It wasn’t that many years ago that hi-tech entrepreneurs felt they had no choice but to leave Winnipeg to build a great company and potentially change the world.
Now they’re not only staying in the Manitoba capital, but their growing businesses are attracting young talent from across the country to relocate here. Yes. Winnipeg.
“Usually when you go through school, you’d need to move away. Since then, it’s changed tremendously,” says Yvan Boisjoli, CEO and co-founder of Bold Commerce, a Winnipeg-based provider of e-commerce technology to more than 90,000 brands in more than 170 countries around the world.
After the nine-year-old company raised $35 million in investment funding earlier this year, it announced plans to expand its three main products — checkout, subscriptions, and pricing — and hire another 100 employees. That’s on top of the nearly 400 it has at its two Winnipeg locations and a third in Austin, Texas.
SkipTheDishes, the Winnipeg-based food delivery giant, is taking over downtown real estate at an alarming rate as its operations continue to grow during the global pandemic. Today, it delivers food to millions of Canadians from more than 30,000 restaurant partners across the country.
Jeff Arsenio, the company's product director of customers, thought the grass was greener in Toronto for a little while. He and his young family lived in a downtown condominium, but they started to give Winnipeg a second look with their “skyrocketing” daycare bill and monster mortgage.
“The economic benefits of Winnipeg are telling. There's an abundance of schools and housing. It really sets you up to raise a family, plant your roots and live comfortably,” he says.
“Since I’ve been back, you see technology companies sprouting from different directions and start-ups that are beginning to make a name for themselves here in the city. It’s been encouraging to see that growth in the technology scene but also the growth in people.” Some of those companies feature expertise in health informatics, mobile, web and cloud applications, visual and motion graphics and video gaming.
Post-secondary institutions are playing a significant role in supplying the tech sector with their most valuable resource — smart, innovative people — says Kelly Fournel, CEO Tech Manitoba, a leading industry association.
“We have cross pollination with various organizations, and I think that’s one of the things that makes Manitoba, and Winnipeg in particular, quite strong. Whether you’re participating at Red River College or a doing a computer science degree at one of our universities, there is that promotion between the post-secondary institutions as well as from industry to support those students with mentorship opportunities and internships. That’s something that helps to further support the eco-system,” she says.
“More than anything, this community wants the new generation to understand there are opportunities here and you don’t have to go outside of Manitoba to thrive.” Boisjoli agrees and says widespread support has been invaluable.
“The culture we have here (at Bold), the free lunches, the beer on tap, the ping pong, all the games, it comes with a lot of hard work and delivery and all that kind of stuff. That culture, that just wasn’t here in Winnipeg (before),” he says.
“It’s never been a better time to be a developer in Winnipeg. The support from (everybody) is really helping entrepreneurs find the resources they need to be successful.”
According to Arsenio, something else is driving Winnipeg’s tech sector growth.
“Winnipeg has a scrappiness to it that I think a lot of product and tech professionals enjoy working in. Taking part in the swagger of the Prairies certainly keeps me willing to drive change and develop it for the city.”
Geoff Kirbyson is a freelance writer in Winnipeg. firstname.lastname@example.org