can see a model that Vancouver emulated in part, on its way to becoming a tech center in its own right.

Back in the 1960’,s tech was going through a transformation in Silicon Valley. Fred Terman of Stanford vastly increased the presence of the physical sciences and was instrumental in developing the Stanford Research Park. The effort was designed to attract an increasing level of federal government grants for research and development.

The Research Park, a strong physical sciences presence and a substantial increase in post-war government funding attracted top talent from around the world. It also provided numerous highly educated entrepreneurs who went on to develop the startup culture that was building various vacuum tube and microwave innovations in the area.

These innovations coincided with the development of silicon chips that became mainstream after the launch of Sputnik in the 1950s. A new company, Fairchild Semi, was founded by eight former employees of another Valley startup, would become an anchor company in the area. Its founders would go on to develop several high profile spinoffs and innovations in the years that followed.

While Intel and AMD would be considered the most recognizable Fairchild spinoffs, the influence of the company can be traced through numerous Valley companies including a nascent Apple Computer.

The spread of Fairchild mentorship, knowledge and skill around the Valley accompanied the adoption and formalization of a financing model. The federal government in the US was looking for ways to encourage private investment in risky ventures back in the 1950s.

The effort helped to encourage two specific financial concepts considered common today. The carried interest and limited partnership model provided the foundation for much of the risk capital model used by private equity, hedge funds and venture capital even today.

The Fairchild Eight participated in the creation of a venture capital firm called Davis and Rock using these relatively new tax and legal structures. The model became widely used and more formal in the early 1970s when two other Fairchild employees would found two of today’s most iconic VC firms.

One was Kleiner Perkins, the other Sequoia Capital.

Why mention the Valley? Because as we explore the rise of Vancouver’s technology enclave, we will be able to see the evolution of Valley startup and innovation culture in the area.

In Vancouver, a government-funded research institution, the return of a lawyer from Pennsylvania and two professors in a basement would provide the foundation for the technology revolution we have today.

From endowment to quantum matter

Vancouver has many advantages. A port city surrounded by vast natural resources. A functional natural environment. Open spaces and temperate weather.

All of which attract talent from around the world.

But our proximity to a bidirectional pipeline of talent and money from the Valley is one advantage that can’t be understated.

This pipeline is known as the Cascadia Corridor.

Vancouver is at one end of the Cascadia Corridor that runs through Seattle and Portland with the Silicon Valley and LA on the other end.

The flow of talent, financing and resources has been moving back and forth along this corridor for more than fifty years.

Vancouver’s tech ecosystem and entrepreneurial spirit is in part a byproduct of a flow of talent along this corridor. It is also due in part to the constant influx of diverse people from around the world.

Talent flow has been combined with publicly funded research institutions to create a feedback loop of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The anchor of our tech story began on a patch of land on the west side of town and has blossomed into an essential part of a multibillion-dollar technology and entrepreneurship economy.

The University of British Columbia (UBC), our first research institution, began in 1899 as Vancouver College and an affiliation with McGill University in Montreal. McGill took over the college in 1906 and was subsequently named McGill University College of British Columbia.

The University Endowment Act of 1907 was used to provide funding for a provincial university through the sale of up to two million acres of Crown land.¹ The current campus on the west side of Vancouver is the result of that sale and investment.

The lands around the campus are known today as “The University Endowment Lands.”² This vast forested area includes trails for all sorts of activities year-round today.

UBC became formally established as a university by the University Act of 1908, and in 1910 its home was reserved by the provincial government in Point Grey on the west side of town. Following a lengthy construction phase, the official campus finally opened in 1925.³

The university expanded in the post WWII period including the installation of the Van de Graff atomic generator in 1948.⁴ This installation would mark the precursor to the creation of Canada’s premier nuclear research facility on the campus known as Triumf.

Inside Triumf

Triumf is Canada’s national laboratory for nuclear physics and accelerator-based science. The facility, founded in 1968 began as a nuclear research consortium between UBC, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island. As of today, the consortium includes several other Canadian universities.

The facility has received more than $1B in investment from the Canadian government since inception. The government of British Columbia has also provided more than $40M in additional funding. Triumf remains a crucial facility representing Canada globally in this area of research.⁵

The presence of Triumf on the UBC campus further expanded the preeminence of the physical sciences at UBC. The physical sciences at UBC have played a significant role at the university and continue to influence Vancouver’s tech and startup culture today.

