Why Silicon Valley is looking north for new investment opportunities.
Surrounded by towering mountains, picturesque lakes, and urban beaches, it’s easy to forget that Vancouver hosts a booming technology industry.
For those in the know, that’s starting to change.
Over the past 40 years, the Canadian region has emerged as a dominant force in the video game, special effects, and animation industries. Known in the business as Hollywood North, the area is home to some of the largest VFX stages in North America. Among other notable studios, the location boasts gaming giant Electronic Arts Canada – the powerhouse behind the NHL, NBA, and FIFA franchises – and employs nearly 17,000 workers in the 3D industry.
When VR and AR began to emerge, the region took full advantage of that talent. Last year, there were 15 XR companies in Metro Vancouver. Now, there are over 180. Creating everything from veterinary education software to search-and-rescue robots operating in VR, developers are helping the city become a world leader in content production.
That expertise is beginning to pique the interest of Silicon Valley investors.
Marco DeMiroz is a co-founder and general partner of the Venture Reality Fund, an XR venture capitalist group based in the Bay Area. Visiting Metro Vancouver for the first time two months ago for the Women in Tech seminar, he’s now looking to make an investment in the region.
“My takeaway from the trip is that Vancouver should be considered among the top five hubs for XR,” he said. “I would put it together with San Francisco, L.A., Seattle, and Austin. It’s got a very vibrant, dynamic community with both men and women leading the space, and it’s really covering everything from content production to enabling technologies.”
“As I’ve been getting to know the region and its opportunities, I’ve been talking to the provincial government about two aspects,” DeMiroz continues. “One is my interest in being more active in the local community and making direct investments. The other is to find talent for our portfolio of 21 companies. It’s very competitive to hire people in San Francisco, L.A., Seattle, or Portland, because you’re going up against giants like Google or Microsoft. In Vancouver, there are equally competent people with specialized expertise. I would consider the region to be great resource to find employees.”
DeMiroz isn’t the only high-profile venture capitalist looking north. Tom Emrich, a partner at Super Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based AR fund, highlights many benefits to investing in Metro Vancouver.
As well as the region’s geographical proximity to the tech giants along the west coast, he says, it also has strong commercial ties to Asian markets. Government programs for the area support early stage companies with grants and tax credits, meaning its startups can survive for longer in competitive industries. Most importantly, though, U.S. investment goes further in Canada. Not only is it less expensive to run a company in Metro Vancouver, an exchange rate favorable to the States means capital has a higher value in Canadian dollars.
“The burn of a company – how much it’s spending on rent, electricity, and potential talent – is definitely much less than in the Bay Area,” Emrich said. “When a company receives U.S. currency, it lasts for longer. I’m originally from Canada. Part of the investment thesis for Super Ventures is that we all have ties outside of the States. That’s a really big benefit for us to have a global viewpoint, and to not just invest in the startups around Silicon Valley.”
Metro Vancouver’s companies are already beginning to feel the benefit of the Bay Area’s cash. Cognitive 3D, a local business that provides analytics on how individuals in virtual and augmented reality interact with their surroundings, recently secured funding from Silicon Valley – a financial injection that will allow it to develop its product for different industries. In its founder and CEO Tony Bevilacqua’s opinion, it’s vital for Metro Vancouver startups to network with their southern neighbors.
“The message we gave to investors in Silicon Valley is that a Vancouver company is no different to those down in the States,” he said. “They have similar valuations, they have the same talent capacity, and they’re in a great location geographically. Companies like ours are talking to investors in the Bay Area and showing how Vancouver is a diamond in the rough that everyone had previously been overlooking.”
“Vancouver is growing into an ecosystem that is globally recognized,” Bevilacqua continues. “We’ve got one of the largest VR events in the world coming to town in September. We’ve got one of the strongest VR networks in the world through the VR / AR Association. I think that we’re starting to build an epicenter. Our local government is beginning to appreciate it, as are big enterprise organizations like Microsoft. I think we’ve got all the right factors for success.”
Image Credit: JamesVancouver / Kate Wilson