Accelerating Tech Growth: Behind the scenes, agencies are sparking the rise of technology innovators


The $6-million annual budget for B.C.’s program aimed at diversifying its economy away from a reliance on resource development is about equal to what it would cost to buy two or three houses in some of Vancouver’s trendier neighbourhoods.

But despite the small budget, the program has created a great deal more permanent jobs and economic activity than if the same amount of money had been spent on three fixer-uppers in West Vancouver.

“It [the B.C. program] has been very successful,” says Rob Bennett, COO and program director of Victoria-based tech catalyst VIATEC (Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council).

Karen Spiers, a spokesperson for the B.C. Innovation Council (BCIC) and the B.C. Acceleration Program (BCAP), the major initiative the BCIC has funded since 2011, says an assessment of the program completed this past fall showed it had helped create 408 businesses that generated $37.5 million in economic activity, attracted overall investment of $112 million and created more than 1,090 jobs in the province since BCAP was launched.

BCIC provides some of the funding for one of VIATEC's programs, the Accelerator Program.

The BCIC has other initiatives, including BC Tech Works, which helps match students with tech companies, and the New Venture Competition, in which start-ups compete for a prize that recognizes the potential of the technologies they have developed.

BCAP’s BC Acceleration Network and BCIC are definitely not top-down, overly bureaucratized programs. Based in Vancouver, they employ a total of 12–15 people.

BCIC leverages its clout by using other programs in the province, as well as federal ones. But its strength, says Spiers, is its locally based nature, with 13 different accelerator programs in various parts of the province. Four of those, including a program focused on wireless technologies and others focused on life sciences and clean tech, are technology-based, rather than based on geography.

There’s also an online platform to support participants.

The key to the success of the program is the mentoring approach, offered by a successful entrepreneur who acts as the executive in residence.

They and others familiar with successful start-ups evaluate business ideas and help start-ups the develop entrepreneurial skills, overcome barriers to success, become investment-ready and network among peers. It costs companies $200 monthly for this.

Aside from several successful start-ups the Victoria-based accelerator has spawned (such as Foundry Spatial, see A Way With Water: Point and click software simplifies hydrology and watershed management), there have been dozens of success stories that have led to new businesses created province-wide.

A similar agency in Alberta is called Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures (AITF). It is the technology-focused leg of a much more ambitious system called Alberta Innovates, which includes four agencies: Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures, Alberta Innovates - Bio Solutions, Alberta Innovates - Energy and Environment Solutions and Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions.

Cory Fries, vice-president, investments, for AITF says that division, which receives funding of about $90 million per year and employs 550, has been responsible for bringing dozens of new technologies to market.

Many are energy related, says Fries, who has been with the agency for four years and worked with entrepreneurs and small- and medium-sized companies most of his career.

For instance, AITF has funded work aimed at improving the effectiveness of SAGD technologies used in the oilsands in order to improve energy efficiencies and water use. In that respect, it’s a successor to the former Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA), which pioneered many of the technologies used in the oilsands.

But it isn’t only involved in energy industry technologies, he says. It was a catalyst for the development of a number of technologies for oriented strand board used in the forestry industry. Just two of those technologies led to the export of products to Asia and the creation of 300 jobs in Alberta.

Overall, he says the agencies operating under the Alberta Innovates umbrella have been responsible for many new technologies and products. He says it’s a story his agency has not effectively told in the past, but it is developing a new communications strategy aimed at doing so.

“We need to improve the telling of our story,” says Fries. “We’ve created billions of dollars in economic activity.”

Like the B.C. program, AITF has a geographical footprint throughout the province, with catalyst networks in Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Grande Prairie. Those local divisions work with economic development bodies in those areas to service entrepreneurs province-wide.

For more information on successful BCIC ventures, visit


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