One of Canada’s largest software firms has set up shop in downtown Calgary with a modern take on office space geared toward incubating creativity.
Unity Technologies cut the ribbon on 25,000 square feet for the new Innovation Centre for Digital Transformation in Brookfield Place on 6th Avenue S.W. The opening of the office was delayed by a year due to the pandemic, but the new location expands the company, which already has space in Montreal and Vancouver.
“We had a vision and I couldn’t be more proud of the execution,” said Ryan Peterson, vice-president of Accelerate Solutions and the lead executive for the Calgary office. “We felt it was important to remain committed to Calgary and Alberta during unprecedented times. One of our key values is ‘in it together,’ that partnership with the local community is key.”
Unity is an online platform company that specializes in virtual and augmented realities. It is most well known for developing the technology and platform for the massive global online game Pokemon Go, which sent hordes of people around their community looking for virtual gyms to unlock new Pokemon characters.
The platform is still used for game development and toys, including a partnership with Lego that allows people to turn their tablet into a virtual cockpit for a new line of construction equipment builds based on real-world controls. Currently, 70 per cent of the mobile gaming market is powered by Unity.
The technology is now being applied to solve business problems, something Peterson calls the “industrial metaverse.” It is allowing control of machinery virtually from the other side of the country, and developing three-dimensional schematics to examine shifting terrain under infrastructure or even the structural integrity of pipelines.
Peterson also sees a role for the technology in finding solutions to environmental issues.
Unity is also developing partnerships in retail to allow customers to view a full-sized 3D rendering of products such as tents, instead of going off of thumbnail pictures online.
“The transformation of e-commerce was fast-forwarded by probably 15 years,” said Peterson, of the pandemic effects on shopping.
He says they are just scratching the surface of what is possible with the technology.
The metaverse market is worth about $120 billion but is expected to grow to $760 billion by 2026, and could be worth trillions by 2032.
Calgary’s office will become a major development hub for the sector. It currently has 60 employees and will grow to 150 within 12 months. There is also the potential for further office expansion in the city.
The new office is unlike anything else in the province and represents a major shift in design for a workspace. The office is geared toward flexibility, inclusivity (including a nursing room for new moms) and work environment, allowing for remote and in-office production.
Everything in the space has been designed with creativity in mind, from 12-foot ceilings to uneven walls, and even the selection of occupying the fourth floor so as not to lose connection with the city below.
The office is set up to not just be a space for Unity and its clients, but also for startups and other innovating companies to develop their ideas.
“Creativity comes from people interacting and you need to create those collaboration spaces,” said Peterson. “Digital transformation is about getting people together and their ideas to solve problems. Look at the scale of the space, it’s about creating that energy of sharing between designers, engineers, project managers, business analysts. When you get those different vocations together real magic happens.”
Calgary was an easy sell for Peterson. He pointed to the relative affordability compared to other major centres such as Toronto and Vancouver, the abundant options for office space downtown — they looked at more than 100 different spaces — and the lifestyle the city affords, including proximity to the mountains.
Calgary Economic Development has committed $3.5 million over three years through its investment fund for Unity to hit specified goals of growth and hiring.
Brad Parry, president and CEO of CED, expects Unity’s investment will lead to other companies coming to Calgary’s downtown.
“It’s the hive effect,” he said. “You get companies like Unity show up and then you start to get other companies that want to be around them and be close to them and build on top of their technology.”
Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer said this was an important investment for the short- and long-term future. He said the province is playing a role by supporting the development of the workforce.
He is expecting the tech sector to continue the growth it has experienced in the past few years, hitting $561 million in Alberta last year.
“We are anticipating the first quarter is going to show a pretty robust amount of investment coming into Alberta,” he said. “We’ve seen many deals, from Helcim to others here in Alberta, that are pretty sizable, that are hiring lots of people across Alberta, particularly here in Calgary. It’s encouraging to see that confidence in the future of the venture capital and technology companies here in Alberta.”
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