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Surrey city entrepreneurs going global

Financial software company opens offices abroad after 2008 financial crisis spurs growth
Fincad engineer Nik Venema using the Surrey-based company’s enterprise-validation and risk-analysis software

“Someone once said to me, ‘You know, being in Surrey isn't a very fashionable part of the Lower Mainland,'” Fincad CEO Bob Park said from his office in Whalley's Central City Tower, where the financial analytics software firm has been headquartered for a decade.

“My answer to that was, ‘Given our business and the nature of our clients in New York and London and Zurich and many other places, Vancouver isn't a particularly fashionable place for a financial technology company.'”

The suburb hasn't quite cultivated the chic image carried by London or New York, two cities in which Fincad opened branch offices this past May in the midst of double-digit revenue growth.

But in the last few months at least two other tech firms have been lured to Surrey, in part due to city hall's recent development of the Innovation Boulevard tech business centre.

Park said Fincad was fortunate in that it moved to the area before it was known as Innovation Boulevard and retooled its software platforms just before the 2008 financial crisis.

When it launched 24 years ago, Fincad was mainly offering desktop tools designed for financial professionals. In 2006, the company began looking to math whizzes with Wall Street experience to collaborate with software developers designing more complex enterprise-valuation and risk-analytics platforms.

“The risk-management tools and techniques that were being used before the financial crisis were not up to the task,” Park said, adding that software sales ground to halt in the months after the meltdown.

But by the spring of 2009, the market opened up for the more complex risk-analysis software Fincad had begun developing before the crisis.

Park said the company's revenue grew by 20% last year, which helped convince Fincad that it needed more worldwide offices.

If Fincad weren't headquartered in Innovation Boulevard, the CEO said he'd be concerned about where the growing company would end once its current space gets too tight.

“There are very limited alternatives right now,” he said, “but we see that improving quite significantly between now and 2016.”

Coast Capital Savings is set to become the anchor tenant of a nine-storey building just down the street from Fincad. A few blocks in the other direction, a 52-storey mixed-use hotel and residential complex is scheduled for completion in two years.

Coun. Bruce Hayne, chairman of the city's investment and innovation committee, said these developments and the rapid growth of tech firms like Fincad have “an elevating effect on our business image.”

Conquer Mobile, which specializes in 3D imaging and virtual reality simulations for health-care education, is moving its headquarters to Surrey when the lease for its Vancouver office expires within a year. CEO Angela Robert told Business in Vancouver in May that easy access to rapid transit and business partners in Innovation Boulevard makes the move ideal. The Emergo Group, a medical device company based in Austin, Texas, had employees and contractors working at offices throughout the Lower Mainland after setting up its Canadian presence in 2010. When it came time to amalgamate operations in Surrey in March, Canadian managing director Daryl Wisdahl said he realized many potential clients were already operating out of Innovation Boulevard while most employees were already living in Surrey.

“The reality is Surrey has outgrown that old reputation and is building a very strong reputation as a leader in technology.”