Varcoe: As Benevity goes global and mCloud plants roots in downtown, 'war for tech talent' expands – Calgary Herald

Finding talent is a major driver for both firms
Amid a whirlwind year for the tech industry in Calgary, Benevity Inc. is making its first major European acquisition, while Vancouver transplant mCloud Technologies Corp. is setting down roots in the city’s downtown.
And finding talent is a major driver for both firms.
Benevity, one of the city’s largest tech companies, provides customers such as Visa, RBC and Google with employee-engagement software that enables workplace giving programs and volunteering.
The company has just bought Swiss-based firm Alaya, which also provides online employee-engagement services, primarily to customers in Europe and Asia. Alaya has an office in Spain, and personnel in Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Singapore.
The deal closes Wednesday — the price tag wasn’t announced — and it accelerates international expansion efforts by Benevity.
“Although we are an international company, our foothold has really been in North America, so it was just quite a complimentary fit and that’s why we pulled the trigger,” CEO Kelly Schmitt said in an interview Tuesday from Barcelona.
“It is still going to be North America driven but, definitely, we are now officially a global company.”
Established in 2008, the Calgary-based company earned “unicorn” status a year ago after taking on a new majority investor. Private British firm Hg Capital LLP acquired a stake in the business for $1.1 billion.
The Canadian firm has been looking to pursue an international expansion strategy, scouring the market for potential acquisitions, Schmitt said.
Benevity has about 800 employees, with offices in Toronto, Victoria and the United Kingdom, along with its headquarters in Calgary. It will add about 50 staff by acquiring Alaya and about 90 clients.
The company has hired 300 people this year, adding about 200 workers to its payroll while also backfilling for open positions.
“We’ve been experiencing the great resignation and just the war for tech talent that is happening in North America . . . Silicon Valley companies are hiring our developers,” Schmitt said.
“We are now competing with Silicon Valley and the rest of the world to an extent. So we have been looking for other places to set up operations . . . The combined company is planning to double in size over the next three or four years, so we will be aiming to add a couple of hundred people a year for the foreseeable future.”
The challenge to find experienced tech workers has been a pressing issue for the industry as companies continue to grow during the pandemic. While new training programs are being created locally, Calgary Economic Development has estimated 2,000 tech jobs are open in the city.
Aside from local firms that are scaling up, international players such as Amazon Web Services, Infosys Ltd. and Mphasis Ltd. have unveiled plans to set up large operations in the city.
“It’s so exciting to see what’s happening in the tech sector in Alberta,” said Business Council of Alberta president Adam Legge, who co-chaired the province’s Innovation Capital Working Group that recently examined the sector’s future.
“It’s been a long time coming.”
Last year, the group issued a report that concluded the province has an opportunity to “become a Canadian hotbed for startups and early-stage technology companies” if it can overcome some hurdles.
“The key piece that most tech-sector leaders will tell you is (needed) first is talent. They can’t grow the companies and scale until they have more people,” Legge added.
Schmitt estimated 15 to 20 per cent of the company’s employees are not attached to any office as remote working has increased. She sees staffing issues as part of the sector’s evolution in Alberta.
“As one of the biggest tech employers in the province, you are always going to have a target on your back for your people. But long-term, this is what we need — and it’s up to us to keep our people.”
As Benevity grows at home and abroad, mCloud Technologies Corp. is expanding in the city and province.
The company uses artificial intelligence, software and sensors to monitor and improve the efficiency of energy-intensive assets — such as oil and gas facilities — and has now signed a lease for two floors in the newly renovated Stephen Avenue Place, formerly known as Scotia Centre.
Recently ranked by Deloitte as one of North America’s fastest-growing tech firms, mCloud announced last February it would move its headquarters to Calgary from Vancouver.
It has about 100 employees in Alberta, with offices in the city and in Edmonton, and close to 300 staff around the world.
The company has an existing office in northeast Calgary, but the new 33,000-square-foot downtown space — in a building owned by Slate Asset Management — will let mCloud bring together local employees at its new headquarters sometime next spring.
As a tech company with energy customers, CEO Russ McMeekin said being in the city’s core will help as mCloud seeks to recruit new staff and be close to decision-makers in the oil and gas industry.
“We wanted to be downtown and wanted to be recognized as being downtown,” he said in an interview.
McMeekin noted the company is adding clients in the energy industry, with almost half of its revenues coming from oil and gas customers around the world, while key functions for its clients are performed by staff in Alberta.
One of the reasons it selected the city as its headquarters was the ability to find staff with industrial-technology skills, such as software experts who’ve worked in the past with the energy sector.
“We compared here versus Atlanta, and so that was a tough analysis and definitely Calgary wins on all counts,” he said.
“It is the ready-made talent. I can hire people — ready-made talent — that we can put into place right away.”
Both announcements illustrate the tech industry’s rapid development in Calgary, but also the challenges ahead. As markets such as Vancouver and Toronto face rising costs, it opens up some opportunities for Calgary, said Legge.
At the same time, local firms are busy, expanding their businesses and competing for experienced workers.
“The ecosystem is maturing,” said Legge.
“We are really seeing firm roots in the sector planted in Alberta to enable it to grow.”
Chris Varcoe is a Calgary Herald columnist.
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