Alberta enters the technology business. Stranger in a Strange Land… no more?

As a software entrepreneur in Calgary for the last 25 years the domination of Oil & Gas industry has often had me feel like the character from Robert A. Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land”. Having spent time in my career in software cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Boston and San Francisco, running a software company in YYC feels, well – a bit Martian. We know we belong here, but something about our software roots makes it feel a bit foreign.
Recently, I’ve been encouraged by the significant announcement by the Alberta Government to invest in the technology industry; maybe technology and software companies do have a home here!
CBC: Alberta banks on $90M Investor Tax Credit to expand tech industry (
Globe and Mail: Alberta promises $90-million in tax aid for small, medium-sized tech companies (
There is no question Calgary and Alberta is going through a fundamental structural change; I’m reminded by it every day with dramatically reduced commuters on trains and roads, the half-empty parking lot or the monthly commercial real-estate reports pleading for new tenants. If you haven’t been in Calgary for a while; trust me — you’ll notice the change and it’s alarming.
Change is required, whether we want it or not it’s here and yes, the technology industry can help play a role in the local recovery.
Having run numerous software and services companies and spending many-months (years) pounding the pavement in Alberta to fund a start-up created in 2010 — I never forget an experience oil & gas investor telling me… “you’re pushing on a rope, these guys can put a dollar into oil & gas and pull out a multiple of that dollar in months — why would they invest in something they don’t know — there is too much risk!”
He was right.
Selling technology investments in Alberta was excruciating. Comments like “good luck with that” and baffled looks suggesting software and technology had no place here.
I am encouraged to see this new tax credit; it can encourage the new generation of software entrepreneurs here at home! It can give them the capital they need to build their businesses and the industry in this city. It’s a critical link just like the Income Trust movement and the Junior Capital Pools that encouraged investment in our energy dominated past.
Software runs everything these days — it’s undeniable. Whether you’re installing your new Nest thermostat, configuring your Apple Watch, or checking the weather through your phone or having it read to you by your car — the world has changed and Alberta has lived in a bubble often isolated from these great opportunities. Technology broadens the provinces expertise and fosters the new growth opportunities. Local success stories like Benevity and conferences like AccelerateAB show us examples of home-grown success.
Whether Albertans choose to embrace this opportunity remains to be seen, but I certainly encourage it!
The good news, Albertans’s know a good investment when they see one. For years, Oil & Gas was a no-brainer, now it’s time to consider technology investments too. Investment dollars follow success and while it won’t happen overnight — successful stories, smart ambitious people and good technology business plans can make this industry a larger part of our local future. This tax credit is an important part of this puzzle.
I encourage investors throughout Alberta to look closely at this announcement and what it means for their hard-earned investment dollars. No matter what your political affiliation, this is a fantastic announcement for this province and will give us new hope to once again fill those parking lots and buildings with people, technology, great ideas and undeniable determination that has been the backbone of the Alberta economy since the first puddle of black gold surfaced!
Let’s make it happen!
About the Author. Trevor is a long time software entrepreneur having run a number of software related companies along industry players like IBM, BlackBerry and Microsoft. Trevor is an SVP of AppCarousel (acquired in 2015 by San Francisco based AppDirect) and spends the bulk of his time managing the recently acquired Quality, Health and Safety software firm NeoSystems in downtown Calgary.