It may not look like much from the outside, but the cutting-edge technology inside Redlen Technologies’ Central Saanich headquarters is in demand all over the world.
“Redlen was founded about 20 years ago and it’s one of these overnight successes that took 20 years to happen,” Redlen chief operating officer Jim Balcom jokes.
“It was founded by Bob Redden, who had this idea that you could take crystal-growing technology and make it work here on earth. He started with the Canadian Space Agency, growing crystals in space.”
The out-of-this-world technology uses cadmium, zinc, and telluride to create the world’s most advanced CZT sensors for medical imaging, security applications, and non-destructive testing.
The technology is so advanced, it took about 10 years just to figure out how to do it.
“We’ve had to do all this ourselves because there’s nobody you can go to and buy a boule or a wafer or semiconductor with these characteristics,” Balcom explains. “We’ve have to figure all of these out ourselves.”
The company’s grown from 50 to 220 people over the last decade, and two years ago, Canon — which had been an investor — bought Redlen for almost half a billion dollars Canadian.
“Canon is a $33-billion company with 200,000 employees and tons of expertise in precision electro-mechanical assemblies at low cost and high volume — think cameras and printers — and that’s what we’re trying to become as a company,” said Balcom.
With Canon’s help, Redlen is ramping up production and hoping to double the size of the company and its footprint here.
“We’re providing these detectors to CT scanner makers around the world and they’re desperate for more and faster, so we’re trying to scale up as quickly as we can and get this product to them so the demand is crazy,” Balcom says.
It’s one of the many success stories in Greater Victoria’s exploding tech industry, which has been the region’s biggest economic driver since 2007 and generates — according to the last economic impact study five years ago — more than $5 billion a year.
“We’re overdue for a new economic impact study, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that number is closer to $6 billion or $7 billion in economic impact,” explains VIATEC CEO Dan Gunn. “Our goal for the industry is to be a $10 billion industry by 2030, and we feel like we’re more than on track to achieve that.”
There are now around 1,400 tech companies on the South Island — make that Silicon Island South — with more being added every week.
But most people outside of “Techtoria” have no idea.
“It’s fairly invisible,” Gunn says. “Most tech companies don’t sell their products here. They sell them around the world and so 60 per cent of our revenues come from United States, 85 per cent come from off the Island.”
Back at Redlen, Jim Balcom is most excited about the next-generation imaging — with much lower radiation doses — that they’ve created for CT scanners.
“The impacts from a human health perspective is mind boggling,” he says. “We hear from doctors who are using our technology and clinical trials all the time, and I’ve seen the images of 90 per cent dose reduction, and three times better resolution. The impact that we’re going to have on human health is amazing.”