When I started The Agency in 2009 as a boutique firm servicing the tech sector in Calgary, I heard the same thing over and over: What tech sector? Arleigh Vasconcellos, CEO/Founder, The Agency Communications Inc.

And they had a point – the tech sector here was small. But the city has changed a lot since then. There are now more than 3,000 startups in our ecosystem–and we at The Agency have been working alongside a well-established and recognized community of innovators and visionaries for the past 12 years. We’ve been helping B2B tech companies at all stages of their development, from the earliest glimmer of an idea to successful launch and even acquisition. It’s incredibly gratifying. My family and friends no longer think I’m completely crazy for choosing this speciality, and we’re even starting to see a bit of competition in the sector, which is a nice recognition of what we’ve been doing right all along.

My greatest hope is that this community continues to grow and diversify.

Right now it’s our job as a city and a sector, to not only keep nurturing our unicorns and big companies, but also to provide support for the growing number of startups in the city. These are the companies that have the potential to become one of our next unicorns. Recent announcements about AWS and the various international accelerators coming to the city are a big validation. It’s important that we show that people can not
only get that first job, but can then move on to three or more fantastic opportunities before they start something on their own.

We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we’re putting the right building blocks in place.

I think of the situation I outlined above, naturally enough, in terms of PR. We have a little PR problem in Calgary, in that we did such a good job at becoming known for doing one specific thing really, really well – energy – and it’s going to take some time to undo that and to change perceptions. We’ve also, by default, become entrenched in that singular industry. And we sometimes fall into the trap of not celebrating the wins in other industries because they’re on a different financial scale than those in energy. That fact alone shouldn’t make them less impressive.

A lot of people don’t realize the sheer amount of energy, talent and time that it took to build up the image and reputation of Calgary as one of the world’s great oil and gas cities. It took 60 years of incentives, government support and seed money.

It’s a lot like Silicon Valley, which didn’t just materialize, either. That idea started in the 1930s and 40s, coming from Stanford and the U.S. naval community in the Bay Area. It took a combination of investment in academia, government R&D and military technology to create the global epicentre of innovation that we think of today. We tend to forget that places don’t become known for a skill or a sector overnight because we only take notice once all the hard behind-the scenes work has been successful. And it takes as much time to change a well-crafted perception as it does to build it in the first place. In Calgary, we’re on the right path. We’re doing the right things. It will just take some time to reach a critical mass of people, investment, and infrastructure to bring it all together.

It’s also comforting that we’re finally getting better at talking about our innovation wins.

In the beginning, a big focus of my work was on educating people in the Calgary tech sector about what PR could do for them. Coming from London, UK, where I was running global PR programs, I had a lot to share about strategic communications, which is so much more than media relations and quirky videos. The clients we work with get it – they want more than just newspaper headlines or a Twitter account. They want a tailored communications plan that only a strategic partner can offer – one who really understands their business and their most important audiences, who can imagine the next steps and prepare them for the phases that lead to their success. I hope that, as our innovation sector grows, we can keep working with people who are building things that will change the world.

I want to help tell those stories.

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