If someone asked you to guess which city in North America has the fastest growing technology market, you might guess San Francisco or Austin. But you’d be looking too far south. According to a recent Tech Talent Report, Toronto is actually North America’s fastest-growing technology market, and Vancouver isn’t far behind.
Vancouver is currently one of the top 30 cities leading growth across tech markets in both the U.S. and Canada with a growth rate of 29.2%. Vancouver’s exponential growth has caught the attention of several big name companies, and many of them have announced pushes to increase hiring in the area.
Last year alone, Amazon announced it would expand its presence in Vancouver by adding 3,000 more jobs, Shopify committed to hiring 1,000 new employees in the area, and Chime, a consumer fintech firm, opened a new office in downtown Vancouver at the end of last year. Other established household-names like Microsoft and Sony also have strong presences in Vancouver, and we’re seeing the local tech startup community thrive as well.
Vancouver-based startup Goose Insurance was recently selected to participate in the inaugural Google Cloud Accelerator Canada program, and Ionomr Innovations and SkyHive were named to the World Economic Forum’s 100 most promising Technology Pioneers of 2021 list. Beyond that, the city is seeing the emergence of many new Canadian unicorns.
Although once thought to be rare, Canadian unicorns, a.k.a. Narwhals, have been spotted much more frequently in recent months. In fact, 13 of Canada’s 15 unicorns were established this year alone, with many of them based here in Vancouver including Clio, GeoComply, Galvanize, and Trulioo. In fact, Trulioo’s recent raise was the one of the biggest Canada has seen to date at $394M and a $1.75B valuation.
These recent inductees join top Canadian companies like Coveo, Wealthsimple, PointClickCare, ApplyBoard, and LeddarTech on the list of Canadian unicorns – demonstrating the rapid growth of the tech startup community here in Vancouver.
So, what’s attractive about Vancouver?
While technology hubs had previously been limited to a few notable cities, the pandemic leveled the playing field motivating investors to take a peek in a different direction. Many companies no longer felt it necessary to be Silicon Valley adjacent and began scouting new locations that can still provide top talent and fuel business growth.
To start, Vancouver is home to several world-class educational institutions and talent incubators, which help develop a workforce capable of growing such a dynamic tech industry—attracting students locally and well beyond Canadian borders.
Some of the best schools for software development are here in Vancouver, including the University of British Columbia which is ranked as the number two tech school in Canada, and top 25 in the world according to the QS World University Ranking. In fact, Twitter, Pinterest, and Uber have all noted the talent emerging from these universities as one of the many reasons they plan to expand their presence in Canada. Word is spreading that the education system is graduating tomorrow’s tech innovators from top-calibre institutions and specialty schools.
Organizations such as the BC Tech Association, a trusted and respected voice for the tech sector in BC, have also helped nurture new businesses, connecting talent and investment, as well as showcasing new initiatives to the market. Vancouver is also home to a growing and sophisticated network of angel investors who have helped mentor and cultivate new ideas among the startup community.
Once a company has the talent and the means to operate, it’s easy to do business here. Vancouver offers optional and affordable healthcare for employers, low utility costs, and favourable taxation rates for companies and individuals. British Columbia’s corporate income tax rate is only 12%; when combined with the federal rate, businesses here only pay a combined general corporate income tax rate of 27% – some of the lowest in the G7.
Plus, British Columbia has the lowest provincial personal income taxes in Canada for individuals earning up to $125,000. It also has low labor costs, low federal payroll taxes, dedicated tax incentives, and capital gains benefits for non-residents. With all this, organizations can keep their operational costs down while tax rates stay low.
Moreover, since the influx of remote work due to the global pandemic, most people have reevaluated their circumstances and are prioritizing a better work-life balance. It doesn’t come as a surprise that Vancouver has become so appealing: it’s a culturally diverse and inclusive metropolitan city, and close to the great outdoors. It makes perfect sense that people are increasingly interested in getting back to nature after so much time cooped up inside. But at the same time, the booming tech economy offers unmatched career opportunities for those intrigued by the chance to join the next big tech community.
All of these factors end up feeding each other to support the rich ecosystem of talent and opportunity that keeps the community thriving in the way we’ve seen it in the past decade.
How can local startups compete with the bigger brands for top talent?
