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4 perspectives on #ABtech – unplugged with the AF team.

Two Boomers, a Gen Xer and a Millenial make up the Accelerate Fund team. So how do their perspectives differ? What do they each see as opportunities and hazards ahead for AB tech? And what types of founders are they hoping to meet next?

We sat down with each member of the team to find out who’s feeling cautious and who’s bullish as investment in technology in Alberta continues to hit records.

Arden Tse

Gen X

Born 1973 in Edmonton, 48 yrs old. Studied: Psychology, Business and MBA. Moved to Alberta at 1 year old. Immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong with his parents. Mom and dad are psychiatric nurses.

“I grew up being told I’d be a doctor, but I was more interested in side hustles. In elementary school I’d buy snacks when the canteen was open in the morning and resell them with markup when it was closed. I love supporting businesspeople at the pace of tech startups.”

Brad Johns

Boomer

Born 1961 in Urbana, Illinois, grew up in Toronto, 60 yrs old. Studied: Mechanical Engineering, Systems, Robotics and MBA. Moved to Alberta at age 31. Dad's father immigrated from Manchester and Mom's side has roots in the UK. Dad is an engineer. Mom managed the home.

“I got really hooked on technology doing a Masters in robotics 30 years ago. I was writing basic code in junior high school when we did it on cards. Everyone thinks we’re tech literate now because we use apps - but we don’t have enough coders.”

Yasmine Al-Hussein

Millenial

Born 1994 in Toronto, 27 yrs old. Studied: MBA Moved to Alberta at 7 years old. Dad immigrated from Syria to Bulgaria, then with her mom to Canada. Mom and dad are engineers.

“With Accelerate Fund, I get to see deals through, from assessing the business and team through to working with innovators to support their growth. I get to help realize what’s possible for visionary people and for Alberta.”

David Edmonds

Boomer

Born 1955 in Brantford Ontario, 65 yrs old. Studied: Marketing. Moved to Alberta at age 25. Family emigrated from Ireland in 1832. Granddad was a pure entrepreneur - bought and sold horses and ran a haulage business.

“When I was starting Burntsand and other companies, most of us did not interact with other tech founders. Then the attitude was ‘share nothing, show no weakness, ask for nothing.’ I love how collaborative our community has become.”

What do you see when you look at Alberta’s tech sector today?

Arden Tse

Gen X

“We’re seeing more Alberta tech success stories and growth - startup growth is strong in Calgary and Edmonton is really picking up. It’s dangerous though to think the maturing of the sector is only a function of time - like wine or cheese. We still need to push hard for next growth milestones, work together as YYC and YEG. For example, there’s great research strength in Edmonton - how do we commercialize it?"

Brad Johns

Boomer

“Growing and maturing the Alberta tech sector has taken time. The first Accelerate Fund was established almost a decade ago. Alberta now has some anchor tenants - that’s key. We need bigger tech businesses as employers to train core players that can one day spin off other companies. The sector is getting bigger, getting more sustainable and gaining momentum. Government is more engaged too, seeing tech as key to Alberta’s economic future.”

Yasmine Al-Hussein

Millenial

“A lot of tech innovation is Alberta-made and we have great talent here. How do we help make sure we continue to grow and motivate top tech businesses to stay here? Alberta is unique with its entrepreneurial spirit. That drew my parents here, and keeps me here. We need to draw on that, effectively consult with key stakeholders on real needs for growth and keep moving forward.”

David Edmonds

Boomer

“Alberta’s tech sector is still at the nascent stage of growth, in my opinion. I believe we have at least another 5 to 10 years of very hard work to do. We will never be like Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto; we are a different breed here in Alberta. But we are punching above our weight - look at the number of $1B exits here compared to our small population size. Measured that way you can see Alberta’s might.”

What keeps you up at night?

Arden Tse

Gen X

“Bubbles and their impact on investment (I actually studied them in school). That Alberta tech won’t mature past scale up and we’ll lose momentum. I worry about Edmonton - my home - that our tech community needs to learn from and keep pace with Calgary… we need to rise together.”

Brad Johns

Boomer

“Watch valuations. We’ve been through tech boom and bust before - hold on to healthy skepticism on multiples. And - Alberta: we’re competing with tech globally for talent. We need great developers, product managers, marketers and sales talent.”

Yasmine Al-Hussein

Millenial

“I’d hate to see the momentum we’ve gained die all of a sudden. There are still entrepreneurs that think they can’t attract investment from here, and investors unaware of the most talented entrepreneurs locally. We need to keep dispelling the myths and connecting people.”

David Edmonds

Boomer

“We need to learn from other global successful tech ecosystems and organizations. But be wary of the paternalistic attitude that founders need to be led through all stages of growth. Founders need advisors to offer tools, direction - but entrepreneurs: you need to go do it yourself.”

What do you see as top priorities to grow AB’s tech sector?

Arden Tse

Gen X

“Deeper tech and diversity are key. We have examples of this in Alberta like G2V, True Angle, but we also have a lot of connector technology like connecting data, using AI to make an industry more efficient. Both are great but we need diversification. We need to draw on the depth of scientific innovation at U of A - spin out companies and get it commercialized. And beyond diversity in technology type, we need diversity in founders, in teams, in ways we look at important problems.”

