What Alberta Innovates learned from sending 50 local startups to SXSW

Alberta Innovates SXSW 2024
Alberta startups go global at the world’s largest tech conference.

Among the over 250,000 attendees drawn to South by Southwest (SXSW) each year, aspirations vary widely.

As one of the world’s largest tech conferences, SXSW offers a key opportunity for startups, investors, and tech enthusiasts from all over the world to connect, learn, and close deals over eight days of tech-focused programming in Austin, Texas.

“By exposing our companies to those environments, we can help them change their mindsets and think globally.”

According to Tim Murphy, vice president of Alberta Innovates’ health division, the crown corporation had a clear objective going into this year’s conference.

“SXSW is a great platform for Alberta to showcase its innovation and talent on a global stage,” Murphy told BetaKit in a recent interview.

Last month, Alberta Innovates sent a delegation of 50 local tech startups to the conference. This wasn’t the delegation’s inaugural trip; an initial foray in 2023 catalyzed millions of dollars in deals for the startups involved.

Murphy, who joined the Alberta delegation this year, sat down with BetaKit to talk about Alberta Innovates’ strategy for the 2024 SXSW delegation, how the experience went, and the impact it’s hoped to create for the province’s tech sector.

Building critical mass

Murphy explained that Alberta Innovates wanted to take a three-pronged approach to build on its success from last year and make Alberta’s presence known at this year’s conference.

“You have to have a game plan,” Murphy said. “You have to be organized, you have to be connected, and you have to have critical mass there.”

In terms of building that critical mass, Murphy said startups went through a “rigorous” vetting process through Alberta Innovates’ Scaleup Growth and Accelerator Program (Scaleup GAP) to ensure they would be a good fit for the conference. Scaleup GAP was created in 2021 to help startups and small businesses grow into mid-sized firms.

The 2024 delegation included startups from a wide range of verticals, from B2B SaaS to legaltech, and FinTech, among others, with a particular focus on digital health, cleantech, and artificial intelligence.

The startups varied not just in industry focus but also stage of development. Startups included smart sensor tech firm Haztrack, cleantech startup Earthware, and roadside assistance startup Road Aider, FinTech startup Symend, healthtech firm MedEssist, and legaltech startup Goodlawyer.

“The Alberta delegation was a definite presence at SXSW,” Murphy said, noting that the group was recognized by non-Canadian attendees.

Curating collisions

Last year, Alberta Innovates’ delegation to SXSW led to over $6 million in business deals to date, generated more than 2,600 connections, and a nine-fold return on investment for Alberta Innovates.

Before the conference, Alberta Innovates focused on preparing the delegation startups by refining their pitches, providing workshops, and offering one-on-one coaching. 

At the conference itself, the strategy for Alberta Innovates was to arrange one-on-one meetings, provide access to exclusive networking events, and offer participation in various workshops and events. This setup allowed founders to meet a wide range of global investors, tailored to their specific industry needs.

Murphy said Alberta Innovates was focused on “curating the creative collisions that drive investment.”

However, not every company was on the hunt for investors. For the Calgary-based healthtech startup NanoTess, which specializes in wound care management, the goal was to secure customers. Murphy noted that NanoTess was able to connect with military representatives and extreme sports companies during the conference.

“They were quite excited because they had these new potential customers, who could take their Alberta product and buy their product, and [give them] access to that global market,” Murphy added.

“The connections we made were with top tier individuals that have the knowledge, network, and experience to bring meaningful value to our team,” Megan Leslie, CEO and co-founder of NanoTess, told BetaKit.

A tale of two tech sectors

There are notable parallels between Alberta and SXSW’s host state, Texas. Both regions initially thrived on natural resource economies but are now pivoting towards innovation and technology sectors. Austin, in particular, is rapidly becoming a major global tech hub, a shift being mirrored in cities like Edmonton and Calgary.

Although Alberta’s tech ecosystem is younger than those in cities like Toronto or Vancouver, it is quickly maturing. The province has witnessed significant funding rounds for some companies in recent years, also bucking the national trend, as venture capital funding in Canada came down amid changing macroeconomic conditions.

“Capital will go to where the value can be derived from the capital,” Murphy said. “By exposing our companies to those environments, we can help them change their mindsets and think globally.”

It will take months to fully capture the partnerships struck, revenue generated and investment secured as a result of the delegation, but according to Murphy, the impact of this year’s conference has already been substantive. At least three companies part of the delegation have signed deals directly as a result of their participation in the conference.

Jefferson Roc, president and chief vision officer of AI startup PeerX.AI, told BetaKit that the conference led to the startup quickly being accepted into a Florida-based accelerator program. “The key is to be present and ready to seize the opportunities that come your way,” Roc said.

For Murphy, a conference like SXSW is where Alberta Innovates can create the winning conditions for Alberta companies to meet global growth opportunities.


Visit the SXSW 2024 delegation announcement for more information on the exciting roster of attending companies.

To learn how Alberta Innovates is supercharging our entrepreneurial ecosystem, visit albertainnovates.ca

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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