Calgary – from Cowboy Capital to Headquarters Heaven

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Calgary – from Cowboy Capital to Headquarters Heaven

Sitting in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and once known only as the cowboy capital of Canada, Calgary today buzzes with renewed energy, sparked by the ongoing tech revolution.  Sure, it’s a great place to live; the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Calgary the most liveable city in North America in 2018 and 2019. However, Calgary’s energy, agriculture and banking strong suits have spawned the development of a strong technology sector and the city now claims more tech start-ups than any other in Canada. Calgary has the second-highest concentration of head offices in Canada and, according to Start Alberta, the highest concentration of high tech workers of any Canadian city; all of which might explain their strapline of ‘Live Tech, Love Life.’

It’s a bold boast, but there’s evidence to prove it. Calgary-based software company Benevity has become the latest local tech firm to achieve ‘unicorn’ status, the fourth in two years, the result of a $1.1bn deal that saw private capital firm HG Capital purchase a majority stake in the company. Benevity, which was founded in Calgary in 2008, specialises in corporate social responsibility software, giving companies and non-profits access to a range of employee engagement, workplace giving and grants management products and programmes. The company’s roster of corporate clients includes giants such as Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Pfizer and Visa.

Meanwhile, Absorb Software was recently acquired by major US private equity firm Welsh, Carson, Anderson and Stowe, with a valuation estimated at more than half-a-billion dollars. Absorb, founded in Calgary in 2002, produces cloud-based learning management system software that allows companies to offer training to employees and their extended supply chain online.

Alberta is now home to more than 3,000 technology companies, according to a report from the Alberta Enterprise Corp. in partnership with PwC. There’s a burgeoning sense of maturity; the State’s tech sector, once made up largely of early-stage start-ups, is showing signs of maturity; almost 40% of tech companies in the province now have annual revenues of more than $1m, a 66% increase since 2018, whilst the number of tech companies with at least 25 employees has passed 25%.

But there is no shortage of either ambition or innovation; Calgary’s start-up ecosystem alone has 450+ start-ups and was valued in 2020 at $2.7 billion. The city’s tech ‘ecosystem’ includes more than 35 support organisations, including coworking space, incubators and accelerator programmes. Research by agency Hockeystick showed that investment in Calgary’s technology ecosystem has been doubling annually in recent years, hitting $307 million in 2020. The report also pointed out that a significant talent pool is coming from the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, SAIT’s School for Advanced Digital Technology and Bow Valley College. The links between academia and commerce are strong; with data insight experts Symend, one of Calgary’s many success stories, 37 of employees had graduated or taken courses from Calgary post-secondary institutions; nothing like ‘keeping it in the family.’.

Start Alberta is the digital platform and gathering space for Alberta’s tech community. Launched in June 2015, the open-access database provides real-time data for founders, investors, corporates and government stakeholders, cataloguing the collective regional tech ecosystem from funding, workspaces and job listings, to accelerators, spinouts and exits. “The importance of tech start-ups to the Alberta economy has never been more acute,” explained Executive Director Tamara Woolgar. “Start Alberta data will provide an understanding of the sector at a macro level, empowering stakeholders with the knowledge needed to make fact-based decisions towards achieving sustainable growth and job creation.”

The growth of high-tech companies inevitably means a demand for event space. The nation’s first, purpose-built convention centre, the Calgary Telus Convention Center (CTCC) offers over 37,000sqm of event space downtown and is connected to 1,200 hotel rooms in a two-block convention district. The CTCC has previously attracted leading experts from Amazon, Apple and Facebook among other bright minds for the IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech and Signal Processing (ICASSP). The conference featured 50 sessions on technology trends, from AI to Cyber Security. The Signal Processing Society has more than 16,000 members worldwide and the Calgary event drew 2,300 attendees for what is now the world’s largest technical conference focused on signal processing and its applications.