The UBC campus has also become home to a new facility for quantum matter research.

The Quantum Matter Institute (QMI)⁶ was founded on the UBC campus in 2010. It was further expanded in 2012 to include the newly founded Max-Planck Center for Quantum Materials which will coexist at the QMI facility.⁷

The QMI Max Planck Society partnership represents only the third partnership center established by the Max Planck organization outside of Germany.⁸ It signifies UBC and Canada’s leadership position globally in the area of quantum matter and materials research.

In 2015, QMI was awarded $66.5M in funding over seven years by the Canadian Government through the new Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

These facilities along with world-class research and teaching capability make UBC a vital source of skilled entrepreneurial talent in Vancouver. UBC’s emphasis on the physical sciences like the Stanford experience is a core feature of its innovative culture.

Several notable companies have been developed and spun-off through either UBC directly or by graduate students from the various programs at the university as we will see shortly.⁹

Arthur Erickson gets involved

Another member of the Triumf consortium, Simon Fraser University (SFU) was founded in 1965. The SFU campus, located on Burnaby Mountain adjacent to metro Vancouver, was designed by Arthur Erickson and Geoffrey Massey based on a contest held in 1963.

SFU is a publicly financed post-secondary research institution with the distinction of currently being the only Canadian university with US research accreditation.

Like UBC, SFU has become well known for developing skilled local tech talent. With a focus on IT spin-offs, SFU continues to create innovative startups in the Vancouver area.¹⁰

The provincial government also financed the creation of a vocational and technical school in 1960 called the BC Institute of Technology (BCIT). Starting in 1964, BCIT focused on health, engineering and business.

Today with over forty thousand students, BCIT has expanded its mandate to include an aerospace technology facility, applied research and training in environmental technology engineering.

Capilano College in North Vancouver began in 1964. It secured its status as a university in 2008 with a student population of more than seven thousand. Capilano University is an important source of talent for Vancouver’s film industry.

These publicly funded research institutions supply Vancouver with world-class research, facilities and talent. Thousands of highly skilled graduates of these institutions go on to contribute and develop the innovation economy in Vancouver, across the country and around the world.

Vancouver’s long and fruitful relationship with the Valley has meant that we are both contributors and benefactors of advancements in technology used and developed there. The flow of talent, technology and ideas began in the mid-1960s.

But it was at the end of the ’60s when two UBC professors started a project in a basement, that Vancouver had found its foundation.

It was through the companies that followed that talent and expertise were incubated and spun off developing the base of Vancouver’s technology ecosystem.

The venture model comes to Vancouver

Looking at Vancouver’s technology history, we can see how talent flowed and circulated through the local industry not unlike what was taking place in the Valley.

Vancouver’s tech anchor company, our Fairchild, began in the late ’60s with the founding of MacDonald Dettwiler. But two companies came just before that event.

Sierra Systems, an IT services and management consulting firm was founded in 1966, and western Canada’s first VC firm was soon to follow.

Around the time of Intel’s founding in 1968, Haig Farris returned to Vancouver from law school in Pennsylvania to found Ventures West Management. Ventures West was the first venture capital firm in Western Canada and played a crucial role in the development of the tech sector here in the years that followed.

MacDonald Dettwiler Associates which became known as MDA (MDA: TSX)¹¹ was founded by two UBC professors, Don MacDonald and Vern Dettwiler in 1969.

MDA started as a part-time project undertaken in MacDonald’s basement focused on computer hardware, software and complete systems.

The partners were a product of UBC’s Applied Sciences faculty. MacDonald was the head of UBC’s Electrical Engineering department. Dettwiler was the head of UBC’s Special Projects department focused on computers through the ’50s and ‘60s.

The founders could not have foreseen how MDA would become the core of Vancouver’s tech scene in the decades to come. MDA remains an innovative company even today.

MDA has numerous innovations to its credit including:

● Canadarm 1 and 2 used on the Space Shuttle

● A full array of information systems

● Satellites

● Robotics

These innovations provide strong ties between Vancouver, the US government and NASA.

