Why Edmonton is Deadmonton for Technology Startups

I love Edmonton. It’s a beautiful, friendly, family oriented city that I owe a lot to. I landed my first job here, gained countless amazing friends, and will always think positively about the city. But at the risk of sounding like a pre-madona, it’s a terrible place to be if you’re starting up a technology company.

I’ve bounced between Seattle and Edmonton the last 3 years in an attempt to balance a career, a software startup company, and a relationship; probably compromising all 3 fronts instead of fully investing. My assertion has always been that being in Seattle or San Francisco as a founder of a software startup is extremely advantageous

I’ll spare you the chest pounding rhetoric, and just give you the personal first hand challenges founding a company while spending time in Edmonton.

1. It’s expensive
Sure, web 2.0 startup costs are much cheaper than traditional models, but we experienced the expenses of Edmonton’s remoteness on a recent business trip. Since I was in Seattle at the time, I flew Seattle to San Francisco for $200 return. My co-founder flew Edmonton to San Francisco for $650 return. It also took him 6 more hours to get there.

2. Bootstrapping possibilities
When considering venture capital investment, our team considered continued funding through independent contract work. Finding contract work in Edmonton is tough. Government contracts do exist, but to be frank, it’s not always the most invigorating work. The following is a screenshot of the “Ruby” jobs listed in Seattle Area

… and Edmonton Area.

nuff said …

3. Finding Capital
We got lucky and raised money on a cold call early on in our efforts, so this claimed advantage is based more on assumptions than first hand experience. In our early planning, we always assumed we would have to hit the east coast, Seattle, or the Valley for Angel investment or Venture Capital; perhaps I’m wrong on my assumption.

My assumption is that Edmonton is filthy rich, but the money is tied up in Oil. Edmonton’s rich are Oil millionaires. They know the industry, understand it, believe in it, and trust their investments in it. I don’t blame them. Talking, and getting helpful investment from an ex Amazon, Web-Ex, Microsoft, Google, or Oracle millionare is much easier than a Talisman, or Husky Oil. Furthermore, investment is more than just $$, and the sweat equity gained from someone who understands the business is extremely valuable.

4. Talking to startup and technology peers Talking to peers in any professional domain is energizing. Physicians, lawyers, educators, laborers, are all motivated, educated, and energized talking shop with peers. Forget networking, schmoozing, or any other cliché, there hasn’t been a Seattle Tech Startup, Seattle lunch 2.0, or startup weekend that I’ve not been incredibly motivated by. Seattle offers events sponsored by Npost, Northwest Entreupreneurs, Startpad, Seattle Tech Startups, Biznik, Seattle Lunch 2.0, and many more. No such technology evens exist in Edmonton, and I can’t help but feel incredibly isolated in Edmonton.

5. Finding evangelists We’re very close to releasing Beta product. In addition to trying to find early adopters of our software via blogs, online marketing, etc, you can bet we’re going to go the grass roots route and talk to as many of our contacts as possible in an attempt to find a beach head customer. It’s a tough thing finding evangelists of new technology when they’re all bogged down with IT policy, software restrictions, as most corporate and governmental organizations are in Edmonton.

7. Finding co-workers Not sure what comes first the jobs or those qualified to perform them, but they go hand in hand. See above screenshots of Ruby jobs in Edmonton.

8. Standard of living Start hurling tomatoes Albertans …. But the *standard of living* offered by the immediate access to the Puget sound, lake Washington, Cascade Mountains, the metropolitan perks, is a convenience for someone with a demanding work schedule. Not having to drive more than 30 miles for these benefits provides a lot of the balance we all need in our lives. While Edmonton is beautiful, it’s also extremely isolated and unbelievably cold.

I’ll admit that my ability to hack away on a laptop, whether I’m in Gull Lake Saskatchewan, Seattle, San Francisco, Edmonton, or Timbuktoo, is about the same. If only starting up a tech company was as easy as typing away on a laptop.

11 thoughts on “Why Edmonton is Deadmonton for Technology Startups

  1. Hope you’re enjoying the crickets and tumbleweeds. I hear it’s nice there this time of year 🙂

  2. number 1 reason – lackeys like yourselves bolt for the states at the first chance they get instead of building something here.

  3. I agree that the tech environment in Edmonton is not what it is in Seattle or other cities, however there is a lot going on, and it is growing. I think that the biggest problem with Edmonton right now is that people don’t know about all the rad things that are going on. This is one of the reasons that we have been working at getting DemoCamp running in Edmonton. We ran our first one in March and had 68 people come out and at our last one on Tuesday night 80+ people showed up to see what the 6 companies demoing had to show off, and to socialize and connect further. It went great and the tech/startup community is growing – so I do disagree that nothing is going on. There are a lot of things happening, but nobody knows about them because right now nobody talks.You should try to make it down to the next BarCamp/DemoCamp in Edmonton, it would be great to have you out, and I would love to hear your perspective on things.CheersCam Linke

  4. sorry one addendum:www.barcamp.org/DemoCampEdmontonwww.barcampedmonton.comwww.barcamp.org/BarCampEdmonton

  5. Interesting read!
    A few thoughts…

    I agree with camlinke, there is a lot going on in Edmonton and it’s consistently growing, but most residents and businesses the city don’t fully realize or appreciate what we’ve got in terms of tech.

    Also, one thing Edmonton definitely has going for it is a LOT of disposable income. It got through the recent recession virtually unscathed. No massive unemployment. Lots of people making overtime and willing to spend it. Low taxes. Great economy. Those oil millionaires you mention are looking for places to invest their money outside of oil and gas (especially now that natural gas prices are soft). Again, I think it’s a matter of awareness. They don’t fully know or understand the investment opportunities in tech. Some good networking and communications would help here.

    You hit the nail on the head with a number of your points (costs of travel, lifestyle, feeling of isolation) which all seem to come back to a core issue that can’t be changed: Edmonton is a little cursed by geography. It’s pretty far north and distant from other major cities (although you’d think the internet would make that less important); it’s not near an ocean or bay or nice lake; it gets very cold and it snows; and no it’s not San Francisco. (It’s easy to build a city like San Fran when you’re located in a nice climate.)

    But then again, Edmonton is also not a wasteland of foreclosure signs these days. Nor are its small business owners about to be hit by crippling taxes, unlike the USA.

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