Vancouver as a Tech Hub

Vancouver’s Tech History

Vancouver’s economy has transformed dramatically over its short history. The city initially came to be as a thriving coastal town with a wealth of mills, trade, and gold rushes. Today, the city’s economic landscape has flourished from its humble roots to the point that Vancouver has been dubbed “Silicon Valley North”. BC generates 2.3 billion in annual sales, boasts more than 600 digital media companies, and employs over 16,000 people.

Tech Timeline

1960-1970

  • BCIT: Opened its Burnaby campus in 1964. Initial enrolment was 498 students. Since then, BCIT has served over 125,000 alumni.
  • MDA Corporation: A company which specializes in providing innovative electronic solutions emerged as the birth of tech in Vancouver

1980-1990

  • MPR Teltech: Key contributor to the birth of tech in Vancouver
  • Expo 86: Helped transition Vancouver from a sleepy provincial backwater to a burgeoning global city.

1990-2000

  • Ballard Power Systems: Conducts research and development on fuel cell technology.
  • Electronic Arts: Opened in 1999, its massive 420,000 sq ft campus has been a huge contributor to the Vancouver gaming industry, making Canada the 3rd largest video game producer worldwide.

2000-2010

  • Flickr: Yahoo acquires Vancouver-based Flickr for $35 million.
  • Centre for Digital Media: The Great Northern Way Campus (jointly owned by UBC, SFU, BCIT and Emily Carr) prioritizes digital education.
  • HootSuite: HootSuite has become one of Canada’s first true web success stories.

2010-2015

  • Bitcoin: World’s first Bitcoin ATM opens in Vancouver
  • Facebook: Opens a 20,000 sq ft office in Coal Harbour
  • Twitter: Announces plans to open ‘Global Centre of Excellence’ in Vancouver
  • Microsoft: Announces opening of $90 million ‘Microsoft Canada Excellence Centre’ for training and development in Vancouver’s newly revamped Pacific Centre.
  • Sony Imageworks: Brand New 75,000 square foot headquarters.

Vancouver’s Tech Economy

Although technology is now a critical part of Vancouver’s economy, much of BC’s economy is still centered around resources, the service industry, and tourism. With that being said, we currently have more jobs in technology than we have in mining, oil, gas, and forestry combined. Mobile app companies and gaming studies are clustered in Yaletown and Gastown, though Mt Pleasant is emerging as a popular location since Hootsuite relocated to the area in 2013.

Below is BC’s tech breakdown:

  • BC’s Tech Economy: totals 7.6% of BC’s economy
  • Wireless Technology: 10,000 jobs; 1200 companies
  • Clean Technology: 6,000 jobs; 200 companies
  • Information and Communication Technology: 40,000+ jobs; 6000+ companies
  • Life Sciences: 10,000 jobs; 300 companies
  • Digital Media: 14,000 jobs; 900 companies

Fun Tech Facts

Vancouver Vs. North American Cities

  • Silicon Valley and San Francisco still have the majority of tech talent, as most top-tier companies are based there and attract talent from around the world
  • The Bay Area has attracted over 350,000 Canadians.
  • Vancouver, along with other Canadian tech hubs, still lags behind US cities in terms of venture capital deals (BC: $477.8M; California: $15,235M).

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Barriers to Vancouver’s Tech Landscape

  • Vancouver’s steep cost of living
  • Vancouver’s lack of geographic proximity to major markets
  • Lack of capital investment
  • Large companies like Facebook and Twitter are taking all of the good talent
  • Shortage of computer developers and software engineers in Canada
  • Canadian university graduates are being recruited to Silicon Valley
  • Salaries for tech workers are about 10-15% lower in Canada than the U.S.

The Future

  • As the home to a blossoming startup ecosystem, Vancouver is attracting international attention.
  • In order to seize the opportunity to make our city a 21st century digital leader, Vancouver must develop a strategy that reaches the top of our government and educational system and permeates our communities.
  • Having a digital strategy will become a necessity of every business strategy rather than an optional add-on.
  • More of an emphasis will likely be placed on technology in schools and universities.