In its early years, MDA developed wireless law enforcement technology that was subsequently spun off into a new company called Mobile Data International (MDI).

MDI, financed by Ventures West, was sold to Motorola in the late ’80s for $105M.

Dan Gelbart, inventor of the wireless data modem at MDA¹² went on to cofound Creo Products with Ken Spencer in 1983 when the two were working together at MDA.

The mission of Creo was to combine the benefits of optical disks with the efficiencies of tape. Their work resulted in the development of the optical tape recorder, followed by a digital to plate technology. Creo was acquired by Kodak in 2005 for around $1B.

Clean energy. Forever.

Michel Laberge, the senior physicist and principal engineer for Creo Products, left his job in 2001 and started developing his idea for fusion power in his garage. With a PhD in plasma physics from UBC, he began developing a new approach to existing fusion technology utilizing current knowledge and new techniques.

General Fusion: Clean energy. Everywhere. Forever, is the focus of that vision.

General Fusion represents a futuristic vision of both our energy present and past. The goal of General Fusion is impressive enough to garner attention from Jeff Bezos who has invested in the firm through his venture capital arm.

MDA’s influence doesn’t end there. Past employees have gone on to found other ventures including most recently Urthecast (UR: TSX) founded in 2012.

Wade Larson, co-founder of Urthecast developed global experience in the space sector over his nearly two decades at MDA. Urthecast provided The International Space Station with its first HD space cameras. This relationship helped facilitate a crucial partnership with MDA to further the ambitious goal of developing satellite-based HD video and camera technology for the geospatial and geoanalytics market.

Through the late ’70s and ’80s, Vancouver experienced an expansion of its tech prowess through the founding of a series of companies and some strategic acquisitions.

Ballard Research was founded in 1979 by geophysicist Geoffrey Ballard. The goal was to develop high energy lithium batteries. In the late ’80s they moved from batteries to fuel cell technology and went public in 1993. It is known as Ballard Power Systems today (BLD: TSX).

After retiring, Ballard went on to found General Hydrogen, a manufacturer of fuel cell power units for mobile industrial equipment. It sold to Plug Power in 2007.

Water to Wireless

Colleen Legzdins, a senior engineer from Ballard with a PhD in Materials Engineering from UBC went on to start Axine Water Technologies. Axine is a cutting edge solution for wastewater treatment using no toxic chemicals.

In biotech we had the founding of Quadra Logic Technologies (QLT: TSX) in 1981 by a group of UBC professors: Dr. Julia Levy, John Brown, Jim Miller, Anthony Phillips, and Ron MacKenzie. Their most notable success was the development of Visudyne for macular degeneration in the 1990s. They merged with Atrix Pharma in 2004.

In gaming, Don Mattrick and Jeff Sember founded Distinctive Software with the development of a game for the Apple 2 in 1982. Mattrick subsequently sold Distinctive to Electronic Arts in 1991.

The early 90s saw the founding of Absolute Software (ABT: TSX), an endpoint security solutions company. They went public in 2000.

MPR Teltech¹³ was spun off to form PMC Sierra.

Norman Tom, a former employee of MDI and MPR Teltech,¹⁴ along with Andrew Harries, assembled talent from Motorola to found Sierra Wireless (SW: TSX)¹⁵ in part of PMC Sierra’s Vancouver office.¹⁶

Sierra Wireless, a multinational wireless communications designer and manufacturer, has developed embedded modules, networking solutions and cloud and connectivity IoT services.

They had several first to market technology solutions and innovations including the world’s first LTE devices.

The company went public in 1999 and remains an integral part of the Vancouver tech scene today. A recent deal with Volkswagen aims to develop connectivity for VW’s next-gen vehicles.

Derek Spratt, formerly of MDI went on to found PCS Wireless in 1993 which played a pivotal role in the 2Ghz cell networks of the mid-‘90s.¹⁷ It merged with Unique Broadband Systems in 1997.

He went on to found Intrinsyc Software (ITC: TSX) in 1996 and listed it on the TSX in 2000 Intrinsyc developed Windows CE software tools for the mobile markets¹⁸ and the company continues to evolve today.

