Opinion: BC tech sector will roar even louder in 2022
Switchboard’s Kathleen Reid shares predictions for the coming year.
There’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. A case in point: The stellar year BC’s tech sector has had.
A record-setting 14 companies achieved valuations of $1 billion or more via IPOs, financing and acquisitions, with the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association reporting that annual VC investment across the country hit a record high of $11.8 billion, spread across 568 deals, by the end of the third quarter. By the time the year is over, the VC total will likely more than double the previous record of $6.2 billion in 2019, and triple last year’s mark of $4.5 billion.
A big part of the reason for the unicorn rodeo of 2021 is that more BC tech companies are scaling up instead of being bought out, as has been the tendency in the past. Now, with the financial backing to continue scaling, the sky really does look like the limit for new unicorns such as Copperleaf, AbCellera, Thinkific, Clio and Trulioo. The BC Tech Association has been working overtime to help turn small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) into the kind of anchor companies that will be the foundation of BC’s economy. That work is paying off, but there’s still a long way to go given that the threshold to be among the largest 10 percent of tech companies in BC is an employee count of 50. In places like Germany, Israel and California, those numbers are 150, 200 and 500, respectively.
While I expect BC’s heady growth to continue, and even accelerate, in 2022, several other predictions must fall into place for this to happen:
More women will make waves in tech
According to a 2018 Gender Equality Roadmap report from Women in Tech World and the Discovery Foundation, women represent 54 percent of BC’s post-secondary graduates in science and tech, yet make up only 15 to 20 percent of the corresponding workforce — a number that is well below the Canadian average of 25 percent.
Several new programs and services are helping BC women break into tech careers, and I expect the makeup of the sector will change accordingly in 2022. North Saanich-based Locelle, for instance, is a platform created to develop and retain women in the workplace through 1:1 mentor matching, live leadership sessions, and data-driven solutions.
The Digital Lift program, meanwhile, used BC Tech’s expertise and network to place individuals in 200 virtual internships at technology companies across the province, with three-quarters of the spots being filled by individuals from underrepresented groups, including women, as well as from rural youth, transitioning workers, and people whose livelihoods have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tech jobs will start offering next-level benefits
With job vacancies soaring to unprecedented levels in Canada, companies going to unprecedented lengths to attract the best and brightest will be a running theme in 2022. At Klue, for instance, vice-president of people Kathy Enros is already advancing ideas including unlimited time for volunteering, unlimited vacation time, enhanced learning opportunities that are not limited to job-related skills, and flexibility around work schedules and family life that go beyond hybrid work-from-home models.
More made-in-B.C. solutions to the biggest problems
The flooding that rocked BC this fall shows how easily global supply chains can be disrupted. That’s why it was so comforting to learn that farms across North America are turning to commercial-scale indoor growing technologies from Langley-based CubicFarm Systems. By cultivating fresh produce and livestock feed onsite, 365 days a year, in any climate, these farmers and ranchers are delivering abundant and reliable supplies of meat and vegetable products to their local communities, while also conserving water, energy and land. Goodbye long food supply chains, hello local ones.
No list of global problems would be complete without the COVID-19 pandemic, and here again BC companies are making a difference. As it stands, neutralizing antibody therapies developed by AbCellera have been used to treat more than 535,000 patients in the US alone, potentially keeping more than 25,000 of them out of the hospital and saving more than 10,000 lives. Now, with a new global headquarters and manufacturing facility slated for Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, the future of the company’s life-saving tech is brighter than it's ever been.
Relationships will become even stronger
As the founder of Vancouver’s first tech-focused strategic communications firm, I have seen how the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought the province’s tech community closer together than ever before. Innovation happens when smart, passionate people collaborate, so we must ensure that the everything-on-the-table spirit of 2021 doesn’t fade away. Switchboard is prospering in lockstep with the community we serve, and much of that has to do with next-level collaboration and trust — two more examples of how you can never have too much of a good thing.
Kathleen Reid is founder and chief communications officer at Switchboard Public Relations.
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