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Digital transformation opportunities set to drive economic boost for Calgary

With $18.4 billion (CAD) in digital transformation spending in the province of Alberta projected to be led by Calgary companies through 2022, the Western Canadian city is a fast-growing destination for entrepreneurs and tech talent alike.

An hour and a half flight from Seattle and just over a two-hour flight from San Francisco, Calgary has a high concentration of corporate headquarters that call the city home. Companies working in the energy, logistics, creative industries, and life sciences are set to invest the most in digital transformation (DX), and the most rapid adopters of DX will be agribusiness and manufacturing.

A study, Digital Transformation (DX) of Calgary Industries, conducted by Calgary Economic Development with International Data Corporation (IDC) Canada, highlighted the tremendous economic transformation that DX will drive for the city. 

It is important to take a close look at the upcoming opportunities that DX will bring, so the city can be better prepared to seize those opportunities, says Mary Moran President and Chief Executive Officer, Calgary Economic Development. 

“We wanted to quantify the digital spend for the key engines of growth and innovation to ensure companies and top talent realize the scope of opportunity we have in this city to take on global challenges,” says Moran. “We intend to be disruptors in the new economy – not the disrupted.”

The city is looking to build upon its deep history of applied technology and its entrepreneurial spirit to meet the global demand for DX – for that, it’s looking for the best tech talent out there.

Deep DX roots

Calgary has a long history with the energy and telecommunications industries where business intelligence solutions have transformed operations, enabling companies to collect and analyze massive amounts of data to drive timely and informed decision making. It has fostered a culture of investing in technology and committing to digital transformation, especially for companies in business-to-business markets, which has not gone unnoticed by global enablers of DX.

IBM has based its Natural Resources Solution Centre in the city, which enables companies to utilize Watson for its artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities in their operations. Hexagon’s Autonomy and Positioning division also operates out of Calgary, working with clients not only in energy, but also agriculture, transportation, and defense.

It’s no surprise that many of Calgary’s successful technology companies have created solutions to drive digital transformation for a multitude of other industries. Among them:

  • Attabotics, the 3D robotics company enabling the automation of warehousing and order fulfillment. 
  • Decisive Farming, driving precision agriculture and farm management.
  • StellarAlgo, whose data analytics platform has enabled professional sports organizations and live audience businesses to drive personalized engagement with their fans.

DX in Calgary, right now

Digital transformation has been driving Calgary’s economy into diverse high-growth sectors, like fintech. Solium Capital was renamed Shareworks by Morgan Stanley, when it was acquired by the financial giant in 2019 for $1.1 billion (CAD). The company, which decided to stick to its base in Calgary, provides technology solutions for equity compensation and wealth management.

Benevity, a global leader in corporate purpose cloud software, secured a $1 billion-plus investment from UK-based Hg, a leading global software investor in December. Hg’s investment is expected to further accelerate and scale Benevity’s pioneering leadership in this category. 

Other local unicorns in recent years included Genentech joining California-based Parvus Therapeutics and Texas-based Enverus acquiring Calgary energy information firm RSEG.  

Cleantech and life sciences are among Calgary’s sub-sector strengths highlighted by Startup Genome’s Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2020. It cited the Government of Canada’s $100 million investment in the Clean Resource Innovation Network, which is enabling transformation in energy development through sustainable development and adoption of clean technology. 

Calgary’s strong life sciences sector also made the report because the city is home to more than 110 life sciences companies, as well as the International Microbiome Centre, a world class microbiome research facility based at the University of Calgary.

A strong and growing startup ecosystem has been working in Calgary to develop promising technology companies as they move from ideation to scale, and from research to commercialization. Calgary Economic Development and Platform Calgary are two of the organizations providing business support and working to draw more talent and capital into the sector. 

Despite the challenges to business in 2020 from COVID-19, Calgary is also already significantly ahead of its venture capital investment record. A record $286 million of venture capital came into the market in the first nine months of 2020 even as that investment fell in other Canadian cities. In December, Neo Financial, a Calgary financial technology company, raised $50 million in Series A funding.

The impact of the capital and innovative thinking is evident in the dozens of incubators and accelerators – including CDL Rockies, Hunter Hub, Harvest Builders – supporting local entrepreneurs in the tech sector. 

“The startup ecosystem in Calgary has grown exponentially especially over the last few years,” Moran says. “From accelerators to upskilling and reskilling to investment funds, as well as a number of experienced entrepreneurs giving back to the community, we have significant resources for founders to draw from to take their businesses to the next level.”

The future of DX in Calgary

The city’s longstanding high-tech and information-focused culture has also resulted in a highly educated workforce. Calgary has the highest proportion of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) graduates of major Canadian cities. 

According to the CBRE’s report Canada Scoring Tech Talent 2020, 39.9% of Calgary’s workforce holds a Bachelor’s degree or higher, with a growing number of tech degrees (Computer Science, Math/Statistics, and other tech engineering). 

The report also ranks the labor quality of the city as “Very High,” scoring well on its analysis of talent quality versus cost scale. Startup Genome ranked Calgary in the Top 10 in the North American Ecosystem for Affordable Talent, and in the Top 20 for Bang for Buck.

However, with digital transformation ramping up, Calgary will be met with a seriously high demand for highly skilled tech talent – a tremendous opportunity for workers looking to plot their next move as the pandemic has made for a truly global workforce. 

Calgary Economic Development is championing a talent-first approach to help meet the challenge put forth by the upcoming DX investment by industry. In 2019, there was a 27.5% increase in employment for software developers and programmers alone in the city — a number which will only keep going up over the next few years.

“We already have a great foundation of skilled workers and savvy entrepreneurs, and digital transformation is going to need us to grow that community even further,” Moran says. “There are boundless economic opportunities to be seized by founders and tech workers coming to Calgary.”