Security to a new kind of Wave

Warren Roy, Eric Parusel and Duff Reid founded Global-Relay in 2003. A SaaS firm focused on electronic data management in 1999. The firm benefited from Canada’s stricter privacy laws and the financial problems during the dot com bust in the early 2000s.¹⁹

A bootstrapped firm with a non-technical founder, Global-Relay continues to thrive in their cloud-based space.

In 1999 Haig Farris, now a professor of business and entrepreneurship at UBC, (former founder of Ventures West Management in 1968 and private VC firm Fractal Capital in 1990), joined students Geordie Rose (UBC PhD in theoretical physics), Alexandre Zagoskin (UBC postdoctoral fellow Department of Physics and Astronomy) along with Bob Wiens to found D- Wave Systems.

A spinoff from UBC’s physical sciences department, D-Wave Systems is the first quantum computing company in the world to create and sell quantum computers. It kicked off the expansion of quantum research at UBC.

D-Wave is developing the capability to solve the world’s biggest problems through data processing at speeds previously considered purely theoretical. Their customers include several notable Valley tech and military names Google, NASA, Los Alamos Laboratory, Lockheed Martin as well as a partnership with Germany’s Volkswagen.

These pioneering quantum computer capabilities are also expected to make a significant contribution to cancer research — an area of focus for both Triumf and the Vancouver based BC Cancer Agency.

Rose’s newest project Kindred AI has reflected D-Wave’s deep involvement in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Kindred, co-founded along with D-Wave alumnus Suzanne Gilbert, is a joint Vancouver and Toronto based startup focused on AI.

Andrew Fursman, a D-Wave investor, founded a dedicated quantum computing software company called 1QBit in 2012. They partnered with D-Wave Systems in 2014 and was recognized as a top tech pioneer by the World Economic Forum in 2015.

1QBiT’s Fursman asserts that Vancouver has “the highest density of people with experience using a quantum computer” of any city in the world.²⁰

You could say that Vancouver has a quantum state of mind.

With the QMI facility and Max Planck partnership at UBC, one can only expect our leadership in quantum research and computing to expand.

Volkswagen’s relationship with Vancouver not only includes D-Wave and partnership with Sierra Wireless but also through Vancouver founded PayByPhone.

Volkswagen purchased local payment app PayByPhone from PayPoint UK for an undisclosed amount in 2016. PayPoint originally paid C$45M for the Vancouver firm in 2010. This level of interest in Vancouver companies by the $70B German company demonstrates Vancouver’s innovative reach goes well beyond its borders.

Darren Stone, one founder of PayByPhone, was a computer science graduate from SFU and has gone on to work with another five startups including Rentmoola.

His co-founder Darren Griffin, another SFU alumnus, has since founded Glance Technologies (GET: CSE).

Capital and talent flow and circulate

The startup ecosystem in Vancouver has expanded significantly in the new millennium.

Several exits have provided a stream of talent and capital to support upcoming entrepreneurs, and generate conduits for new ventures.

In one example, Flickr, founded by Stewart Butterfield in 2004 was sold to Yahoo the following year. He went back to the drawing board with Serguei Mourachov, Cal Henderson and Eric Costello to create gaming platform.

When the game didn’t take off, they discovered that the application they developed to communicate and work together remotely might be more valuable.

The communication tool has become Slack.

Using lean startup principles, they developed Slack into a tool with one of the fastest adoption rates ever seen by a technology product, ever.

Plenty of Fish was a one-man operation founded and run from an apartment in 2003 until around 2007. Markus Frind created the business initially to improve his resume.²¹

He only began to expand his headcount in 2007…to three people. He gradually developed a seventy-five person team and sold Plenty of Fish to the Match group in 2015 for $575M.

He used a small portion of the proceeds to finance a Vancouver based fintech start-up Grow.²²

In 2008, UBC students: Fraser Hall, Darcy Hughes, Hamid Abdollahi and Dan Eisenhardt started Recon Instruments. Recon, a company focused on smart wearable goggles and glasses was acquired by Intel for $175M in 2015.

Then there’s Greg Young who combined Command Query Responsibility Segregation and Event Sourcing (CQRS/ES) formalizing them while working at a local brokerage firm in 2007. Adam Dymitruk, founder and CEO of Adaptech Group added consensus to CQRS/ES in 2008; and then took the innovation a step further by formalizing Event Modeling in 2018.

