Calgary is on pace to shatter all previous venture capital investment records in the city and the province.
Alberta attracted $466 million worth of investment in the first quarter of 2022, $433 million of which was in Calgary, according to the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association Q1 report on Tuesday. In all of 2021, there was $561 million worth of venture capital investment in Alberta, $500 million of which was in Calgary.
“We knew it was going to be a significant quarter for the province of Alberta, but we weren’t expecting this much activity this fast in 2022,” said Economy, Jobs and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer. “It really is a testament to the growth of the industry and also the maturity of the industry in Alberta.”
In 2020, the province had a record year of venture capital growth over 12 months at about $450 million worth of investment.
Kim Furlong, CEO of CVCA, credited investments made by the province years ago to make Alberta’s risk-tolerant environment more appealing to startups and investors.
The numbers were boosted across the board due to record investment in Canada, but Calgary is starting to take a bigger piece of the pie. Calgary still trails Toronto ($2.19 billion), Montreal ($928 million) and Vancouver ($454 million) in total dollars, but it is closing the gap, especially in Western Canada.
Over the past several years, Calgary has seen rapid growth in the startup sector and venture capital investment, setting records every year.
Brett Colvin, CEO of Calgary startup Goodlawyer, said there has been a dramatic shift in the approach to the sector. When he was originally looking at launching his company he was considering Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver, but three years ago the environment began to change in his hometown.
“There is this palpable energy within government, business and the wider community that startups and technology will be key drivers to our city’s future and long-term success,” he said. “Fundamentally, the attitudes have shifted and the opportunity — that it seems like a lot of people are in agreement with — for the long-term success of our city lies in startups, lies in tech. It’s an incredible time to be a startup founder in Calgary.”
Still, he would like to see the return of the Alberta Investor Tax Credit, which he said was critical to early-stage investment for his company. The credit was phased out by the government beginning in 2019.
Schweitzer pointed to other initiatives the province has put its weight behind to stimulate growth, acting on the advice of the Innovation Capital Working Group. These moves include injecting $175 million into the Alberta Enterprise Corp. to increase liquidity in the sector and attract outside investment, efforts to improve the talent pool and improve mentorship through accelerator projects.
Edmonton was the beneficiary of just $18 million in venture capital investment in the first quarter. Schweitzer said Calgary began its pursuit of these dollars and startups before the provincial capital. He pointed to organizations such as Calgary Economic Development pushing this mission, noting Innovate Edmonton is attempting to do the same.
Furlong, however, warned there are some signs of potential slowdown in the next few quarters due to factors such as inflation and wage pressures, geopolitical pressures including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and an overheated market. She said it is important for people to continue pushing for growth in the sector.
“Let’s celebrate the success that we saw,” she said. “Regardless of what’s on the horizon, let’s stay the course, because the types of companies and what it produces — jobs, exports — the talent that it attracts, all of it put together is essential for us thinking about how we transform Canada into an innovative economy.”