A dynamic building on the edge of Calgary’s East Village hopes to bring dynamism to the city’s tech sector and economy.
The Platform Innovation Centre and parkade features more than 500 vehicle parking spots, secure lock-up for 99 bicycles, a publicly accessible basketball half-court and the new 50,000 square foot home of Platform Calgary.
Located on 9 Avenue S.E. across from the Central Library, the parkade opened Wednesday after being announced in early 2018, coming in on budget at $80 million.
“It was always a vision of the Calgary Parking Authority to have a parkade in and around the area,” CMLC president and CEO Kate Thompson said. “And it starts servicing some of the infrastructure that has been built in the East Village and will be built in the culture and entertainment district to the south.”
Come September, the centre will be offering programs and opportunities to bring tech-minded folks together.
“It’ll start early in the morning with people there to meet each other over breakfast, to maybe hear a speaker, and then people will get right into training,” Platform Calgary president & CEO Terry Rock said.
“So our training programs will teach people the basics or some advanced parts of starting a tech-based business. There’ll be a lot of peer-to-peer work.”
Having startups, entrepreneurs and innovators together in the same place working side-by-side and swapping ideas would allow for projects and endeavours to organically sprout up.
“We’ve been able to study how these things work around the world and some really great research says that connectivity is so important,” Rock told Global News.
“One study says that the most successful startup founders, for example, know 25 other founders, they know eight investors, and they have six or 10 experts at the end of their Rolodex.”
Having a gathering place for industry isn’t a new concept in Calgary, Rock said.
“I would argue that this has been the secret of our success in building out our oil and gas sector,” Platform’s CEO said. “We had the Petroleum Club. We have a very dense downtown and we just can move way faster in Calgary in that industry.
“And we want to do the same for tech.”
Built with change in mind
The building straddles the underground LRT line and some major utilities like water mains. And it was designed to be able to accommodate other development in the future.
Rather than build it to be the base of a taller structure, the CMLC team took a different approach.
“What if we increased the floor-to-floor heights on each floor to allow the actual structure itself to be adaptable? So in a future state where potentially parking isn’t as required, could you convert the actual floors to something other than parking?” Thompson said.
“Our biggest single move was really increasing those floor-to-floor heights to allow for future adaptability of heating ducts, electrical to service either a residential condo or potentially office spaces.”
That same flexibility was left for Platform to add or upgrade things like wiring as tech needs dictate.
Rock hopes the shiny new digs and centralized location help with Platform’s goal to triple the size of Calgary’s tech sector in the next decade.
“That means that we need to create 60 new companies a year — and when I say we, I mean, we as a whole community need to create 60 new companies per year — that start hiring five employees or more,” Rock said.
As with entrepreneurship in other industries, tech startups aren’t for the faint of heart, Rock said. “But that’s part of the process.”
Tracking metrics like levels of investment, the number of people hired, and even companies relocating to Calgary are all part of what Rock will look at in the new innovation centre. And Platform has already seen some success through the pandemic.
“And then we look over the companies that went through those programs in the past, they’re now at over $2 million in revenue, $930,000 in investments raised, 58 employees coming out of this program in what we had only going for two years,” Rock said.
More than 50 organizations representing 17,000 people have partnered with Platform to help grow the city’s tech sector.
“The biggest challenge is going to be to make the most of that community because there’s a lot of it.”