Cochrane may not jump off the map as a likely location for the headquarters of an international tech company, but it was the only choice for Jim Rooney, managing director at Garmin Canada Inc.
Located along the winding Bow River in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and just 20 kilometres west of Calgary, the town of about 30,000 people is a paradise for outdoor lovers. The beautiful landscape provides something of a living laboratory for Garmin Canada, which researches and develops outdoor fitness and wireless technologies.
“The appeal of Cochrane is so many of the products we build are tested right here,” says Rooney. “You can get on your bike or lace up your shoes and within a few minutes be on the paths.”
Rooney’s acquaintance with Cochrane began long before Garmin Canada built its 3,716-square-metre headquarters in the community back in September 2018. Cochrane has been Rooney’s home for two decades, and it’s where he chose to launch his own tech company. Rooney and three founding partners started Dynastream Inc. with the idea of creating a speed and distance monitor for runners. In 1998, they began by tinkering in Rooney’s garage.
Dynastream ended up with a pretty innovative product. Innovative enough to make Nike the company’s first customer and, not long after, the founders started seeing their technology in slick ads splashed across the pages of sports magazines.
“It was pretty cool,” notes Rooney.
Dynastream continued to develop new products, adding wearable technologies and heart monitors to its portfolio. It wasn’t long before the company was competing with the global tech company Garmin International, which developed some of the first GPS watches on the market. The Cochrane-based Dynastream didn’t back down; instead, the partners approached Garmin International with their inertia navigation sensing system.
“We told them, ‘you need what we have,’” says Rooney, adding Garmin International quickly went from Dynastream’s biggest competitor to its biggest customer.
A few years later, in 2006, Garmin International bought Dynastream for $36 million. As the newly acquired company grew, the founders had to decide whether to stay in Cochrane or move to downtown Calgary. Garmin Canada chose to stay.
“We really wanted to grow our roots here in Cochrane,” says Rooney.
Today, Garmin Canada employs more than 100 full-time staff, predominantly engineers who service most of Garmin International’s fitness and outdoor segments. Mike Korman, Cochrane’s economic development manager, says the company has been a boon to the community.
“What Garmin means to Cochrane is optimism and opportunity,” he says.
With no business tax and one of the lowest non-residential tax rates in the region, Korman says the town works hard to attract innovative businesses.
“[The town is] looking to lead the charge from a technology perspective,” adds Korman. “We want to attract people with great ideas and have them stay here.”
“Cochrane is becoming a tech hub… a number of companies are being attracted here.”
– Victoria Brilz, co-founder of 4iiii Innovations
It seems to be working. The town was recognized as one of the most entrepreneurial communities in Canada from 2012 to 2014 by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and, according to Korman, 90 percent of the businesses that start in Cochrane stay and a lot of those companies are tech-based, making it known as somewhat of a tech hub.
One of those tech companies is 4iiii Innovations. Married couple Kip Fyfe and Victoria Brilz, 4iiii’s founders, were attracted to Cochrane even before they began their entrepreneurial journey as part of the Dynastream start-up team.
“It was a lifestyle choice for us,” says Brilz.
“We wanted a small community for raising our children.”
The Alberta-born engineers chose to stay in the town and began their own startup after Garmin bought Dynastream. 4iiii Innovations’ first product was an audio-visual display for cyclists and was released in 2012. The Cochrane-based company now has a global reach and has continued adding new technology to its product offerings – even branching out and developing products for other industries, such as the oil and gas sector.
Today, 4iiii Innovations employs about 130 people worldwide and is the official powermeter supplier to a number of elite teams, including the British Triathlon Federation. The town still remains the ideal place for growing the company.
“[The town] has really gone out of their way to accommodate us,” says Brilz, noting that besides ensuring their technological needs are met, Cochrane’s administration includes business in their plans for the future.
“Cochrane is becoming a tech hub… a number of companies are being attracted here,” says Brilz. “And so many of our young families are choosing to stay here. It is a feel-good place.”