Inside Alberta’s Entrepreneurial Emergence

It seems like overnight Alberta has emerged on the global scene as a heavy-hitter in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, with a strong cluster of innovative startups powered by these technologies. Alberta’s transforming tech ecosystem might be different than you would expect. While energy and industrial technology are ongoing pillars, the province is also deep in software-enabled startups, with SaaS enterprises accounting for 40% of the province’s dealflow (according to the Alberta Enterprise 2018 Tech Deal Flow Study of 1,238 tech startups).

Demographics of Alberta’s tech ecosystem

Alberta’s tech landscape has a distinct female presence with a remarkable 30% of tech startups being founded or co-founded by women – more than double the Canadian national average. This is according to the 2017 Move the Dial Benchmark Report, which cites that only 13% of companies have a female co-founder, and only 5% of Canadian tech companies have a solo female founder.  Alberta’s strong female tech founder and co-founder representation of 30% also shines in comparison to the US national average of 17%, as reported by Crunchbase’s 2017 Study of Female Founders.

Additionally, Alberta’s tech ecosystem is bolstered by its highly educated workforce, as well as its proximity of several well-respected academic institutions with longstanding R&D reputations and abundant expertise in Energy, Life Sciences and Artificial Intelligence. Curious young minds and mega corporations alike are flocking to the University of Alberta’s Artificial Machine Intelligence Institute (AMII) to be closer to the world-class experts in reinforcement learning and natural language processing (NLP).

Catalysts for new innovation 

Furthermore, the opening of Google Deep Mind’s first North American office in Edmonton, Alberta was not by coincidence. The concentration of AI talent and strategic corporate labs is spurring a new wave of innovative startups. 34% of Alberta technology firms are already integrating AI into their offerings, and this number is expected to increase exponentially (according to the Alberta Tech Deal Flow Study).

Meanwhile, programs like the Creative Destruction Lab Rockies, based out of the Haskayne School of Business, are welcoming Energy and Prime (industry agnostic) Startups for the 2019/20 cohort. Eager for the exceptional mentorship and opportunities to raise capital, the program has received over 430 applications for the 50 available spots from around the globe.  Companies that have participated in the CDL program have raised over $14 million (CAD) in seed funding. CDL-Rockies Alumni include Ingu Solutions Inc., SensorUp, Neuraura, Zept, and Vivametrica – find more CDL companies in the Crunchbase Hub.

Global investors showing interest

Alberta’s startup ecosystem is rapidly gaining momentum, and global investors are taking notice. With twelve funds now with offices in Alberta (four of which also have offices in Silicon Valley), the growing venture capital industry is prompting increasingly impressive raises and exits. One such example is Drivewyze, which secured CDN $20 million from investors, including Alberta Enterprise’s VC fund Inovia Capital. Here are a few more examples of recent VC activity for Alberta startups:

A flurry of mergers and acquisitions have also taken place recently in Alberta, including a CDN $1.1 billion exit for Soliuma publicly traded SaaS company headquartered in Calgary recently acquired by Morgan Stanley.

Recent investment deals

2019 has started off with great momentum with several notable VC deals taking place in Alberta.

  • Eideticom, a company developing Computational Storage Processors for data center applications, secured USD $2 million in investment from Inovia Capital’s 2018 Fund, an Alberta Enterprise portfolio fund.
  • Passportal, an Accelerate Fund II investment was acquired by SolarWinds(NYSE:SWI), a leading provider of powerful and affordable IT management software.
  • Scope ARan Edmonton and San Francisco-based augmented reality company closed CDN $13 million Series A funding to help make any worker an instant expert with augmented reality. The round was led by Romulus Capital, with follow-on investment participation from existing investors SignalFire, Susa Ventures, Haystack, New Stack Ventures, North American Corporation and Angel List.