Brad Johns

Boomer

“Record VC investment into Alberta last year means we’re growing companies. The real driver of maturing the sector will be large investments. We need those to continue and to see more strong technology businesses here progress through the growth lifecycle. It’s great to see the mature tech companies becoming unicorns like Solium (founded 2001, now called Shareworks), Benevity (founded 2008), Absorb (founded in 2002) and Jobber (founded in 2011). Keep that going.”

Yasmine Al-Hussein

Millenial

“A key driver of achieving sector growth will be making sure diverse founders have a seat at the table. Unconscious biases still exist - we need to watch for them, challenge them, grow. I take my responsibility seriously to interact with entrepreneurs and investors, bring people to the table, and showcase what’s possible for anyone. Founders; you don’t need one specific skill, or type of knowledge; you don’t need to be a certain gender, age, or type of domain expert and it doesn’t matter where you're from.”

David Edmonds

Boomer

“One of the top priorities is to overcome our inability to tell our own stories inside and outside of the province. We have to become more visible. Let the facts shine through: the number of AB startups, the financings, the strength and success of our entrepreneurs. The reward will be more people believing in their opportunity here, more talent and capital attracted here, more jobs and growth here. We won’t be 20% of AB GDP like energy was at its height but we can be 5-7% AB GDP.”

What keeps you here, focused on growing the tech sector in Alberta?

Arden Tse

Gen X

“My career’s taken me from advanced statistical modelling, into real estate, then finance. When I joined the VMS program - that opened me up to the startup world and I even dove into entrepreneurship with my own restaurant. What I really love is the intersection of business and people. Startup investing lets me evaluate businesses and support ambitious founders all at the fast pace of tech startups. I love it.”

Brad Johns

Boomer

“Alberta is the most entrepreneurial place in Canada. That comes from oil and gas - an entire industry built on people getting deals done in the +15 walkways, seizing opportunity fast. Younger generations saw their parents build businesses here. Now we need to invite them into the tech sector to do the same. It's also a great place to live!”

Yasmine Al-Hussein

Millenial

“The Alberta tech sector is still forming. We have to dig in to mature it. I believe I can contribute by being a strong listener and connector and bringing the right people to the table including founders, investors, and advisors. It’s not just about making investments today, it’s about providing support, facilitating learning that helps startups gain momentum for investment later.”

David Edmonds

Boomer

“My first job in tech was with NCR in Mississauga, Ontario where I was assigned to sell only new technology. Once I got a taste of selling products no one knew were possible I was hooked! I am still involved with tech for the same reason - showing people what is possible and how it can change lives.”

What would you like to see us discussing 5 years from now?

Arden Tse

Gen X

“Across Alberta, I want us to be talking about how we’re in the scale up phase, with more large mature technology companies. And I would love to see successful tech entrepreneurs coming back here and stepping into mentorship. I’d also like to be talking about how Edmonton’s grassroots startup community and ecosystem have grown and have the equivalent of Platform Calgary in Edmonton and the Bell Innovation Centre.”

Brad Johns

Boomer

“I’d like to see a resilient, strong tech ecosystem that has the pull to attract talent here. It would be good to also see the beginnings of islands of tech expertise starting to form - core centres of tech specialty that Alberta leads in. That can happen organically, it will just take time.”

Yasmine Al-Hussein

Millenial

“I didn’t know the tech sector in Alberta existed even as an undergrad with two parents that were engineers. This is an industry of incredible possibility and we need to get it on the radar. I’d like to see every Alberta university grad knowing about the sector and feeling they have a seat at the table. We need to overcome any biases in the industry and make it inclusive. We need to see more families talking about Alberta startups at the dinner table.”

David Edmonds

Boomer

“We need dozens of tech companies in Alberta with 200-300 employees. What a platform for growth that would give us. It’s time for leaders born in the 70s and 80s to take up the challenge of curating and nurturing the sector. Share your knowledge and offer mentorship."

What are your calls to action to the technology community as #ABtech looks to scale?

Arden Tse

Gen X

Angel investors - if you’re new to startups, we welcome you to get to know technology investing. Talk with us to demystify evaluating investments. Veteran tech investors - thank you and please share your experience.

Brad Johns

Boomer

Institutional investors - we need more of you with feet on the ground in Alberta. Get involved in the community here and participate in its growth. Write bigger cheques. Help us scale.

Yasmine Al-Hussein

Millenial

Media - Our high school and university students need to know about opportunities in ABTech. You have a critical role to play. We’re glad to give background or comment.

David Edmonds

Boomer

Government - keep paying attention, not just for good news announcements but on what the sector needs to deliver 45,000 jobs or more in Alberta by 2050.

And what about a call to action to the ambitious minds interested in working in technology?

Arden Tse

Gen X

Founders, think big. Grow from here but don’t be afraid to seek capital and partnerships from outside if that’s where your technology is best understood and valued. Your job is to be successful. We’ll have your back.

Brad Johns

Boomer

Startup teams: keep building companies. We’ll be here to support you.

Yasmine Al-Hussein

Millenial

Realize there’s no one way to get into technology - you can be a scientist, a product engineer, a business leader, a sales pro, a marketer … we need you all. Join a startup. You can learn so much, so fast.

David Edmonds

Boomer

Experienced startup leaders - please give some precious time back to the community.