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Sphere of Influence: Startup Province

Alberta’s startup scene won’t stop pumping out new businesses

Jan 8, 2015

by Alberta Venture Staff

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Ken Bautista, co-founder and CEO of Startup Edmonton, at corporate headquarters
Photograph Ryan Girard

Hundreds of people turned up at Startup Edmonton’s fifth annual Launch Party to watch 10 companies strut their stuff in the sleek and shiny Epcor Tower lobby back during October’s Startup Week. Pockets of guests clustered around well-staffed company booths, and whether a live software demo was present or just a representative with a well-rehearsed pitch, each showcased company was looking to engage anybody interested.

And we’re not just talking an audience of suits – Alberta’s startup culture is diverse, with plenty of younger attendees rocking the classic T-shirt and backpack combo. “It’s good for entrepreneurs to be around other entrepreneurs who are going through the same challenges to stay motivated,” said Ken Bautista, co-founder and CEO, on why Startup Edmonton got going. “I actually think that was part of the problem in the past – everyone was working on stuff but nobody knew who else was in the community. That’s really where we started, that’s always been our core.”

With events like this helping to bring and keep people together, and the likes of Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson stopping by, this culture is getting traction. “You’re the emerging new economy in Edmonton,” Iveson told the audience. “Built on top of the economy that exists, you’re harnessing the creativity and technology and capital and cultural support that’s already here, to build something new.”

The Contenders

A quick look at some of the hottest startups out of Alberta in the past few years

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CEO: Carolyn Martin
Founded: 2012, Calgary

What they do: An energy provider with a difference, Sponsor Energy is built on the idea of sharing profits with charities. Commercial and residential customers across the province can get their energy and select a community partner to benefit, like the YWCA or a food bank.

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CEO: Manson Parks
Founded: 2014, Edmonton

What they do: Currently in private beta, MASV is one of the many Albertan startups serving the oil sector. Their plan is to put oilfield companies in need of a piece of equipment in contact with a relevant supplier quickly and automatically, reducing downtime.

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CEO: Josh Simair
Founded: 2013, Calgary

What they do: Founded for people getting tired of the same old delivery pizza and Chinese food, Skip the Dishes gets meals to customers’ doors from more than 1,000 establishments (across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) that don’t traditionally deliver.

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CEO: Kieran Ryan
Founded: 2014, Edmonton

What they do: Pogo’s bringing car-sharing to Edmonton. Members can pick up a car from a central Edmonton zone and go for a ride. Whether that’s a round-trip errand or a one-way to Whyte Ave from downtown, so long as it’s dropped off in the zone, Pogo’s happy.

The Why of Alberta’s Entrepreneurial Culture
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Justine and Kendall Barber, veterans of the Startup Edmonton incubator, found success with their made-to-measure footwear company, Poppy Barley
Photograph Courtesy of Poppy Barley

You’d expect to see high rates of entrepreneurship correlating with a high unemployment rate, says Peter Josty, co-author of the 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Alberta Report, but that’s not the case here. Alberta’s entrepreneurs make up a higher percentage of the population than any other province.

While Josty doesn’t have a full answer as to why Alberta’s entrepreneurship rate is so high, he does believe that the need for businesses servicing oil and gas companies is part of it. And while there’s plenty of optimism going around in Alberta, the report does include one point worth noting. “Although the rate of early stage entrepreneurship in Alberta’s fairly high, the rate of small business is fairly middle-of-the-road,” Josty said. He sees a churn of startups not making it. With perhaps some companies starting up too early or too unprepared, a low fear of failure rate might actually be a bad thing long term, and keeping Alberta’s bright young companies going will be the challenge.

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