tecconnect Making Lethbridge a Hub for Geospatial Technology
How can we foster a strong geospatial sector in our cities and communities across Canada? Economic Development Lethbridge’s (EDL) answer to this question is tecconnect, a centre and incubator facility for new commerce that is exceeding its outcomes and performance goals, and making significant progress in Lethbridge, Alberta’s geospatial sector. The tecconnect incubator facility, created over three years ago, is designed to provide a modern technology environment for entrepreneurs to develop innovative products, particularly in geospatial technologies.
“We created the incubator to specifically support the forming of a knowledge-based industry in Lethbridge that would help diversify our economy,” explains Renae Barlow, Vice President of tecconnect and business development for EDL. “To garner support and community engagement, it is essential to work with our post-secondary institutions, regional innovation networks, and industry partners to help businesses and entrepreneurs in this field realize success.”
It’s working better than they had predicted. They have been able to provide support services to 70 IT-related companies. That has translated into $4.4 million in funding accessed by entrepreneurs connected with the centre last year alone, for a grand total of $18.3 million since opening. The funding comes from government and private investment, and they have been able to attract $18 million in funding from these sources.
One of the many benefits EDL is seeing from this project is local local job creation. Since opening, 74 jobs have been created by tecconnect client companies. Eighty per cent of those positions were filled by Lethbridge post-secondary grads, keeping the skilled graduates in town, and contributing to the Lethbridge economy.
Lethbridge seems like a city uniquely positioned to benefit from a project like tecconnect, with its two post-secondary institutions offering degrees and diplomas in geospatial technologies, and already well-established geospatial companies. However, the project was not without its risks. “This was not a proven market,” recalls Renae Barlow. “Our area has a long history in traditional sectors such as Agriculture & Agri-Food, Manufacturing, and Logistics. However, the Board recognized the strength of our assets, as well as the potential of the market.”
Lethbridge was recently recognized by Alberta Venture as being the “Best community for incubating IT,” and they credit a large portion of that to tecconnect, which they call the “one-stop shop for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.”
That’s just the beginning of the accolades. Lethbridge has also been ranked:
- 9th most entrepreneurial city in Canada
- One of the top 25 communities for business in Western Canada (Alberta Venture Magazine)
- One of the top three communities for IT/Tech (Alberta Venture Magazine)
- 9th best place to live in Canada (MoneySense Magazine)
Graduates from tecconnect have gone on to achieve big success in the industry. One example is Ventus Geospatial, which was with tecconnect for three years developing their products and services and establishing themselves as a leader in geospatial innovation. They now have their own commercial office space, a fleet of seven UAVs, and a strong team with backgrounds in agriculture, oil and gas, surveying, GIS, and remote sensing.
Moving forward, tecconnect is looking to “enhance the incubator’s capacity to graduate by placing greater emphasis on client assistance for business growth and development,” says Renae Barlow. That will include “more resources for customized business development coaching, enhancing the recruitment of service providers, mentors and advisors, and allowing more resources to follow up on angel network and venture capitalists inquiries.”