It’s early afternoon and many entrepreneurs and tech enthusiasts are moderately rested and ready for a long night of great music and people at the Rifflandia Music Festival in Victoria, BC – the culmination of three long days of demos, pitches, and pub nights at Experience Tectoria. But first the entrepreneurs gather for an event to wrap up the entirety of the experience: a round table discussion of Victoria’s vibrant technology sector.
Experience Tectoria is designed to explore and highlight some of the smartest and most promising tech startups in Victoria. VIATEC – an accelerator program – is the product of a surprisingly underrated technology scene that lives on Vancouver Island. The experience event offers investors and the media the opportunity to gather for a demo night, financing talks, lots of food and a lot of togetherness.
Overall, the event is about selling the Victoria lifestyle to a group of talented people who would benefit the city.
Discover the @evpvc who takes the spaces at the @VIATEC # experiencetectoria event with @crowdmatrixinc pic.twitter.com/Suh5Y7oUxt
– Rubsun Ho (@rubsun) September 17, 2016
When you stroll the streets of downtown Victoria on a stormy day – one that started with thick fog and a rain curtain – history is heavily present, and the quieter streets of an otherwise busy tourist town feel inviting. Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, dates back to 1862 and today has a small population of around 80,000 (largely due to vertical building codes and being surrounded by water) – although Greater Victoria has 344,615 residents.
There is a lot to immerse yourself in here. A past that will tell a thousand stories, and I’ve listened throughout all of my wanderings. Before the arrival of Europeans in the 18th century, Vancouver Island was a thriving community of coastal halls. Fort Victoria played an important role in World War I and has always been one of the Canadian Navy’s first lines of defense. But it’s a peaceful and very artistic city now.
Swan’s Hotel is on the corner of Pandora and Wharf, next to the bridge to Victoria’s West Bank. It’s old and classic. In the penthouse suite – a three-story dream with a complete roof terrace that currently belongs to the University of Victoria – the who’s who of the tech world and its counterparts meet when investing.
Globe and Mail’s Sean Silcoff chaired the roundtable discussion, which examined both visitors and locals as to what makes Victoria a great place, city to start or a prime location to move to.
Two consistent themes emerged in a constant display of Victorian pride that cheered those in the room who wanted to invest in the businesses there.
What makes Victoria so successful?
Life in the shade
People often don’t realize that Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and not Vancouver’s little sister as it is perceived. One of the things that have helped Victoria grow, thrive, and exit with her businesses is this shadow. According to the Victoria Angel Micro VC Fund Analysis, exits totaled $ 217 million over the past five years, including companies like Mediacore, Go2mobi, EDOC, and Procura
A list was drawn up during the discussion. One that included names like Santa Cruz, California; Boulder, Colorado; Austin, Texas; and even Canadian destinations like Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. All of these flourishing cities have one thing in common: They mainly live in the shadow of a more “popular” city. And maybe it is this feeling of being ignored that makes the atmosphere more fertile.
Rent is cheaper in a “sister city”, most have large secondary schools, and the world’s population pays no attention to them. As a YouTuber, it is much easier to try the unpredictable when people aren’t looking at your activity through a microscope.
One step ahead in gender equality
The downfall of young entrepreneurs in Victoria is a lack of staying power. Victoria needs a Google, Salesforce, Slack or Shopify.
A few weeks ago, the biannual Women in Technology Leadership Roundtable published its Women in Tech study, which contained some sad figures on the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley. Amazingly not futuristic, Google reported 17 percent female employment in technical positions, alongside 15 percent at Yahoo, 15 percent at Facebook and 10 percent at Twitter. Less than 25 percent of management and leadership positions in these companies – some of the world’s best-known technology brands – are held by women.
The report also found that the wage gap between men and women was 18 percent, meaning women only earn 82 percent of what men do in identical roles.
According to an internal compensation study by Viatec, however, Victoria has a rapidly increasing proportion of around 30 percent women in technology positions (this study is only available through VIATEC). It is still impressive that more than half of the startup management or senior positions are occupied by women, in the space that can only be described as “the way it should be” – although the space that is mainly was studded with men, they don’t reflect the variety they wanted to brag about.
In addition to the advances in diversity, the wage gap is monumental at just three percent. Victoria has an immense supply of talent, and those hiring positions seem to have the right mindset when it comes to hiring the best available candidate without bias. Five of the six companies that received the VIATEC Tech Awards in 2016 will be led by women this year.
But inside the room were men ten to one and colored people twenty to one. Victoria is way ahead when it comes to diversity, but after these conversations and pats on the back of the party, it’s ironic that I was able to ask the event coordinators how they think they can make spaces like this more diverse.
Youth in rebellion
There is a tendency to view millennials as a nuisance or the death of an established balance in the economy. But that’s not something bred in Victoria’s culture. As old as the city is, great schools like the University of Victoria have strong and hungry youngsters. This is exactly what is responsible for shaking up much of this rusty system. And that is evident in Victoria when startups like Blastworks, Codename Entertainment, Flytographer and Tellwell Talent advertise for investments at an impressively young age or win major awards like the VIATEC Technology Awards.
Seats need butts
“How do you get more people to come to Victoria, invest in Victoria, or stay in Victoria?” Asked Silcoff.
Victoria’s wage gap between men and women was found in a study to be the smallest of the 25 major cities.
The consensus was that people just have to come. Once. It’s hard to be put off by a city that shows so much life, art and beauty. According to the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute, Richard Florida, just getting them to put their boots on on the cobblestone streets of Canada’s second highest creative city.
Consistent government support is in keeping with the beauty of British Columbia. With a recently announced $ 100 million venture capital fund and near-industry-leading tax credits, there are financial benefits to living and working in stunning BC.
A smaller wage gap
The Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives released a report stating that Victoria, BC, is the best place in Canada to work as a woman. In comparing income and unemployment relative to the male population, Victoria ranked first and ranked first in economic security and leadership.
Victoria’s pay gap between men and women was the smallest of the 25 large cities in the study, which included Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, and Calgary, at just three percent. Promising employment statistics include the fact that Victoria was the only city in the study where women were superior to men as elected officials, including five out of nine seats on the city council.
Given the fantastic stats supporting a strong vibe for women, there is no doubt that they can gain more over the years.
Big names and golden tenants
Some people came up with the idea that most places known for their tech industries have one thing that puts them on the map: a household name. The downfall of young entrepreneurs in Victoria is currently a lack of staying power. More than most exits from these small, young tech startups happened long before they needed it, and often the culprit wants to go ahead and do something else.
Victoria needs a Google, Salesforce, Slack or Shopify. A name and logo on the skyline that form a solid foundation for business. A company that makes Victoria well known. A flagship resident can do wonders for your city’s popularity and relevance.
When that happens, it will no longer be a city that will have to convince you to show up, but rather a place that will be asked to accept more renters.
Victoria is a place that I can safely say is one of the most underrated tech cities in Canada (maybe even North America) and will soon be a tech destination of choice. Every emerging metropolis strives for growth, and the good ones never slow down. Despite being busy, Victoria is in an amazing place. By improving on her achievements and fixing her shortcomings, Victoria could take over Canada’s tech community.
Feature image by Nik Badminton. Item photos credit Jack Flash Photography