September 19, 2013 Features & Images » Feature Story

Plugging in to a high-tech future 

Internet entrepreneurs build a business incubator in Whistler

click to flip through (5) PHOTO BY ADAM BLASBERG.  WWW.ADAMBLASBERG.COM - Michael Stephenson, centre left, and staff of Payroll Hero take to the woods with mountain bikes and laptops.
  • Photo by Adam Blasberg.
  • Michael Stephenson, centre left, and staff of Payroll Hero take to the woods with mountain bikes and laptops.

Come to Whistler for the lifestyle, stay for the high paying and secure high-tech job prospects? This may seem like a pipedream but it is slowly becoming a reality.

"Whistler needs a young, full-time professional workforce to derive their income from Whistler and spend their money in Whistler, but have meaningful careers that give them significant salaries," says Michael Stephenson, CEO and president of Payroll Hero, a software engineering company that has been taking root in Function Junction in the last year.

"It just sucks to see so many people leave Whistler because there are just service-based jobs. I think you could have 50 tech start-ups in Whistler and none of them would compete with each other because we are competing with the global market. There is so much opportunity."

Sounds like a great dream and it's one that Mat Peake believes in. Peake, like Stephenson, is part of a burgeoning high-tech industry that could change the way a significant chunk of Whistler works. It could encourage talented techies, perhaps even entire companies, to relocate to the resort.

Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Peake first moved to the resort in 1999, but he was eventually lured to Vancouver because of the realities of the job market — all the software engineering work was in the Big City.

He never lost the hope of coming back to Whistler and finally moved to the Alpine neighbourhood this spring. From here, Peake runs his company with two partners located in other cities, one in Vancouver's Gastown and the other in Vienna. This is no longer rare; the virtual office approach is growing across many economic sectors.

"Having three locations works really well. It's important to build autonomous groups, groups that don't have to be overseen to the Nth degree," he says. "Until I decided to move up to Whistler I never knew there was a tech scene here."

MiCasa is an online-based application that allows high-rise and low-rise strata property owners to communicate with their property managers and each other. With international potential, the company has been established for just over 12 months and is expanding and growing.

Peake currently works a two-day week at his home office, one day in Vancouver and the rest at the hackerspace set up this summer at Payroll Hero's office space.

Payroll Hero's Stephenson and his partner Steve Jagger saw a gap for payroll software in Southeast Asia. The company now has staff in Singapore, Manila and Whistler. The company is also doing well, with solid early successes to build from. In February this year, it announced it had raised $1 million in seed capital to build its company, which has created an online cloud-based employee-and-payroll management system targeted at the Asian market.

Since companies like this work online and do not need to transport products up and down the Sea to Sky Highway to larger markets they can be based anywhere in the world. Why not here?

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