Oct. 05--VANCOUVER, B.C. -- If you follow the money, the Northwest's hottest startup is now 140 miles north of Seattle.
Called HootSuite, it's a 370-employee company at the heart of a resurgent startup community in Vancouver, B.C.
In August, HootSuite raised an eye-popping $165?million from venture capitalists who backed Facebook and Twitter. That's 20 times more than the average Northwest startup raised last year and more that most Silicon Valley companies ever see.
HootSuite is in a thriving category. It makes tools that companies around the world are using to manage their presence on social networks.
But there may be another reason investors showed up at its Canada-chic offices this past summer, bearing truckloads of cash.
In tech circles, Canada is a hot new destination, despite the troubles of its beloved BlackBerry. Generous tax benefits and flexible immigration rules have long been a draw, but a bigger attraction now is Canada's relatively abundant supply of engineers, available for a fraction of the salaries that engineers demand in Silicon Valley.
This may lead to tension between homegrown ventures and the U.S. companies setting up satellite offices north of the border, but for now it's an enviable situation.
In British Columbia, tech is growing faster than the region's traditional forestry, mining and energy industries, and now employs more people -- more than 80,000 at 8,900 companies, including at least 350 active startups.
The concentration of tech companies in Vancouver still trails the ecosystem in Toronto, and startups in both regions have traditionally had less capital available to fuel their growth, according to a Startup Genome report on the world's tech hubs.
But that may be changing. Venture capitalists from Seattle, Silicon Valley and New York are prowling Vancouver's funky Gastown neighborhood and other hot spots, looking to get in on the action.
"There's good stuff to be had, and it's usually at a bit of a discount because the competition for it isn't quite as high," said Kristina Bergman, a principal at Ignition venture capital in Bellevue.
Bergman, a former Microsoft manager who grew up in Victoria, B.C., said Vancouver isn't likely to ever be as dynamic as Silicon Valley. But it's moving into the second tier of tech cities alongside hubs such as Seattle; New York; Austin, Texas; and Canada's tech strongholds in Montreal, Toronto and Waterloo, Ontario.
"You look at HootSuite doing well and you can forecast 10 years down the road, there are going to be impressive startups in related spaces," she said. "It's almost an inevitability in high-tech. There will be smart, talented people who will spin out from successful companies in a particular area and start related types of businesses."
Scene of opportunities
Bergman was among a group of U.S. venture capitalists who spoke at the Grow tech conference, which brought investors and entrepreneurs from across Canada and the U.S. to Vancouver in August to look for new companies to back.
Meanwhile, a wave of big American tech companies has arrived. Amazon.com, Twitter and Facebook have set up satellite engineering offices in the Vancouver area.
They've come for tech talent that's still relatively plentiful and inexpensive. Not to mention Canadians' reputation for loyalty and politeness.
Engineers can be hired in the Vancouver area for a third or half of what they'd be paid in Silicon Valley, where the talent crunch also leads to frequent job-hopping between companies.
"If you don't have to pay three times for the same person, why would you? That's the kind of conversations that happen," said Brian Wong, chief executive of San Francisco-based mobile rewards venture Kiip.
Fresh pool of talent
Wong grew up in Vancouver and left to pursue his fortune in Silicon Valley. Now he's opening a satellite office in his hometown.