This seemingly obscure way of thinking about information systems in 2007 is now recognized as a groundbreaking way to optimize and scale complex information systems today.

CQRS/ES has been quietly adopted by some of the largest tech companies on the planet including Amazon, Netflix, Ebay, LinkedIn and Walmart through their acquisition.

Today, Dymitruk and Adaptech work in partnership with Young’s UK based venture, Event Store. They design and implement CQRS/ES and EM innovation for a wide spectrum of companies up to and including large enterprises, looking to future proof their operations.

Business Objects bought Crystal Decisions and its downtown Vancouver tech center from Seagate in 2003. The business changed hands again in 2008 when the giant tech conglomerate SAP turned the downtown tech center into a new base of operations.

Three veterans of Crystal Decisions/Business Objects: Former Business Objects CEO John Schwarz, VP of Engineering Ryan Wong and VP Senior VP Dave Weisbeck left SAP to start Visier.

Visier benefits from their founders’ experience at Crystal Decisions and Business Objects by providing cloud-based workforce analytics and planning solutions for corporate HR departments, and turning them from an expense to an asset.

SAP is one of several large tech companies that have come to Vancouver. Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Sony Imageworks, Amazon, Facebook and Salesforce, have also set up shop in the area.

These companies site favorable immigration policies and access to a highly skilled talent pool at very competitive prices as the reasons for opening offices here.

Closer access to some of the world’s most innovative companies might be another underlying motivation for their presence here.

And that’s not all that’s been going on in Vancouver…

Play is work for gamers

Our gaming heritage goes back to Don Mattrick and Jeff Sember of Distinctive Software in 1982. Electronic Arts bought Distinctive Software in 1991.

At the time of the acquisition, Distinctive Software was the largest independent game developer in North America. Electronic Arts has remained in the Vancouver area providing an anchor in the thriving gaming sector here ever since.

Various employees of Distinctive would go on to develop a series of gaming spinoffs in the spirit of the Valley’s Fairchild Eight. Radical Entertainment was the first in 1991, and out of Radical came Barking Dog and Relic.²³

Mattrick would work for EA after the acquisition followed by executive positions at Microsoft and Zynga.

The local gaming scene has continued to blossom lead by East Side Games, Black Tusk Studios and A Thinking Ape amongst others.²⁴

Several government-financed institutions help to develop top talent for the gaming and film industries in Vancouver.

Along with Capilano University and BCIT, the Vancouver Film School and the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design provide programs that develop skill-sets for these two prominent Vancouver industries.

This skill specific advantage and proximity to the Valley and Japan, two of the world’s other leading gaming centers,²⁵ provides Vancouver a unique advantage in the gaming world.

Cutbacks by Electronic Arts in recent years have been more than offset by the presence of Sony Imageworks, Microsoft’s game development and through foreign and local gaming shops.

Growth in the space has been bolstered by an influx of Japanese gaming powerhouses lead by Namco Bandai, Capcom and Sega. Netmarble, a South Korean gaming company entered the Vancouver market in 2016 when they bought San Francisco based Kabam and their Vancouver studio for $800M.

The government also assists these gaming entrepreneurs in other ways beyond talent development.²⁶

Various financial incentives provided by the federal and provincial governments are designed to keep the industry healthy and strong. These include tax credits for R&D, access to advisors, and tax credits for venture capital.

Film and movie development add depth to the tech industry here.

Risk taking legacy

Looking to the British Properties in West Vancouver

Vancouver began as a center for lumber that was harvested and exported around the world.

While various First Nations tribes had sparsely populated the area, it was “discovered” by the Spanish New World explorers and subsequently claimed by the British.

Vancouver and the surrounding area became known as a rich source of natural resources beyond lumber.

There abundant fishing. Metals like copper, gold, silver, zinc and iron. Energy resources include natural gas, oil and rich coal reserves.

With a natural port and eventually a railroad connecting the city to the rest of the province (and Canada) trade in these resources grew and expanded.

Trade in forest products introduced Vancouver to the world and developed rich trading ties that would prove valuable as the resource sector expanded.

Resource extraction by its very nature requires risk taking and risk management. It also needs sophisticated supply chains and specialized risk-oriented financial arrangements.

