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Silicon Valley North: How Vancouver's Tech Scene Is Evolving

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Canada's largest West Coast city is known for many things. It's home to some of the best skiing in the world, is a prime shooting location for many movies and TV shows, and an enviable temperate climate.

But Vancouver has a newer reason to brag: It's quickly becoming one of the top tech hubs in North America. And while the City of Glass still plays second fiddle in terms of the size of its tech scene (we're looking at you, Ontario and Quebec), Vancouver boasts many unique advantages.

With several major tech companies in town poised to go public, a deepening talent pool, and many major lifestyle perks unique to the West Coast, the YVR's tech community isn't going anywhere.

Gastown: A Historic Home for Tech Innovation

Every major city that plays host to a tech hub has a cluster when many startups and upstarts congregate. For Vancouver, that area is Gastown, the city's oldest neighbourhood.

The historic area in Downtown Vancouver, originally founded in 1867 by local legend John "Gassy Jack" Deighton, has seen dozens of tech companies move in over the last decade. And the area now serves as a major economic hub for the province and Canada as a whole. According to the Vancouver Economic Commission, the industry generates $23 billion in revenue and $15 billion in GDP. And B.C. companies also attracted 30 per cent of all the venture capital funds invested in Canada in 2014.

With all those VC funds flowing through the tech community, it's no wonder the region is seeing exponential growth. Based on research from a 2014 report on tech titled, "Profile of the British Columbia High Technology Sector," Vancouver's tech industry has laid claim to almost 40 per cent of downtown's commercial real estate. And in 2015, Startup Compass named Vancouver to its top 20 list of Best Startup Ecosystems in the World.

The high concentration of startups and tech companies in the neighbourhood is overwhelming -- which is part of the reason Canadian Business magazine compiled this interactive map demonstrating the depth of tech employers in the 'hood.

Major Vancouver Players

It's not hard to see the draw when you consider the lengthening list of major tech firms that call Vancouver home. When big players call the city home, more startups, venture capitalists and job candidates flock for potential collaboration and employment opportunities.

First, the city hosts satellite offices for household names like Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Twitter. But that's just the beginning of the roster of major firms that saturate the tech scene.

Any list of the city's major players would be remiss without first mentioning one of the largest employers in town. One of Canada's renowned unicorn tech companies is homegrown right in Vancouver -- social media management platform HootSuite. The creator of the popular social dashboard software employed just under 1,000 people as of October 2015, and rumours have circulated that company execs are ready to go public.

The other two tech unicorns in town include real-time messaging software company Slack and security solutions firm Avigilon.

Nany of the city's other scrappy companies will also likely sound familiar. There's Vision Critical, the brainchild of Andrew Reid that's backed by famed pollster and market researcher Angus Reid; Slack (yes, they're technically headquartered in Silicon Valley, but they have deep roots in YVR), headed by former Flickr GM Stewart Butterfield, which was recently valued at $3.8 billion; BuildDirect Technologies, the online marketplace for home improvement goods valued at $500 million in 2014; and Plentyoffish.com, which just sold to Match Group for a whopping $575 million.

Deepening Talent Pool

Why are so many tech employers making the move to Vancouver? For one, the talent pool runs deep.

In all, the tech sector is one of the largest employees in all of B.C. According to the aforementioned B.C. high technology research, the Vancouver tech sector employed 86,800 people provincewide in 2013. That's more than forestry, mining and oil and gas combined.

The Vancouver Economic Commission attributes the top talent in the region to the post-secondary education options available.

"...thanks to a first-class education system is graduating tomorrow's tech leaders and innovators from top-calibre institutions and speciality schools. Three of the top five ranked universities for software development in Canada are in the Vancouver area," says the VEC.

The University of British Columbia was also recently named the No. 2 technology school in Canada and ranks in the top 25 in the world, according to QS World University Rankings.

And for those students who eager to get started, Vancouver is also home to a handful of programs that specialize in technology courses. Renowned schools like BrainStation offer a bevy of part-time courses in web development, UX/UI design, digital marketing, and other tech areas in just a few weeks rather than a few years. Hands-on professional development courses are a great way to break into the tech industry, versus university programs which require a hefty financial investment and take two-plus years to complete.

A lot of coding schools also offer quick-and-dirty weekend workshops and evening programs for casual students who simply want to learn new skills and brush up on new technologies. This ensures the Vancouver workforce stays fresh and competitive within the global economy.

A Final Word

When it comes to Vancouver, the city has some serious bragging rights.

And with its newest moniker of "Silicon Valley North," it's easy to see why so many tech companies and professionals are making the move west to a land of new opportunities.

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