2018 Deals

Early Stage (Angel and Seed):

  • AltaML, a developer of AI/ML applications that partners with organizations using a co-development model to provide technical and strategic expertise to build applied AI/ML applications, raised $3M USD of seed funding from Alberta angel investors.
  • Communo, a give/get work marketplace providing contingent workers and new projects to digital, creative and marketing agencies, secured CDN $1 million of angel-funding from several investors, including Panache Ventures, an Alberta Enterprise portfolio fund.
  • Drivewyze, a sensor-enabled trucking and logistics company, secured CDN $20 million from investors, including Inovia Capital, an Alberta Enterprise portfolio fund.
  • Fresnel Software, developer of a project management software designed to deploy utility-based infrastructures such as telecom, pipelines and distributed assets, secured CDN $1.63 million in angel investment.
  • iMirror, developer of an advanced interactive mirror designed to help consumers in the fitting rooms, closed a seed round of CDN $1.8 million backed by 500 Startups, Alchemist Accelerator, BDC and Valhalla Angels.
  • McThings, which provides businesses with access into the world of the Internet of Things with products that are affordable, easy to manage and highly scalable, secured early stage financing from Alberta Enterprise’s Accelerate Fund II.
  • MobSquad, which provides a solution to the significant and growing technology shortage faced by US-based start-ups and scale-ups, has raised a total of C$11 million in funding, comprised of US$4.6MM in seed-funding coming from private investors including Relay Ventures and Panache Ventures (both Alberta Enterprise portfolio funds), as well as C$5.5MM in non-dilutive funding from municipal, provincial, and federal orders of government.  
  •  OncoQuest, an Edmonton-based biopharmaceutical company focused on the development and commercialization of immunotherapeutic products for the treatment of cancer, completed a private placement financing which raised USD $6.03 million.
  • SensorUP, a sensor data, analytics, and mapping API provider for every application, secured CDN $2 million of seed-funding from Vanedge Capital Partners.
  • StellarAlgo, a customer data platform that enables live audience businesses to leverage their data in order to better understand and connect with their fans., secured CDN $1 million of early stage financing with help from Alberta Enterprise’s Accelerate Fund II and Yaletown Partners.
  • Testfire Labs, a software and consulting services company building products that take advantage of the latest developments in AI, secured early stage financing from Alberta Enterprise’s Accelerate Fund II.
  • Veerum, an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) company that matches digital technologies with capital project delivery, secured CDN $3.9 million of seed-funding from Builders VC, Blackhorn Ventures, Brick & Mortar Ventures, Creative Ventures and Ryerson Futures Inc. (RFI).
  • Zept, a Machine Learning company that serves as a grade matching service for international students and universities., secured CDN $1.3 million of seed-funding from Alberta angel investors.
  • ZeroKEY, developer of a VR technology product to help humans interact with machines, secured CDN $1.9 million of angel investment and early stage venture capital funding.

Series A and Series B:

  • Ambyint, an IIOT company focused on oil well optimization technology, utilizing lightweight sensors, wireless communications and advanced analytics secured a USD $11.5 million Series A led by Mercury Fund and participated in by, among others, Builders VC, an Alberta Enterprise portfolio fund.
  • Circle Cardiovascular Imaging, developer and marketer of cardiovascular post-processing software that allows for the evaluation and analysis of MRI and CT images, secured CDN $16 million Series A investment co-led by Yaletown-Ventures, an Alberta Enterprise portfolio fund, as well as Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors.
  • Decisive Farming, a precision agriculture and data analytics software platform dedicated to increasing farmers’ profitability, sustainability, and technology ease-of-use, secured a Series B investment of an undisclosed amount, led by McRock Capital, an Alberta Enterprise portfolio fund.
  • Osprey Informatics, a visual monitoring provider which offers a SaaS platform to help oil and gas companies manage remote cameras, secured CDN $3.75 million Series B investment led by Shell Ventures and Evok Innovations, with new Calgary-based fund InterGen Capital; the company plans to use the investment to drive sales and develop AI-enabled solutions.

How to find Alberta companies 

StartAlberta is a free and open source dealflow directory that provides an ideal medium for international investors to connect with Alberta entrepreneurs and identify investment opportunities. A new strategic partnership between StartAlbertaand Crunchbase expands Alberta’s richest database for the startup community – giving Alberta entrepreneurs even greater exposure to national and international investors. Under this partnership, StartAlberta’s database will be directly linked to Crunchbase – which reaches over 50 million investment professionals worldwide.

The StartAlberta platform is stewarded by the Venture Capital Association of Alberta (VCAA), with the express mandate to connect investors to a diverse pool of startups, fostering connections that otherwise could not be made. 

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