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Oct 1, 2009

by Gregory Hudson

Yes, there are great things happening in Alberta’s tech sector, as the 2009 TechRev Innovators show

You think of the things Alberta is known for: oil, beef, a religious devotion to the Conservative party, maybe a mountain or two. Technology doesn’t factor so high on that list. That’s an industry reserved for places that aren’t so richly endowed with natural resources, or sunnier climes, where people are forced to stay inside with their air conditioning. But if you take a closer look, you’ll realize that that’s changing.

TechRev wants you to take that closer look. The new initiative of Calgary Technologies Inc. is intended to celebrate advanced technology companies and promote opportunities for investment, collaboration and innovation. According to Pam Boytinck, executive director of Tech Rev, even with the regular promotion, the sector was lacking attention.

“Where we found the gap was that there was no high-level recognition for the sector. We needed to raise its profile within Alberta,” she says. “Different industries and services providers have their awards, but we wanted to focus on technology innovators that didn’t necessarily have a history of success but who had the potential for success.”

In that spirit, Alberta Venture examined the inaugural set of recipients for the TechRev Innovators 2009. While the products and services range from gaming to oil and gas and come in all sizes (from revenue-free startup to $500-million > leadership status), the innovators all have at least one thing in common: they’re ready for some attention and all that represents.

The problem isn’t that there isn’t investment money in Calgary. There is. According to Derek Ball, CEO of Tynt Multimedia Inc., one of the good things about the city is that there is still so much investment capital there. The problem is getting investors excited when they are in unfamiliar territory.

“If you aren’t able to get your seed financing, it’s because the angels aren’t buying into your vision. It’s not because of anything else,” Ball says. “It might be that your product is crap. It also might be that you aren’t communicating effectively why they should care about your product.”

It’s easy for investors, angelic or otherwise, to see why they should care about oil and gas companies. It’s like saying fishermen should pay attention to the weather. But to get them excited about “software as a service” is a different story. Or how about magnetic resonance imaging to help diagnose obscure heart issues, or a breakthrough way to pimp out your computer so you can keep gaming hours longer than your friends?

So far Ball hasn’t had much problem with his startup though. Right now, Tynt provides a service that tracks and gives citation when text from your website is copied and pasted somewhere else on the web. Ball says the software is more useful as a way to study and drive traffic than it is an anti-plagiarism tool. The service is in its beta (read: free) stage right now. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, adoption of the Tynt Tracer program is growing by about 20% a week, which is actually the firm’s major challenge.

“We basically released this product five months ago. It took us a month to get to 100 million impressions, it took us six weeks to get to 200 million impressions. Now we’re tracking close to five billion impressions,” says Ball. “That kind of growth causes a great deal of stress on the organization, stress on your infrastructure and stress on your ability to plan and forecast.”

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