OCIF: Turning tech solutions into startups with CDL-Rockies

March 9, 2023
Innovation Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund Technology

Photo Credit: Travel Alberta

The trend of companies turning to tech is evident in Calgary.

From real estate to energy and every sector of the economy, Calgary companies are forecast to lead the $20 billion investment in digital transformation in Alberta.

With support from a thriving innovation ecosystem and initiatives like the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund (OCIF) and Creative Destruction Lab – Rockies (CDL-Rockies), companies are transforming traditional industries and turning tech solutions into startups. 

CDL-Rockies is a mentorship program for early-stage ventures based at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business. It was approved for up to $3 million from OCIF in 2021 to boost support for local tech startups ready for rapid commercialization and helped several firms make the transition.

Two examples include Ownly  in real estate and IronSight in energy services.

“I didn’t come from tech. I came from real estate,” said Jason Hardy, Co-founder & CEO of Calgary-based startup Ownly. “I saw the world around me innovating in digitizing buying processes, but this industry was just not doing it.”

Ownly is an e-commerce shopping engine for the residential real estate sector that brings the home-purchase process online. Hardy calls Ownly a young, scrappy startup that is looking to revolutionize what he calls an old school industry.

With 19 years' experience in real estate, Hardy’s goal is to build a Shopify for real estate to create a seamless, unique experience for users.

Shawn Martens, the Co-Founder and President of IronSight, is equally pleased to be part of the digital transformation in the region. The one-time vacuum truck company in the oilfield services sector is now making its mark in tech with the bulk of its growth in the Calgary market.

Today, it creates internal dispatching software that helps streamline and schedule energy industrial services.

“I'm the biggest fan of the CDL-Rockies program,” said Martens. “You get these proven leaders that know how to set goals, develop strategy and help guide you. The networking was equally as valuable as the strategy building.”

CDL-Rockies: Support, mentorship and growth 

Creative Destruction Lab is a nonprofit organization that delivers an objectives-based program for scalable, seed-stage, science and technology-based companies. The CDL-Rockies location operates three program streams focused on industry-agnostic innovations, energy evolution and agtech.

During its time in the CDL-Rockies program, IronSight managed over $1 billion in assets through its software, saved companies over 2 million litres of fuel and signed some of Canada’s largest energy producers as clients.

When it comes to his experience launching Ownly, Hardy extends that sentiment of support to note how the Calgary community has encouraged and celebrated innovation.

“The entrepreneurial spirit in Calgary is absolutely unrivalled anywhere in North America. I was blown away by how entrepreneurs are embraced and supported in this city,” he said.

Part of OCIF’s funding supported the CDL-Rockies Nurture Program for ventures in earlier stages of development. The CDL-Rockies Nurture Program works with ventures that fit the energy, agtech and prime stream theses of the core CDL program but are deemed to be too early in development for the full program.

The accelerator model of CDL-Rockies brings together experienced entrepreneurs, investors and subject matter experts to scale early-stage science and tech-focused companies. The program enhances the performance of technical founders, increasing their probability of success.

Companies, capital and talent 

Innovation is a powerful part of the Ownly and IronSight stories – and Calgary’s.

Calgary is emerging as a leading centre of tech and innovation in North America. The city is attracting startups, global corporations and the capital critical for scaling companies.

Defying fears of an economic downturn across Canada, 2022 was the fifth straight record-breaking year for venture capital investment in Alberta.

Nationally, Calgary ranked the fourth highest city for venture-capital investment through 2022 with $647 million invested through 64 deals. In 2022, 88 per cent of venture capital investment and 89 per cent of the deals in Alberta were invested in Calgary, according to the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association.

In October 2022, Ownly raised more than $2.5 million in seed funding led by Calgary’s Bluesky Equities with support from National Bank of Canada’s NAventures and Kitchener-Waterloo-based Garage Capital.

“We’ve had incredible growth in just a year,” said Hardy. “Ownly has already partnered with the four largest home builders in Alberta and has entered an agreement with the largest mortgage provider in North America.”

In December 2022, IronSight completed a funding round led by Calgary-based ARC Financial to help recruit top talent from the tech sector.

“We've raised a significant amount of venture capital from Calgary, so our financial backing is largely Calgarians and that money feeds right back into the Calgary economy,” said Martens.

Supporting an innovation ecosystem 

Calgary has a healthy pipeline of companies that are benefiting from venture capital investment, but you can’t grow what you don’t seed.

To continue the expansion of new businesses, our city must foster an environment that supports innovators to start their own ventures.

As founders and companies look to scale and succeed in Calgary, continuation and further development of support systems in the ecosystem is essential.

Ongoing mentorship from experienced entrepreneurs and professionals, accelerators and incubators, post-secondary institutions, venture capital investment and economic catalysts like OCIF will all help drive innovation and further fuel economic growth.

Investments from OCIF into initiatives like CDL-Rockies, support a diversified and accessible economy that helps companies grow and scale to the size of their ambitions.

OCIF investments over the last five years are projected to spur nearly $900 million in economic activity — more than 11 times the return on funding committed.

As an effective catalyst to ​attract investment, ​drive innovation and ​stimulate economic development, OCIF supports achievement of the economic strategy, Calgary in the New Economy.

Visit the Opportunity Calgary Investment Fund page for more information on the City’s investments to spur transformative economic development in Calgary.

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