Edmonton can become ‘multi-billion-dollar tech hub’: Downtown biz report

Downtown Business Association executive director Ian O’Donnell.

A report released Wednesday, detailing the state of Edmonton’s tech industry, says the city has the ability to become a ‘multi-billion-dollar tech hub.’

The Downtown Business Association argues for increased tech-oriented buildings, a downtown accelerator, talent retention, collaboration between organizations and enhancing urban infrastructure in the downtown core in its new report, “Accelerating Tech in Downtown Edmonton: Impacts and Opportunities.”

“There’s a lot of hidden gems of tech companies in the downtown, that people might not have even heard of, that are global and that are doing amazing things with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue,” said Ian O’Donnell, executive director of the Downtown Business Association, from TEC Edmonton on Wednesday. “We wanted to … really talk about, ‘How can we expand that and how can we accelerate that?’”

Edmonton is home to 394 tech companies — a majority of them in the downtown core — and supporting and attracting them will take a major shift in mindset, said the report. Of these, 44 per cent are considered start-ups and could grow into major companies with the right resources, O’Donnell said.

“We have a lot of amazing companies downtown in Edmonton,” said Karolina Korzeniewski, an MBA consultant on the project. “We are quietly working away, solving the world’s problems, at the forefront of the AI race, very humbly doing our work, and not really telling everybody about the wonderful things we’re doing.”

The report highlights a number of tech companies Edmontonians may not know are operating right here in the city, like Run With It Synthetics, which is working on Silicon Valley’s earthquake mitigation strategy.

Implementing the report’s recommendations would take a significant investment from all levels of government, as well as from businesses themselves, but O’Donnell said the point is that the foundation is already here in Edmonton.

“We all want the same thing,” said Korzeniewski. “So it’s a matter of channeling all of that positive energy in the right direction.”

O’Donnell noted the strong tech-oriented post-secondary programs in Edmonton, Mayor Don Iveson’s idea for an innovation corridor between NAIT and the University of Alberta and strong transit infrastructure in downtown as key building blocks for a thriving tech sector.

Ultimately, O’Donnell and Korzeniewski hope the report can serve as a catalyst for a change they see as urgent and necessary.

“We have everything ready to go, but we have got to go now,” said O’Donnell. “If we don’t move today in a very collaborative and thoughtful way, we will be left behind.”

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