Silicon Valley agtech company makes Calgary its Canadian headquarters

John Hartnett, founder & CEO of Thrive by SVG Ventures, announces Calgary as the agtech investment firm's Canadian headquarters, pictured on June 30, 2021. Global News

A Silicon Valley platform that’s arrived in Calgary hopes to help grow the province’s agtech and foodtech sectors.

Wednesday morning, Thrive by SVG Ventures announced it was making Calgary its Canadian headquarters for Thrive Canada, thanks in part to a $2.5-million investment from the Alberta and Calgary governments.

SVG Ventures CEO and founder John Harnett said the company picked Calgary after 2020’s Thrive accelerator revealed Alberta was behind only Ontario in terms of entrepreneurs who participated. The talent pool was another important part of the decision.

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“You can’t build a great company if you don’t have great talent,” Harnett said. “A pipeline of talent in terms of new entrepreneurs coming through and also being able to hire great people — that’s a crucial aspect for us.”

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Harnett also said the province “stands very tall” in the agriculture sector that SVG Ventures services.

“A big part of what we do is we locate in a place where agriculture is a strength,” he said.

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Alberta Innovates and the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund (OCIF), arms-length bodies with the mandate to grow tech and innovation, will contribute $1 million each. Alberta Agriculture and Forestry is providing $500,000 in grants to Olds College to support the accelerator.

It’s the first time OCIF has invested in the agtech and foodtech sectors, “but it definitely will not be our last,” board chair Mark Blackwell said.

Blackwell said “seeds have been planted” for Wednesday’s announcement via advisory programs like CDL-Rockies and Alberta Yield, and research at post-secondary institutions like Olds College and its smart farm.

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“However, additional scaffolding is required to support and mentor these entrepreneurs, provide access to capital and a global network of corporate partners and strategics to grow these companies… in our backyard here in Calgary,” Blackwell said.

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Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the OCIF investment in agrifood and agribusiness is part of the city’s economic development strategy, and called the announcement “truly transformative” for the province, which exports food to more than 150 countries.

“This is going to make a difference not just in our region, but it’s going to make a difference for the world,” Nenshi said.

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Thrive will be partnering with Olds College to develop “a cutting-edge learning environment for students for product validation and industry applications,” a press release said.

Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen called Olds College a “world-class institution,” adding he’s looking forward to the partnership helping the province’s agriculture industry to grow and thrive.

Minister for Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer said the partnership will “build on our amazing foundation for growth.”

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“It’s an exciting time, and we really do see agritech as being a big area of growth for Alberta.”

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Under the two-year OCIF agreement, Thrive will identify and mentor at least 25 Canadian agrifood startups, with the aim of setting up 10 companies in Alberta, four of which will be in Calgary. Two startups per year will participate in SVG Ventures’ one-week bootcamp in Silicon Valley.

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“As a result of today’s investment and SVG Thrive’s commitment to our region, the Olds College smart farm and the innovations, entrepreneurs and companies that we serve — with many of our partners here today — are significantly enhanced,” Olds College president Stuart Cullum said.

“As a result, Calgary and Alberta’s global leadership in agriculture and food has made a significant step forward.”

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