But as the area attracts more big businesses, it becomes a double edged sword. The incoming enterprises certainly help create a community of innovation and bolster the economy, but in the short term it can be difficult for smaller, local companies to compete with their epic tech campuses and elaborate work perks. Especially now, with 33% of younger Canadian employees reporting plans to seek new opportunities amidst the “Great Resignation” according to a recent survey from global staffing firm Robert Half, it’s becoming increasingly important for companies to roll out the red carpet for current and prospective employees.
If you haven’t gotten the hint, flexibility is now an expectation and a necessity after the pandemic proved that we can work from home and still be productive. And the numbers don’t lie: According to a recent survey, 58% of respondents would “absolutely” search for a new job if they couldn’t continue working remotely.
At Clio, this is top of mind for us as we work to expand our workforce by 40% this year. Flexibility for us means leveraging our new Distributed by Design model of working to attract talent. The purpose of this new approach is to embrace a new era of work that is more inclusive and comprehensive of employee and organizational needs for flexibility. This model allows companies to operate with a fully remote workforce while abandoning location-focused pay and challenging the long-held, but not universal notion that where people live should determine what they make. But not everyone thrives when working from home, so we still want to ensure that employees have the option to work from one of our three Canadian hub offices located in Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto.
Recognize the importance of building culture
As we continue to navigate this new way of working, supporting employees and building a strong culture (especially while remote) is key. To ensure employees feel like a connected team, it’s important to take time to evolve office culture so it makes sense for post-pandemic work structures. Pick activities that are emblematic of company culture and that employees will really find value in.
For example, if learning is a big part of the culture, consider fireside chats with different industry leaders to expand employee knowledge outside of the company’s own field. Or leverage the great outdoor activities Vancouver has to offer for team building and emphasis on extracurriculars. As we transition to a future model of work, it will also be important to ensure the organization’s culture is supportive of mental wellness, and provide resources accordingly. Particularly as individuals navigate personal nuances of emerging from quarantine and re-calibrating to being out in the world, it’s vital they know their employers are supportive and understanding.
Invest in employee growth
Prioritizing employee learning and growth should be top of mind to prove that each hire is not just another number, but rather a valued member of the team. Some options to offer include development programs and resources ranging from an in-house performance coach to help employee’s actualize their goals or a foundational leadership development program. During the pandemic, many people were focused on bettering themselves and improving their professional skill sets. By offering these resources, companies can prove that employees are not only their most important asset, but that professional development can be a valuable asset for employees as well. At the end of the day, offering perks like beer on tap is not going to retain employees. Empowering them with the resources they need to grow and achieve their goals will.
Be open to change
Welcome constructive criticism. Semi-annual employee engagement surveys hold us accountable to the perceptions of our workforce and how the company stacks up against competition. By conducting this research twice annually at Clio, we are able to accurately ensure we’re providing our workforce with the resources and support they need to be successful and happy (not to mention maintaining high retention rates).
A major perk of being a nimble, agile startup is the ability to apply feedback much faster than a large-scale global enterprise can, and employees will notice the positive changes being implemented. But keep in mind, regardless of what the data says, never stop evaluating current offerings.
Have a purpose
At Clio, our goals include transforming the legal experience for all and creating a more inclusive legal system. But a mission-driven company must demonstrate action toward that mission beyond intent. For us, this meant launching a COVID-19 relief program for law firms, connecting attorneys with pro bono opportunities, and donating to the Equal Justice Initiative. This is just the start. To prove that it’s about more than just the bottom line, showcase company efforts and encourage employees to make real changes as well – globally and locally. Empower employees to seek out their own philanthropic initiatives and offer them time off to volunteer for causes important to them.
So the secret is out – Vancouver is a fantastic community for tech innovation and growing businesses big and small. High-growth companies help bring together much of the tech community here by creating employment opportunities that keep technology workers in the Lower Mainland, but also creating new opportunities for the next generation of students, and inspiration for the next wave of startups. This year alone, we saw more Canadian unicorns arise out of Vancouver than ever before, including Clio, GeoComply, Galvanize, Trulioo and Dapper Labs.
It’s exhilarating to both help build and benefit from a world-class tech ecosystem, built on top talent and business-friendly infrastructure–all in one of the most beautiful settings in the country. And while it’s great that all these new companies and tech giants are catching on, it means more competition for employees, especially at a time when 48% of Canadian employers report difficulty filling roles. To remain viable, local companies must adapt to the demands of the market and show current employees and prospects alike what makes their benefits, their business, their culture, and their mission unique.
George Psiharis is the Chief Operating Officer of Clio.