Q&A: Is Vancouver On Its Way to Becoming a Global Tech Hub?

Gerri Sinclair hopes to get homegrown tech start-ups to go global.

April 24, 2017

By Petti Fong / Photo: Cristian Fowlie

Gerri Sinclair (Photo: Carlo Ricci).

Will Vancouver ever have the clout of tech centres like Seattle or San Francisco? Gerri Sinclair hopes so. After founding technology company NCompass Labs—and selling it to Microsoft for $55 million in 2001—the founding executive director of the Centre for Digital Media and former video game coder now oversees the province’s $100-million BC Tech Fund as managing director of Vancouver’s Kensington Capital Partners. Her aim? Get homegrown start-ups to go global.

Q: You’ve seen many tech hubs both within Canada and outside. There’s talk of Hollywood North, but Silicon Valley North is not the reality here. Why is that?

A: There’s a gap in that growth capital—the problem is not starting businesses, it’s the speed in which these enterprises scale. If you grow incrementally, the competition will leave you in the dust. Canada and Vancouver have a poor record in scaling—we have a poor record of getting to $100 million. Ottawa’s Shopify is the darling. In Vancouver, we’ve got Vision Critical. We’ve got Hootsuite. We need more.

Q: What’s being done at the government level to help?

A: Our lax immigration policy is great. The other thing is that Vancouver has a welcoming ethnicity to it and we need more people around the world to know that. That’s a very powerful incentive. If you’re from eastern Europe, you can find a community here. If you’re from Asia, we have all kinds of different Asian groups who have already established themselves. Folks feel very at home here in Vancouver.


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Q: How does the city need to change so technology and capital can meet and create a thriving sector?

A: I’m leaving tomorrow for Barcelona and people there, like here, are connected to the geography. Barcelona is in a beautiful location right on the Balearic Sea. There’s the vibe of the people and the energy of the town. Vancouver doesn’t have the same kind of pulse. The architecture here, from my perspective, is pretty bland. It would be great for Vancouver to develop its own authentic character outside of its geographic beauty (to attract more talent and investors).

Q: Why is the province putting this money into technology now?

A: The BC Tech Fund is basically trying to grow the technology ecosystem in the province. It’s working to develop the very best companies from small to large, which creates jobs and provides products and services that can open up new markets and have huge social and economic impacts. The B.C. government decided to put their emphasis on Series A funding. For companies, Series A means they’re raising capital to scale, they already have a product in market with actual customers, and between $1 million and $3 million in revenue. From that perspective, that’s the area that research is showing is the most difficult to grow.

Q: You got into technology 30 years ago because your son wanted a Commodore VIC-20 and you wanted him to code, so you began coding with him. Why did you choose that path?

A: He wanted to play games and I wanted him to learn how a game is made. I’m still passionate about this one idea. All of us need to know about code and programming. As the world becomes more and more digital, computer code controls more and more of our behaviour. I was very aware back then that coders are going to be the new artists of the 21st century. They’re the magicians and the shapers of all experiences that we will have.


Hometown Heroes

These companies have beaten the odds to put Vancouver on the map.

Slack

This fast-growing work-place messaging app—valued at $3.8 billion (U.S.) in 2016—is headquartered in San Francisco, but CEO Stewart Butterfield maintains close personal and professional ties to Vancouver (he helped jump-start the city’s tech scene when he founded Flickr here back in 2004, eventually selling the company to Yahoo!). Slack’s Vancouver outpost is a 22,000-square-foot Yaletown office with space for 120 workers.

Hootsuite

Hootsuite

Founded in 2008, this social media management platform now has more than 15 million users worldwide, but the company is an important local anchor with its Mount Pleasant headquarters spanning multiple buildings and employing nearly 1,000 people.

Vision Critical

This cloud-based software company specializing in market research has some big-name clients such as Cathay Pacific, Yahoo! and UBC. But while Vision Critical boasts a global workforce of 700, its headquarters sit at the foot of Granville Street near Waterfront Station.

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