Alberta Snapshot: IC18 Just Six Weeks Away

April 23, 2018 | By: Jon Jackson

Invest Canada ’18 is a little over a month away. The lead up to the annual conference is an exciting time; the IC18 event team is putting the finishing touches on our most impressive annual conference to date.

Since the last time CVCA’s annual conference was hosted in Calgary, a lot has changed. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was leading the country out of the 2008 Financial Crisis and the province of Alberta was riding high on an excellent performance in the energy sector. We look forward to welcoming The Right Honourable Stephen Harper as a keynote speaker at IC18 as well as deep-dives into the trends that are currently impacting Alberta and the entire Canadian private capital ecosystem.

We caught up with Jeremy Gilman, Principal, McRock Capital to talk about the upcoming conference. Gilman works at McRock Capital’s Calgary office and offers a first-hand perspective on what attendees can expect at IC18 in Calgary, what to check out in the city around the conference, and some thoughts on the Alberta investment ecosystem.

With the conference in your own backyard, what are you most excited about?

I think this year’s conference will be a great opportunity to showcase just how much Calgary’s VC ecosystem has changed since the last time Calgary hosted the conference nine years ago. I attended the 2009 conference and it was almost exclusively focused on oil and gas in private equity (the sector where I was working at the time) while tech startups, VCs, etc., were a distant second priority. This is not to say that the tech/VC ecosystem has replaced the oil and gas and private equity ecosystem—that sector has remained extremely active. But, I believe the 2018 conference will highlight just how much Alberta’s private capital industry as a whole has expanded in less than a decade.

What should Invest Canada ’18 attendees check out while they are in the area?

Café Mediterranean on 1 St SW; a five-minute walk from where the CVCA conference is being held. I’ve been going there for +15 years. If it ever closed, I would probably go hungry.

Tell us a bit about the Calgary and Alberta investment ecosystems from your perspective.

Historically, the oil and gas sector has acted as a “sponge” for most, if not all, of Alberta’s talent. In the years leading up to the Financial Crisis in 2008, oil and gas companies had become extremely bloated with staff and excessive spending since commodity prices were higher than they had ever been.

Companies were flush with more cash than they knew what to do with, allowing them to hire continuously and pay exceptionally well—making them the likely best option for professionals in nearly any field, not just engineers. The sector had a brief scare when commodity prices tanked in mid-2008, but they were more or less given a free pass and prices were back up less than a year later. The following extended period of high commodity prices from mid-2009 to late 2014 meant the sector was never forced to take a hard look in the mirror and ask itself what might happen if prices dropped again but for longer this time.

Everyone knows what happened next: commodity prices tanked in late 2014, leading to over 100,000 layoffs in Alberta and absolutely devastating the provincial economy. In my view, however, this may turn out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to the province in the long run. The combination of 1) the massive layoffs, and 2) the fact that there aren’t job openings for all these people who have been laid off, has created thousands of what you might call “accidental entrepreneurs” — exceptionally talented engineers, accountants, finance professionals, etc., who lost their jobs and now need to get creative to put food on the table. This has led to an enormous increase in startups and new businesses in the province, focused on technology, consumer packaged goods, and everything in between. Put another way, the oil and gas “sponge” has been squeezed, allowing people to pursue their passions and new, innovative businesses they would not have pursued otherwise.

As a lifelong Albertan, it has been incredible to watch the resilience of the people in this province and I am excited to be a part of this next phase of Alberta’s history.

Invest Canada ’18 will be the largest gathering of private investors in Canada this year. What should be the takeaway about Calgary/Alberta and the investment ecosystem?

For technology investors, which is most VCs nowadays, they should start thinking about Alberta seriously as an up-and-coming space for tech startups ripe for investment. The collapse of Nortel, RIM, etc., and the release of all their talent is what kickstarted the tech sector in Ontario; the same thing just happened in Alberta.

What would you say to someone considering registering for IC18, but haven’t secured their tickets yet?

I think a person could probably spend every moment of every day attending a conference somewhere about investing, technology, etc., so it can be tough to see through the noise and figure out where to best spend your time. I will say is that I have been to a lot of conferences over the years (too many) and the annual CVCA conference is among a group of about two or three conferences that I always attend every year. If that’s not a strong recommendation, I don’t know what is.

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