72 hours in Calgary tech

A too-detailed dispatch from ground zero of Alberta’s innovation economy.

Toast’s International Women’s Day Celebration at Platform Innovation Centre.

Calgary’s tech sector has turned a corner. People use the word “burgeoning” to describe it. They say it’s “heating up.” I’ve said the province has an ecosystem “to watch.” Turns out, the language we’ve been using isn’t strong enough. The truth is Calgary tech is a juggernaut. And if you spent the same 72 hours in the city’s innovation community that I did last week, it would be easy for you to see why.


12:30 p.m. | Hayden Block Smoke & Whiskey

I touched down at YYC just before noon and immediately took a cab to the Hillhurst area of town. There I joined Calgary Citizen managing editor Krista Sylvester for lunch. As a fellow Overstory Media Group publication, the Citizen brings readers local news, events, food, and people – everything to make you feel more connected to Calgary in a daily newsletter. Before Calgary Tech Journal existed, the Citizen was one of the only publications spotlighting the city’s tech ecosystem in important stories like these:

Calgary Tech Journal has now grabbed the torch, and in addition to daily tech coverage, we’re in your inboxes with the top news, insights, and events, twice-weekly.

2 p.m. | TELUS Sky

After lunch, I made my way to the TELUS Sky building to work and wait to meet Justin Mayerchak, an executive vice president and partner with Colliers. Colliers is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, commercial real estate partners for the tech economy in Calgary. One company Justin is particularly bullish on is StellarAlgo, a fan engagement platform that recently announced a strategic partnership with the NBA.

4:30 p.m. | Rodney’s Oyster House

At a Plug and Play Tech Center Alberta-hosted networking event, the community was out in full force to support the city’s women leaders. At the event, Nina Hill, Plug and Play’s corporate partnership manager, explained the goal of the event to me: “In collaboration with EECOL Electric, what this event really set out to do was to promote women in technology with the not-for-profit Making Changes, an association in Alberta helping close the gender gap and promote gender equality within our society.” The events sponsor list seemed endless, and included Workday, Alberta Female Founders, Funders, and Fortifiers (ABF4), BDC, DC Bank, OKR, Valhalla Private Capital, VCAA, WiCyS Western Canada, and others.

As I previously wrote, Plug and Play is a pre-seed investor that’s received money from the Alberta government to enable startups to grow locally, but gain access to global capital, accelerator programs, and networking opportunities.

7 p.m. | Platform Innovation Centre

After a few sauvignon blancs and oysters, I made my way to the nexus of Calgary’s entrepreneurial ecosystem: the architectural wonder that is the Platform Innovation Centre. Funded by all levels of government, the building is home to an extraordinary concentration of tech innovators and partners.

Key to the space is its 50,000 square feet of meeting and gathering space, which is used on a regular basis for events and engagements. That night, I walked into the Alberta Catalyzer Velocity Showcase, which spotlighted 10 fast-growing southern Alberta startups.


11:15 a.m. | Brookfield Place

After I caught up on emails, I got some java at Deville Coffee with one of Calgary Tech Journal’s on-the-ground reporters, Mario Toneguzzi. He’s been a journalist for over 35 years, many of those with the Calgary Herald. At Calgary Tech Journal, he’s contributing Alberta-focused breaking news stories and features, including:


1 p.m. | Major Tom Bar

“How did you get a reservation?” Everyone asked me this when they found out I was eating – or had eaten – at this restaurant, which was named the best new restaurant in the country. I have to thank Evan McCann, host of The Hard Part podcast and founder of Cold Start, a fractional and advisory sales agency.

Post-lunch, my goal was to get some rest before a triple-header of events and activities.

4 p.m. | Platform Innovation Centre (again)

It was International Women’s Day, so job number one was: support the women I know. At the innovation centre, Toast was celebrating the day through a number of panels and networking.

Toast is a membership-based women’s collective founded to flip the hiring dynamic in favour of women in tech. My invitation to attend the event came from April Hicke, co-founder and chief growth officer, and a recent Tech Journal collaborator in my home of Vancouver.

Mark Mitchell from Weave VC hosts local LPs and friends.

