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Building Canada’s next great tech hub

October 21, 2020
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10 Minutes

Imagine a successful tech hub, full of innovators, product experts and entrepreneurs, bursting at the seams with potential to create something groundbreaking. What Canadian cities come to mind?

Saskatoon, Winnipeg, or Calgary probably don’t make the cut. Instead, the backdrop of big glass buildings and open-concept offices that belong to bustling businesses in Toronto or Vancouver come forward. We default to the idea of large cities and don’t often draw the connection between global entrepreneurship and innovation with smaller, mid-sized places like the Canadian Prairies.

And I don’t blame you. Growing up in humble Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, I admired other entrepreneurs leading disruptive companies, but none of them resided in small cities, much less my own hometown. So it made me question whether it was even possible to create something impactful on a large scale, under small-town constraints.

The Canadian Prairies are overlooked as a catalyst for tech innovation, but we have every reason to turn our potential into building new tech companies that produce a globally competitive and diversified economy.

Underestimating talent in the Prairies

Bright ideas are born anywhere and the Prairie cities hold tremendous opportunity to start our own globally recognized companies. The groundwork for revolutionizing the way we live and work has already been laid down with disruptive technology we see today.

I realized just how endless the possibilities are for tech success to boom in the Prairies after starting and scaling SkipTheDishes in Saskatoon, and then later, in Winnipeg. Skip grew into a billion-dollar enterprise–a unicorn, as they say–earning a spot as Canada’s household name for food delivery service. There’s no shortage of talent in the Prairie cities with entrepreneurs aspiring to build great things. What we need to do now is find better ways to connect with each other and turn ideas in action.

Throughout the process of growing a globally competitive consumer tech company, I began to see where the gaps were within the Prairie tech ecosystem. So I created a playbook for growing and launching businesses, specifically designed for the Canadian Prairies and harnessed it in my next venture, Harvest Builders, the platform that triggers it all into action.

Activating untapped potential

At Harvest, our mission is to remove common barriers to launching and scaling up ventures so that together we can grow meaningful, globally competitive companies.

Essentially, we’re focused on building and supporting the Canadian startup ecosystem, but from areas in our country which have often been overlooked, underserved and not provided with the resources needed to grow and thrive.

We know just as well as anyone that startups have a 90% failure rate. To make it out on the other side requires major de-risking, and we know exactly how to minimize those pain points.

Whether we are co-building a venture from scratch or helping solve a specific business challenge, companies and founders that partner with Harvest gain access to world-class builder services and industry experts who know what it takes to successfully launch, scale and grow new ventures.

We assess product-market fit, support building proposals for seed capital and funding, develop go-to-market strategies and recruit top tech talent across the globe, all from our very own venture building studio anchored in Calgary.

The value we create within our tech ecosystem stems beyond innovation, and includes diversifying local economies, creating jobs, and building a brighter future in the Prairie cities for generations to come.

There’s no better time than now to fill in the gaps in our nation’s tech sector with our firsthand experience in building scalable tech companies — ones that have a positive impact and create value for every Canadian and even those beyond our borders.

The co-building model

Harvest creates an advantage by leveraging talent and expertise that’s exclusively in-house and by adopting a unique co-building venture model. We’ve started by doing a select few co-builds per year and look forward to welcoming more founders into our Entrepreneur-In-Residence program. By doing so, we connect entrepreneurs to the right founding team and drastically improve the chances of success. Through co-building, we mitigate risks, have access to greater resources, and become part of an ecosystem designed to support and scale amazing companies.

We begin by collaborating with founders to shape their ideas and validate market opportunity. From there, we connect founders with expert resources within the Harvest Network, so they can build their product, team, and brand. With continued support from our full-suite of Builder Services, founders can launch an MVP, expand their teams, and hit funding and growth milestones, all the way through to maturation.

For one of our first ventures in the Prairies, we see the massive opportunity to simplify and improve the financial lives of Canadians by offering tech-driven solutions that the Big 5 banks in Canada can’t match.

We began co-building with Neo Financial in 2019 to create a digital-first approach to growing and managing money. Neo is starting with a no-annual-fee credit card and high-interest savings account with the ability to earn rewards instantly from hundreds of national and local brands — all on one card. It’s the seamless, rewarding experience Canadians deserve when they spend and save. Neo launches later this summer in Calgary, and will then expand to more cities across our country.

Although we’re starting our work in FinTech, we recognize the boundless opportunity of tech innovation across other major categories, including PropTech, InsurTech, AgTech, HealthTech and many more which we’re excited about for potential new ventures.

By drawing from the strengths of tech companies in our portfolio, we’re able to connect the dots that are missing, and create ventures that are synergistic to each other and the talent pool. This allows us to de-risk ventures at an early stage, increase access to funding and talent, and accelerate the time it takes for a company to successfully exit or IPO. Plus, it sets up Harvest as a one-stop-shop for building out companies.

Supporting the lifecycle of startups

Whether you’re a founder with an idea or a startup ready to scale, Harvest provides a range of services tailored to help build new ventures, and scale existing startups. We believe in supporting our Prairies’ tech and innovation ecosystem as a whole.

The lifecycle of a startup can be delicate. That’s why we have specialized services that nurture each stage to success. Our team is dedicated and ensures that every step of building and scaling a company is tended to with the necessary attention and expertise. No one area lags behind another.

From the ideation stage to feasibility, market validation, growth and all the way through to maturity, we optimize the best strategies to lead companies to a successful exit or IPO. Harvest helps in recruitment and talent management, marketing, sales operations, financial services, and more to lead companies into their next stage of maturity.

Redefining the reputation of the Prairies

By finding ways to support businesses through their crucial stages of growth, the Prairies have a real opportunity to become a global producer of competitive tech companies. Not only are our cities filled with raw tech talent and unmatched entrepreneurial spirit waiting to be nurtured, but they’re also great places to live and work with an amazing quality of life and cost of living.

Looking beyond the Prairies’ reputation for natural resources, we can begin to unlock exponential growth in all regions of the country, like we’ve never seen before. Harvest drives forward Canadian tech innovation, so we can build a stronger, more exciting future for all, that makes us proud of where we choose to live and prosper.

Stay tuned for future posts, where we’ll explore top industry and market trends across Canada, feature the work we’re doing with our portfolio companies as well as partners, and further discuss how we can best unlock the potential of the Prairies — and why it’s the perfect time to do so.

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