It’s the beating heart of Greater Victoria’s tech community, a rebel with a cause, and one of the reasons the region attracts innovative entrepreneurs.

Q+A with VIATEC

VIATEC is a 350-member strong organization made up of South Island’s tech companies who post a combined annual revenue in excess of $4 billion. It is a vocal, active force in the Greater Victoria business community, known for its big ideas and playful personality.

VIATEC stands for Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council. In existence since 1989, its mission is to cultivate the most cohesive tech community in the world by providing resources to tackle shared opportunities and challenges.

Several of its member businesses operate out of its headquarters in downtown Victoria, dubbed Fort Tectoria, a co-working space, startup and innovation incubator, and event hub. They’re known for their F*ckUp Nights, where entrepreneurs share stories of failure, and the VIATEC Awards, celebrating local tech leadership and innovation.

Among other initiatives, VIATEC recently partnered with the Federal Government to implement the Start-up Visa program, aimed at attracting immigrants from around the world who want to build a company from scratch in Canada. VIATEC is supporting 87 new ventures as a business accelerator and mentor.

VIATEC CEO Dan Gunn’s vision to brand the city as a tech-focused region has paid off: technology is now Greater Victoria’s #1 industry with a $5.22 billion economic impact and over 16,775 employees across 995 high-tech companies. It has proved itself to be pandemic-proof as one of several industries seeing continued and rapid growth.

In CBRE Group’s 2020 ranking of the top 10 tech markets in Canada, Victoria stood in seventh place, above Halifax, Quebec City and Hamilton. The ranking is based on 13 metrics, including talent availability and operating costs, to gauge suitability of tech employers and prospective employees.

Dan discusses the ever-growing and evolving industry’s impact on our region — and how it contributes to a stable and diverse workforce and economy.

Dan Gunn, CEO of VIATEC
Dan Gunn, CEO of VIATEC.

Why did you join South Island Prosperity Partnership?

VIATEC was at the table when the Greater Victoria Development Agency was founded and when it was evolving into the South Island Prosperity Partnership. VIATEC’s 30+ year focus has been on supporting the development of our region’s tech sector and having a dedicated agency focused on the broader picture, including working with companies considering relocating here. We believe in our region’s potential and know that it will take a team of dedicated individuals and organizations to realize it.

What do you see as key to growing a resilient, robust economic future for our region?

Diversity and inclusion. It seems every part of the world is going through growing pains. We need to outperform the many great places in the world to compete for talent, experience and ambition. In our view an obvious avenue to increase innovation and enhance growth within our community is to attract the people that bring with them the focus, energy and varied backgrounds that will power our future. 

If we can successfully assist entrepreneurs and skilled workers from around the world in setting up shop in our community we will benefit from the added diversity in thinking as well as their connections to global resources; including additional talent, market, investment and ideas.

What is our region’s secret sauce when it comes to competing internationally to attract quality talent, businesses with household sustaining jobs, and investment?

Greater Victoria is fortunate to have a confluence of higher education, economic stability, innovation, entrepreneurship and community-mindedness. As a magnetic city we attract people looking for quality of opportunity combined with quality of life. Unlike gravity cities that rely on critical mass and sheer volume of opportunity, the people who choose places like Greater Victoria are looking for more than just a job. 

We have a thriving tourism and hospitality industry because it is so great to be here and those that chose to make it their home are not just nomads worried about building their resumes, they have a long-term interest in living and thriving here and place higher value on the overall community.

What are you most excited about in terms of your own organization’s plans and potential?

As an organization focused on cultivating the most cohesive technology community in the world, we are excited about the potential of bringing people back together face-to-face on a regular basis. Remote tools have made getting through the pandemic easier but we know that bringing people together to connect and build relationships is far more effective in person. 

As for the potential, our tech sector did remarkably well through the pandemic and we are about to embark on an updated Economic Impact Study. It will be interesting to share with our community how much closer we are to reaching our goal of having a $10 billion tech industry by 2030.

What challenges are you most invested in helping our community overcome and why?

Our focus will remain on bringing together the tech sector while supporting them in attracting more people and investors by doing the research and marketing to assist them in telling the world about what we have to offer. We will continue to offer resources and programs to support early stage ventures all the way up to leadership development of our established and thriving members.

Our participation in the Start-up Visa program has uncovered a massive amount of interest by international entrepreneurs that will play a significant role in transforming our region, only if the immigration process can be made more transparent and efficient. 

What lessons have most profoundly impacted you since the pandemic sent shockwaves through our community and economy?

Tech remains resilient. The global competition for talent has shifted thanks to remote work options and that will ripple through our region as companies explore hiring people that don’t live here and people that live here take jobs with companies not located here. 

There will be challenges as a result and we think doing the work of creating a sense of belonging and bringing people together to build relationships and connections will be more important than ever.

When you envision the South Island region in 2040, what will have changed? What does our future look like?

We hope we will have evolved into a more international region made up of talented workers and leaders with more diverse backgrounds and connections. This is a progressive community and that means we can stand out as a leader and an example. Housing availability will be critical to every region and if we can grow smart we will be recognized as a community that is equally as great to live as it is to visit.