5:30 p.m. | ONE 18 EMPIRE

Weave VC is a relatively new pre-seed and seed-stage venture capital firm, but it’s moving fast to make a name for itself, and an impact. It already has investments in startups like Share, Wyvern, Dyne, Levr, and Hometeam. It’s led by Jeffery Manner, Marco Donadeo, and Mark Mitchell, who invited me to a private dinner with the firm’s limited partners (LPs). I brought with me Philippe Burns, a talent marketing lead with Neo Financial, one of Calgary’s unicorns.

7:30 p.m. | Scotiabank Saddledome

Ian Macdonald is probably the most connected person in Calgary tech. It’s kind of his job to be. As he notes on his LinkedIn profile, he aims to help “emerging & high growth ventures connect, collide & thrive with KPMG Calgary.” That night the colliding was happening both on and off the ice, as the Calgary Wranglers faced off against the Colorado Eagles, and Macdonald hosted entrepreneurs in KPMG’s box to watch. In addition to entrepreneurs from Village Wellth, Yr Plans, and Voto, I was excited to meet Jonah Chininga, co-founder and CEO of Woveo, which helps new immigrants build credit.


7:30 a.m. | OEB Breakfast Co.

There’s an OEB Breakfast Co. near my place in British Columbia, but it’s the type of delicious brunch spot that most people would only venture into on the weekend. In Calgary, people place no such restrictions on themselves, and I had no issues with that. Breakfast that morning was with Elysa Darling (who I bumped into at Tuesday’s Plug and Play event) and who I knew from a previous life when she led communications at the B.C.-based Digital Technology Supercluster. She’s now a senior advisor with Prairie Sky Strategy.

A quiet moment at Thin Air Labs.

10:30 a.m. | Thin Air Labs

Calgary is not just full of innovative startups, it’s full of groups that are innovating in how they support startups. One such organization is Thin Air Labs, a team of “unlike minds,” as Leah Sarich, head of story and public relations, described them to me. She and Andrew Browne described to me how, in a nutshell, Thin Air has three areas of focus: a venture fund, a services arm focused on product traction, and another group that helps companies access funding. Thin Air was originally launched by managing partner James Lochrie, and now works with – or has funded – notable firms like Athennian, Arbor, Clinify, and Quickly.

Noon | Klein / Harris

If there’s any non-tech organization that deserves credit for the changing perceptions of Calgary as a city where innovation flourishes, it may be Calgary Economic Development. As we’ve previously written, the organization has been telling the city’s story across Canada and in key markets worldwide with an award-winning talent attraction campaign Live Tech, Love Life launched in 2020. The results? More tech leaders see Calgary as a land of opportunity. At Klein / Harris, my two lunch hosts were Megan Zimmerman and Helen de Faye, two people core to CED achieving its ambitions.

2 p.m. | The District at Beltline

Near the home of IBM Calgary, I had coffee with Ange Pay, co-founder of Voto, a company we featured in our piece, “The faces of Calgary’s tech scene are changing”. She represents a new generation of founders with diverse backgrounds who, despite systemic barriers, are thriving.

4 p.m. | Unity Technologies

I was invited to the Calgary office of Unity Technologies to join its staff social by Nick Facey, a B.C. native and former chief of staff to the province’s minister of innovation. Now, he leads industry solutions for the California-based giant. His path to Unity’s ranks actually starts in B.C. because before Unity Calgary existed, the organization was actually Finger Food Advanced Technology Group. FFATG was founded in Port Coquitlam. Then in 2019, the firm secured more than $3 million from the Calgary government to open a downtown office and hire hundreds of people. Facey and a collection of employees moved to Alberta. Less than a year later, Unity acquired FFATG, creating the Calgary Unity office.

Unity serves global clients like Disney, Lego, Electronic Arts, and Lowe’s. One of the interesting things I learned at the staff social was that a number of its new hires actually came from Alberta’s oil and gas industry – that other big business sector. This gave me an obvious conversation starter for when I met my future father-in-law (who works at CNRL) for dinner later that night.

5:30 p.m. | The Guild and home

As I reflected on the week while I walked home from dinner at The Guild, I felt enlightened. But I was also exhausted. I was now awake to the immense untapped potential of Calgary’s tech ecosystem – but in those moments, I was quite simply ready for bed.