As a result, Vancouver has a history of speculative activity and risk capital. Our attitude towards risk financing drove the development of early-stage technology and startup companies.

Ventures West Capital was the original VC firm in western Canada and today remains one of its largest. Today several additional VC firms provide the opportunity for startup and technology financing.

Strong ties between Canada and the US means that capital flows are reasonably free and open. Meaning relatively easy access to capital for early-stage ventures locally and across the border.

Vancouver’s Pacific orientation and resource-based history provide strong ties from Seattle to the Silicon Valley and all points between. These ties reflect the ongoing movement of talent and financing along the Cascadia Corridor.

Plentiful resources

Today access to financial resources is fluid and accessed with relative ease assuming a marketable product or idea. Various levels of financial advice and expertise are available locally as startups are created and grow.

Vancouver also has a thriving Angel investing community with lots of startup experience.

At last count, there were more than 130 different organizations designed to assist new generation companies at various stages of their journey. These include numerous incubators specializing in different areas and stages of company development from startup to scaling.

Various levels of government provide a series of resources to help developing companies. As a critical component of the three player game in the innovation economy, governments can provide support to growing companies including financing, advice and assistance through organizations like the BC Innovation Council (BCIC).

The government has also established a $1.26B innovation fund while committing hundreds of millions of dollars for the creation of superclusters. They have also committed to providing financing for startups in various sectors. These are in addition to existing tax incentives.²⁷

The Canadian government supports innovation through a series of incentives and investments including the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC).

Vancouver startups have demonstrated that not only can they raise capital, but they can also attract capital from some of the very best in the financing business. These include:

● Andreessen Horowitz, Kleiner Perkins, Caufield and Byers, Softbank (Slack)

● Jeff Bezos’ venture arm: Bezos Expeditions (D-Wave, General Fusion)

● CIA venture arm: In-Q-Tel (D-Wave)

● Fidelity Investments (Hootsuite, D-Wave Systems)

● Goldman Sachs (D-Wave Systems)

As of February 2019, a number of Vancouver startup firms across a variety of sectors have a record of raising significant financial resources including²⁸

Slack: Workplace collaboration platform

  • Founded 2013
  • Raised $1.2B

Hootsuite: Social media relationship platform

  • Founded 2004
  • Raised $299.7M

D-Wave Systems: Quantum computing/semiconductor designer and manufacturer

  • Founded 1999
  • Raised $204.7M

Zymeworks: Clinical Stage Biopharma

  • Founded 2003
  • Raised $125.87M (pre-IPO)
  • Raised $63.6M (IPO April 2017)

General Fusion: Development of magnetized fusion energy

  • Founded 2002
  • Raised $127.1M

Visier: Cloud-based workforce analytics

  • Founded in 2010
  • Raised $91.5M

Bench: Online bookkeeping

  • Founded in 2012
  • Raised $49.1M

Vision Critical: Crowd-based customer intelligence platform

  • Founded in 2000
  • Raised $41.4M

Clio: Web-based tools for legal firms

  • Founded in 2008
  • Raised $26M

Mobify: Mobile commerce platform

  • Founded in 2007
  • Raised $24.9M

Allocadia: Marketing performance management software

  • Founded in 2010
  • Raised $24M

Payfirma: Multi-platform payment solutions for mobile, e-commerce, in store

  • Founded in 2010
  • Raised $23.5M

Trulioo: Online identification verification

  • Founded in 2011
  • Raised $23.3M

Tasktop: Task focused interface for software development and delivery

  • Founded in 2007
  • Raised $22.25M

This list represents a small fraction of all the tech-related activity in the Vancouver area.

Numerous Vancouver companies have seen profitable exits freeing up capital and talent that is redeployed in new ventures. The acquisitions are often from outside its borders signaling the value of the ideas and talent in the city.²⁹

With various government-funded research facilities, abundant financing opportunities and several foundation companies built over the last several decades it’s no wonder that startup culture has exploded in Vancouver during the new millennium.

In the last six years alone, the amount of resources available to new entrepreneurs has grown substantially. Including several startup incubators, Venture capital firms, government programs and different financing options.

Next up is the development of a multimillion-dollar supercluster concept in downtown Vancouver to take the Stanford Research model and make it our own.

