Discover Tectoria rediscovers itself

The 20th year of the VIATEC event is capitalizing on the current swell of momentum for in-person events. It's bigger and better than ever.

Exhibitor booths and attendees at Discover Tectoria

Discover Tectoria returns on June 2 (photo credit: VIATEC).

The monthly Scaleup Story Series is supported by VIATEC, but articles are written and edited independently by Victoria Tech Journal.

Have you ever had to explain to your family what exactly it is that you do? I’m quite lucky in that department. Staff writer is an accurate two-word summary. But, I’m sure data scientist or engineering lead come with some unique dinner table challenges. Those must be compounded with industries like Web3. I’ve definitely got some blank stares about the Metaverse. But, an event returning to Victoria later this spring is here to help with the whole explaining-to-your-mom-what-you-do thing — and plenty more.

Discover Tectoria is set for June 2 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and promises a showcase of more than 75 Greater Victoria tech companies, research projects, interactive displays, and community partners. Everything is under one roof. It’s one of the only events where the local community and visitors come together to discover the innovation that’s stemming from right here in “Tectoria”, according to its hosts, VIATEC. Attendees get to interact with the people and their creations to better understand who and what is driving Victoria’s largest industry, leading to potential careers, connections, or just a more appreciated knowledge.

For VIATEC CEO Dan Gunn, an auxiliary benefit of the event is the opportunity for attendees to showcase their work to their family and friends.

We didn't anticipate this when we first created the event,” Gunn tells me, “but [for] a lot of people who work in tech, their family have no idea what they do. This is a chance for your parents or your grandparents or your siblings to come out and be like, ‘Oh, okay, so this is what you're a part of.’ Because if you're not a part of something, it's really hard to envision. And this is the best physical manifestation of entrepreneurial innovation that you can go to.”

The first time VIATEC did an expo like this was 20 years ago. In the golden era of flip phones and 50 Cent, the event was called Island Tech and was held at the Victoria Conference Centre. Gunn recalls that it existed as a nudge for locals to take note of the industry. “We created this event back then to just be like, ‘Hey, come out to check out all this cool stuff that's made right here in your own backyard that you didn't know about.’”

When VIATEC first started running the event, Gunn says, tech was largely invisible to most people. In many ways, it still is. Most tech companies in Victoria didn't set up in the city because their customers are here, he points out. They serve international clients while growing their teams locally. For the longest time, you would hear that tech is the city’s number one industry, but would drive around town and find no physical evidence.

In the years after Island Tech launched, Victoria started to see more signs on buildings or spaces to collaborate. As it blossomed and continued to shine that spotlight on Victoria’s tech community, the event was moved to Crystal Garden, where it still runs today. For Gunn, the venue felt more open and bright, and it allowed it to flow a little bit better. Finally, the new moniker was added: Discover Tectoria.

Gunn tells me that over the years, it's evolved in a variety of ways. But one of the big things VIATEC hears from participating companies is that Discover Tectoria has found a rich vein of talent development. Some exhibitors showcase their companies specifically to hire their next employee, while some are there just to tell people what a career is like in their line of work. Students, for example, can learn a little bit about a sector or land their next co-op gig. But, the talent funnel is a very long game. Gunn puts it this way: “[A tech firm’s] best senior developer or senior engineer eight years from now is probably deciding, right now, whether or not they even want to work in the industry.” Discover Tectoria, then, can be seen as an opportunity for attendees to promote their work and showcase why it is important — both eight years into the future and at present day.

Gunn expects that this year, more exhibiting companies will be thinking in those terms and trying to answer, ‘How do we fill the funnel for the future?’ Those engineers also get some serious face time. Generally speaking, when a company has a spot at an expo or a trade show, it’s the sales staff who get shoulder-tapped. At Discover Tectoria, however, the primary goal isn’t necessarily to acquire customers, so. attendees will see developers or engineers staffing the booths. This gives under-the-radar team members an opportunity to hear and field the kinds of questions that are asked to a company, or to present what they do in their own words. “It's kind of a nice twist,” Gunn says with a smile, “and it gives some profile or an opportunity to people that otherwise are behind the scenes.”

Gunn also is excited about the opportunity Discover Tectoria presents for local media, estimating that they can find their next 30 stories at the expo. The relationship goes both inward and outward, he says. “If a company wants profiles, this is a good place to be because the media is going to be walking around and seeing their work.” Also in the room are policymakers and government officials, taking the chance to see the research and development, products, services, and companies in their jurisdictions. Gunn wants to see the impact of the tech sector remain an important priority in their minds when they're deciding budgets or programs going forward. Oh, and you can’t forget venture capitalists and angel investors, Gunn says, who like to walk through to get a sense of what might not be on their radars already. (It might have been easier to ask Gunn who won’t be at this thing.)

In addition to creating space for all kinds of attendees, Discover Tectoria will showcase the organizations that are putting Victoria on the map. Gunn labels this category “cool, shiny, big things.” While it is still too early in the planning to know just how many cool, shiny, and big things will be live on June 2, Gunn highlighted a pair of focuses: the city’s burgeoning oceantech space and its impressive academic institutions. Discover Tectoria is also bundled as the finale of Scale YYJ, a multi-day expo that begins on May 29 and is the self-described place for anyone to learn about what it takes to scale their business to the next level. “There's a whole community of grassroots things taking place,” Gunn tells me, “and [Discover Tectoria] leads to its triumphant culmination.”

It certainly is a triumph. Discover Tectorias of yesteryear have routinely seen 3,000 to 4,000 people attend. The immense current hunger for in-person gatherings means this year’s edition should be no different. Discover Tectoria’s 2020 iteration managed to swerve the pandemic by mere weeks: it was held on February 27. In a normal world, VIATEC was looking to do the event again in February 2022. But, remembering back 14 months ago, the state of the pandemic was still unclear.

“It’s been interesting planning [Discover Tectoria] 2023 and 2024,” Gunn reflects. “It was really tough for two [or] three years there, because you just didn't know if you could do it. Some of these things, they can take months to plan and prep, and getting started then having to pull the plug because of a new variant or a new restriction was really difficult.” He thinks that's one of the reasons why there's so much interest right now around getting together.

Gunn goes on to namecheck Scale YYJ and our upcoming, inaugural #VicTJtalks event as part of this groundswell and a nod to what VIATEC can do best. For Gunn, he sees those events and Discover Tectoria as opportunities for other organizations to strut their stuff. “We're trying to let everybody know that we don't conceive of everything that takes place around tech,” he points out. “In fact, your ideas are the good ideas. We just happen to have a machine that's good at putting on things. We have the registration tools, we have the expertise, we have the venue, et cetera.”

Gunn continues by saying that VIATEC is really happy to be seen as a place that people can go to make events viable and get them off the ground, because it's one thing to have an idea, but it’s a whole other thing to get it up and running. “If the idea is about getting innovative entrepreneurs together,” Gunn says, “then we want to be your partner. And we're not asking for anything in return other than you say we're a good partner.”

This sentiment seems to shine through in Discover Tectoria. It very much has the feel of VIATEC turning Crystal Garden into a blank canvas for Victoria’s tech community to paint. And, speaking of nothing in return, admission to the event is done by donation to the food bank. “Everybody should plan a few hours that day to come down and see some cool stuff,” Gunn summarizes. I couldn’t agree more.