Calgary’s tech sector looking to jack up reputation at SXSW in Austin

Calgary’s tech sector looking to jack up reputation at SXSW in Austin

Alberta is on full display at one of the world’s biggest tech conferences this week in Texas.

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A large consortium of companies from the province have flown to Austin for SXSW Tech, which brings together 400,000 people and thousands of companies from around the world from March 10 to 17.

Alberta Innovates is sponsoring the involvement of 50 businesses — including 27 from Calgary — for the first time. The organization held a seed event for Alberta tech companies Wednesday in an effort to connect them with investors and other parties.

“Capital… has wings”

Doug Holt, vice-president of investments for Alberta Innovates, said the conference is also an opportunity to showcase Alberta’s technology ecosystem to the world.

“Our hope is that when investors see what’s going on here, we’ll see that interest return and we’ll see some of them fly out to meet with some of our companies,” he said. “Capital, of course, has wings and will go where the opportunities are, but it has to know where the opportunities are.”

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The 50 companies are all graduates of the Alberta Innovates Growth and Growth Acceleration Program and represent the province’s strength in the agri-food, sustainability, health and digital technology sectors.

Al-Karim Khimji co-founded Propra — a property management software company — in Calgary in May.

The idea behind the software is to modernize the way rental properties are managed. “If you can see your pizza walking down the street, how do you not know what’s going on with the repair in your unit?” said Khimji.

The property is already being used to serve 16,000 Canadian families in six provinces, with the next step being a planned expansion south of the border.

Propra Co-Founder and CEO Al-Kharim Khimji is at SXSW Tech in Austin, Texas this week looking to build relationships to expand his property management software footprint in the US Photo by Handout

Calgary is still a ‘white space’ for many investors: CEO of Invest Alberta

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While the odds of closing a deal for more investment are low at SXSW, it’s all about seeding and networking.

“It’s about building that relationship because sometimes you can execute a deal pretty quickly in the next few weeks,” Khimji said. “But it could also be the beginning of your relationship as you come to the US for the next rounds.”

Being able to prove a product is becoming increasingly important in this evolving economic climate, where investors are looking more towards a story rather than an idea.

This is the challenge for many startups in Calgary today. However, many are taking advantage of the local tech ecosystem, which continues to attract record venture capital investment in Canada. With a growing spotlight on the city, it is easier to attract interest from investors.

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Rick Christiaanse, CEO of Invest Alberta, said someone from Denmark described Alberta as “white space – we fly over and it’s really white in the winter because you have snow. We really don’t have a good understanding of the ecosystem amazing things you’re building in Calgary and across Alberta when it comes to the tech space.”

Christiaanse said global education is beginning to change and events such as SXSW are important platforms to project that vision.

“The message is resonating and what people are finding really interesting now is that the sector has proven to be quite resilient,” he said.

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He said the sector continues to grow and demand and interest remain high largely due to the local talent pool. He said there is a foundation to support the growth and it is no longer the “missionary work” that was being done five to 10 years ago.

It’s not just Calgary businesses and organizations making the trip to Austin.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek will be part of a panel that will talk about the Minecraft game as a tool to educate young people and get them interested in city building. While in Texas, she will also engage the Austin tech sector with what’s happening there, while also promoting the city she represents.

“It’s a really good chance to show them that Calgary is a great place to be, too, and to learn from the host city,” she said.

— With filing by Brodie Thomas, Postmedia

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