Our paradox

Looking down from Grouse Mountain

High up on the mountain, the city looms below. Ships look like toys from here.

In the distance the Spanish Banks, a tribute to the first new world explorers to these shores. Above the Banks, the Endowment lands and UBC, the home of Triumf and the Quantum Matter Institute.

Just to the left through Stanley Park, the Lions Gate Bridge built by the Guinness family to access the British properties where I stand.

Over to the far left in the distance, Simon Fraser University sits like a king on top of Burnaby Mountain. In the city below, thousands of entrepreneurs move amongst various tech enclaves and coffee shops.

The draw of Vancouver is one of opportunity in both technology entrepreneurship and the luxury of nature.

A paradox of world changing focus and escape.

Tristram Waye, CCO and CSO Next Decentrum Technologies.

Thanks and acknowledgement to Hussein Hallak, Launch Academy and William Johnson

All photos courtesy of Katy Mackenzie:

*Updated April 18, 2019 to include Adaptech Group and CQRS/ES.


  1. Crown land refers to public land “owned” by the government
  2. Officially the forested area around the University is called Pacific Spirit Park.
  3. A Brief History of UBC. The story of the University of British Columbia. Update June 7, 2017. University of British Columbia Archives online.
  4. Created by an American physicist Robert J. Van de Graff who taught at Princeton and MIT.
  5. Triumf. History. Triumf online
  6. It is called the Stewart Blusson Quantum Matter Institute
  7. UBC Public Affairs media Release. UBC positioned as global leader in quantum materials research with $66.5- million federal government investment. July 30, 2015. global-leader-in-quantum-materials-research-with-66–5-million-federal-government-investment/
  8. Ibid.
  9. A full list of UBC spinoffs from the UBC University-Industry Liaison Office. companies/full-list-spin-companies
  10. SFU Innovates startups recognized on the Ready to Rocket List. May 13, 2017.
  11. MDA changed its name to Maxar Technologies Ltd effective October 5, 2017.
  12. Derek Spratt. Motorola’s Wireless Data Division/MDI-Overview and History.
  13. MPR Teltech was the consulting division of BC Tel
  14. Cooper H. Langford, Jamie R. Wood and Astrid Jacobson. The evolution and structure of the Vancouver wireless cluster: Growth and loss of core firms. Jan 15, 2015. ter_Growth_and_loss_of_core_firms
  15. PMC-Sierra was sold to Microsemi in 2016
  16. Ian Johnson. Sierra Wireless founder Norman Toms. September 17, 2001. The Globe and Mail., Nick Waddell. Waiting on a Leader. Vancouver’s Tech Industry. Jan 27, 2010. Cantech Letter.
  17. Derek Spratt. PCS Wireless — Overview and History.
  18. Derek Spratt. Intrinsyc Software- History and Overview;
  19. Nelson Bennett. Warren Roy: Database. Accounting scandals in the U.S. have proved to be a boon for Global Relay’s electronic message archiving business. Sept. 19, 2011. Business In Vancouver.
  20. T. Melanson. Vancouver-based 1QBit looks to become Canada’s next software giant. Nov. 19, 2015. Canada Wide Media Ltd. (CA).
  21. Maya Kosoff. A man who just sold his startup for $575 million in cash gets to keep every single penny — here’s how he did it. Jul. 14, 2015. Business Insider. markus-frind-bootstrapped-plentyoffish-and-sold-it-for-575-million-2015–7?op=1
  22. formerly Grouplend
  23. Elliot Siemiatycki, Thomas Hutton, Trevor Barnes.Trouble in paradise: resilience and Vancouver’s second life in the “new economy”. August 2015. Urban Geography. Routledge Informa Ltd.
  24. Paul Teall. Local Video Game Companies-Vancouver. gamejobhunter.
  25. Crissy Campbell. Vancouver’s Video Game Industry Is Thriving. May 20, 2014. CDM (Center for Digital Media)
  26. Video Games & Interactive Media. 2017. Vancouver Economic Commission.
  27. The #BC Tech Strategy. January 2016. Government of British Columbia (
  28. Crunchbase database. As of February 2019. All figures USD.
  29. by TRW. August 2017.


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