In the summer of 2019, a group of business leaders got together to discuss the future of the technology industry in Vancouver on an international stage.
Though the focus of the meeting was to evaluate how the province competed against other innovative regions around the world, Vancouver became the prime focus of the conversation. After all, if people are talking about tech hubs in other countries, it’s not England or Germany that are typically mentioned, but rather London or Berlin. Though everyone there that day saw the value and uniqueness of local ecosystems outside of just Vancouver
o time it would take to tout the regional benefits and more.
Pushing aside any regional issues, when it comes to being known as a tech hub, Vancouver and British Columbia in general are often overlooked in the global conversation. When I travel around the world and tell people I am from Vancouver, the first thing that comes out of their mouths is “Ah, Vancouver, I hear it is so beautiful there!” Though the sentiment behind these types of statements is positive, what is lacking is a perspective of the city beyond tourism.
There is so much more that Vancouver has to offer internationally that is not marketed or often talked about. Vancouver has world-leading tech companies in fusion technology, quantum computing, clean technology, artificial intelligence and software as a service. The province ranks No. 2 globally with the virtual reality/augmented reality industry and No. 1 in visual effects and animation. Yet, when I’m on trade missions anywhere from Asia to Europe, I find myself educating people about how Vancouver is a global leader in all types of industries outside of tourism.
When I left that meeting in the summer of 2019, there was a group consensus that we as business leaders in B.C. needed to make a co-ordinated effort to ramp up international publicity about the technology rock stars in our industry. We all wanted to garner international recognition for innovation in both our respective and collective regions. As a group, we agreed that for effective marketing we needed to keep the message simple and rather than focus on B.C. and its individual tech bubbles in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, Okanagan and other regions, we should first focus on highlighting Vancouver. There was drive and momentum behind this new opportunity to get Vancouver and surrounding B.C. tech hubs on the map. All of us in the tech ecosystem left that day with a sense of collective purpose.
I’d like to think that the halted efforts to drive this project forward arose due to COVID-19, but the truth is that despite the energy and excitement after that meeting, very little happened to bring this initiative to fruition. Though a select few in that room still try to get Vancouver some much-needed international coverage, most business leaders at that meeting went back to focusing on their companies or their own regions and defaulted to letting others step up and do the work.
– like Victoria, Surrey, Kelowna, Kamloops, Prince George and beyond – we all agreed that if we as a province are trying to persuade global tech talent from to come to B.C., selling them on coming to a suburb or smaller town would be exponentially harder due t
The purpose of bringing both this closed-room meeting and general conversation to light isn’t to rant about missteps or lack of collective focus on the issue, but to highlight the opportunity we still have to put more provincial focus and resources on Vancouver’s tech industry.
Economic recovery in British Columbia is going to be driven by the technology industry. The hospitality and tourism industries have been devastated and are going to take years to recover. The tech industry has not been affected as severely. In fact, some companies are thriving now and are even having challenges filling all of their open positions. That may not have been as much of a challenge had the work been started last year to promote Vancouver as an international destination for tech talent. Vancouver has a branding problem when it comes to innovation and technology, and there is a huge opportunity to position ourselves as progressive leaders. •
Ray Walia is the CEO of Launch Ventures.