Digital Alberta Briefing – June 2020

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Digital Alberta Briefing – June 2020

A global pandemic, oil price wars, an economic recession,  and protests against systemic racism — 2020 has been a dramatic year. And we’re only halfway through. The path forward is hard to see right now, but it can only be positive if we work together. 

This has certainly been the feeling at Digital Alberta, particularly for those of us who just joined the board in January. I’m proud of the team we have assembled and the work we have been able to get done. 

We are refocusing our efforts and initiatives to be of greater use to our membership, particularly during these difficult times. To start, for those affected financially by COVID-19, we are waiving member fees for individuals or organizations looking to join Digital Alberta to take advantage of our strength in numbers, and utilize our directory. We want to make it easier for companies to post contract / internship / job opportunities, as well as for those seeking work in the digital / tech industry to find employment.

If you are facing financial hardship and would like to have your Digital Alberta member fees waived, please email us.

We recently sent out a survey to our member community, to get a better sense of what content Digital Alberta should be sharing, and how else we can help. We need to know what your interests and pain points are, so please let us know!

Advocating for our Industry 

Over the course of this spring, representatives from Digital Alberta have participated in several meetings with the Government of Alberta to advocate for our industry. At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, several of us took part in an economic roundtable hosted by the Honourable Premier Kenney, Tanya Fir, Minister of Economic Development, Trade & Tourism, and Travis Toews, Minister of Finance. They were looking to get an early read on the potential impact of the pandemic on our economy. 

While the digital sector is in a better position than most bricks & mortar businesses, many have still seen a slowdown in business and projects. Hiring is down, as are marketing and R&D efforts, as companies continue to focus on maintaining their core staff and operations.

Throughout our conversations, we have stressed the importance of supporting Alberta’s digital tech sector, particularly revisiting some of the recent changes to tax incentive programs in the province. In our most recent roundtable with Minister Fir, we spoke about our interest in the the province’s Innovation Capital Working Group report, and were assured it was making its way towards release. 

While we will continue to reach out to our contacts for more details, we are hopeful that this report will contain strong policy recommendations for stimulating Alberta’s tech industry, which will be enacted by the government.

Despite the challenges the world is facing, we know there is opportunity in the creative and digital technology space. But to seize it, we need all levels of government working with us to make Alberta the logical choice for investment and job growth.

Working at a National Level 

In May, Digital Alberta was one of nine organizations — representing 692 video game studios across Canada — that sent a letter to the federal government thanking them for extending the Temporary Foreign Worker Program during the pandemic. As noted in that correspondence, Canada’s video game industry “represents more than $4.5 billion in contributions to the Canadian economy and 48,000 Full-Time Equivalents (FTEs) of employment.” As we grow local talent to meet the needs of this sector, international workers have provided a much-needed boost to the industry.

And we have been working with our counterparts in other provinces to advocate for enhancements to the recently announced CMF COVID-19 Emergency Support Fund. We believe its eligibility requirements need to be broader to ensure companies that are losing access to markets are able to weather the current storm. We are proud to represent Alberta in these national conversations.  

“Every Crisis Creates Opportunities”

A global survey by Startup Genome last month found that, since the beginning of the crisis, 74% of startups have had to terminate some full-time employees. But looking deeper, the negative impact of COVID-19 has not been uniform across all sectors. For tech companies, particularly ones offering B2C solutions, some have, in fact, benefited, which points to the value in a diversified economy. As the survey noted: “12% of startups have seen their revenue increase by 10 percent or more since the beginning of the crisis, and one out of every 10 startups are in industries actually experiencing growth.

In Calgary, for example, only 19% of startups who responded to the survey said they have had to let staff go. In fact, 48% of Calgary companies expect their revenue to go up in the next two months. 

Ending on a Positive : Unity Technologies comes to Alberta

In May, Unity Technologies (the world’s leading platform for creating and operating interactive, real-time 3D content), announced it was acquiring Finger Food Advanced Technology Group (a Vancouver-based professional services organization specializing in building industry-first solutions for global companies). Finger Food (whose Senior Director of Innovation sits on our Board) was already in the process of building a presence in Alberta. They will now continue to do so, with the expanded resources of Unity.

Digital Alberta Stepping Up

As we noted at the beginning of this post, Digital Alberta is doing its best to adapt to the changing times. We will endeavour to provide more updates like this to the community, and find more opportunities to interact and learn from our members, as well as other organizations supporting Alberta’s digital sectors.

We’ve also updated our mission: To support Alberta’s creative and digital technology companies through advocacy, collaboration, and connection.

If you want to get involved, please drop us a note at info@digitalalberta.com.

Scott Nye
Scott Nye
Scott is the President of Digital Alberta's Board of Directors, and Head of Game Studio Operations at Improbable. In addition to his CPA, CMA, and MBA, he has over 20 years of professional experience in traditional finance & accounting positions, as well as corporate strategy, business operations, marketing, and service development roles. His career has spanned a variety of sectors including interactive entertainment, telecommunications, biotechnology, and cultural industries. He currently supports the global game studios of Improbable, a UK-based technology startup. Prior to this, Scott spent several years at Electronic Arts – supporting BioWare locally as well as other EA Studios across North America.