However, the expansion of the BMO Centre, with over one million square feet, will be the largest convention centre in Western Canada when it opens in 2024. Flexibility is the key, with three floors of tradeshow and convention space, including new exhibition halls, two ballrooms and a central hub, as well as 118,000 sq feet of state of the art back of house service areas. The BMO Centre will sit at the heart of downtown Calgary’s new Culture and Entertainment District, home of the century old Stampede, known as the greatest outdoor show on earth and attracting more than a million visitors annually.

Calgary Economic Development make the claim that ‘we are home to innovators, dreamers and problem solvers… turning heads across all of our sectors each and every day. This is Canada’s most adventurous tech city.’ It’s audacious statement, but with a wealth of evidence to suggest they may just be right.

Canada’s tech leadership extends beyond Calgary and across the country. Canada has produced 15 Nobel Laureates in Physics, Chemistry and Medicine and can lay claim to inventing, among other things, the alkaline battery, the pager, IMAX, the pacemaker, insulin, the electron microscope, peanut butter and the Wonderbra! It should therefore come as no surprise to know that the country is one of the global leaders in technology and innovation.

But there’s no resting on laurels; the spirit of creativity and innovation is alive and well across the country. Of course, being constantly acknowledged as one of the most beautiful and diverse places in the world to live helps attract the right people, but government at both Federal and Provincial level continue to support initiatives that foster innovation and creativity. According to research conducted by marketing agency BAV Group in association with The Wharton School, Canada came in an impressive sixth place in the league table for entrepreneurship. The nation was ranked as the second-best country for international organisations to have their corporate HQ. However, in April 2021 BAV and Wharton’s analysis of ‘Best Countries’, based on a range of factors, finally gave Canada the top spot. So, whether you live to work, or work to live, this is the place for you.

While Canada has a strong heritage in industries built around its abundant natural resources, it’s the Technology sector that continues to impress. The ICT industry in Canada includes more than 43 000 companies employing over 660,000 employees. ICT industries are the largest investors of research and development (R&D) in the Canadian private sector. In 2019, the sector held a 41.2% share of expenditures in Canada, totalling $7.5 billion.

Calgary Statistics
Calgary’s forecasted Tech company growth to provide 45,500 tech jobs by 2031. (Zinc Ventures, The A100, and Platform Calgary, April 2021)
Over $1 billion invested into meetings and conventions in the next few years, including the $500 million BMO Centre expansion at Stampede Par
The expanded BMO Centre will be the cornerstone of Calgary’s new Culture & Entertainment District
29,200 employed in Calgary’s finance & insurance sector in 2020
$14.3B in GDP contributed by the finance & insurance sector to Alberta’s total GDP in 2020, a 5.5 per cent increase from 2019
1,911 finance & insurance businesses in Calgary
Ranked a Top 20 fintech hub to watch in 2020
80% of Alberta’s fintech’s reside in Calgary
Main subsectors: Capital Markets & Investments, Blockchain, Crowdfunding, Cryptocurrency, InsurTech, PayTech, Personal Finance / Wealthtech, Regulatory Tech, Tech & Software
Conferences: International Economic Development Council 2023 Economic Future Forum, June 2023
Insurance Institute of Canada 2022 Annual General Meeting, October 2022

Thanks to Canada’s depth of intellectual capital, organisations continue to look to Canadian cities as the ideal host destinations for their future conferences, congresses and symposia. It’s a mixture maximised by the Business Events team within Destination Canada their multi-sectoral approach is based on the idea that a successful meeting in a beautiful country with aligned intellectual capital is just the catalyst to a conversation becoming a reality and creating events that leave legacies.

Tech leaders around the world are discovering how they can leverage local expertise when hosting business events in Canada. The Destination Canada Business Events team are your connection to Canadian centres of excellence in Technology, providing inspiration, impartial insights, and introductions. To find out more visit

Featured Image by Jessica Gray

Conference & Meetings World is published for the international conference and meetings industry. It tackles the issues facing organisers of international events. The editorial is independent, fresh and news driven, with a global reach.

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