Revelstoke Mountaineer feature: Regional B.C. technology hubs foster big innovation in small spaces

Revelstoke innovation series: How the communities of Nelson, Kamloops, and Kelowna are growing their economies by supporting the technology sector.

Inside the Kamloops coworking space, part of Kamloops Innovation - a community of tech entrepreneurs. Photo: Kamloops Innovation.

Now is an exciting time for technology and entrepreneurship in Canada, solidified by the provincial government’s recent $100 million boost to the tech sector earmarked for investments in startup companies.

This will shift the landscape of how business and ideas are achieved while the technology sectors in local communities around British Columbia continue to grow. Revelstoke is one of these with its Mountain CoLab, a place where adventurous and forward-thinking minds meet, in a community with the fastest fibre Internet.

The Revelstoke Mountaineer looked at what our neighbouring communities, Kelowna, Kamloops and Nelson are doing in their own technology sectors and found some exciting and inspirational movements.

Nelson: ‘Lifestyle benefits to draw big-name tech company interest’

Nelson, like Revelstoke, is a proud regional hub in Southeast B.C. Lifestyle is the attraction and people often have to think outside of the box to pay the bills.

Rose Hoeher
Rose Hoeher, business coaching coordinator for the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology. Photo: contributed by KAST

“You have to be very creative to live here, and oftentimes its the entrepreneurial spirit that is needed to make a living here,” business coaching coordinator for the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (KAST) Rose Hoeher said.

Nelson’s innovation status is growing and its first monthly technology meet-up occurred in June this year. A month later, the modern industrial co-working space leased by Retreat Guru opened up, providing small businesses and sole traders with a collaborative working environment.

KAST operates out of the Retreat Guru space and, with the support of the BC Innovation Council, it provides an Executive-in-Residence and Venture Acceleration program, providing startups and small companies with mentors and the ideas needed to develop faster and successfully.

Hoeher said the co-working space has proven valuable to people who work alone but want to access a community. “I’ve definitely seen friendships develop,” she said. “Also beyond that from a business economic perspective, people are hosting different job opportunities, maybe passing onwards contracts if they’re really busy, and there’s a sense of collaboration, sharing ideas and expanding mindsets.”

Inside the Nelson CoLab space. Photo: Nelson CoLab.
Inside the Nelson CoLab space. Photo: Nelson CoLab.

This space on Baker Street is developing and currently a number of knowledge and tech workers are based out of it. Hoeher believes Nelson has the crucial business advantage to draw outside interest with the supply of high-speed internet in the town coming in 2014. She also points to Nelson’s work/life balance as a potential attractor for significant big-name tech companies to create satellite offices there: “Maybe for two or three months, where employees have an opportunity to go skiing or snowboarding, or in the summertime to go mountain biking,” Hoeher said.

Another exciting prospect for Nelson is a combined digital innovation and film production studio.

KAST and their partners KRIC (Kootenay Rockies Innovation Council) will attend the BC Tech Summit in Vancouver next month with other local companies to network and expand the tech opportunities in the Basin. Let your local EIR know if you are interested in attending.

Kelowna: ‘Creating an environment where ideas flourish’

Raghwa Gopal is an executive with a extensive list of business contributions and leaderships, and as co-founder of the first technology company in Kelowna, local students were lucky to grasp some of his knowledge when he was Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Okanagan College until 2014.

Interim CEO of Accelerate Okanagan Raghwa Gopal. Photo: Accelerate Okanagan
Interim CEO of Accelerate Okanagan Raghwa Gopal. Photo: Accelerate Okanagan

Gopal now guides local entrepreneurs in his role as interim CEO for Accelerate Okanagan, an organization that is supported by the BC Innovation Council’s Venture Acceleration program.

Gopal said the organization, which provides services for about $200 a month, was created to provide an equal system for people with ideas to get guidance.

“Without Accelerate Okanagan, people had ideas but they didn’t know how to enhance or move an idea forward,” he said.

An Economic Impact Assessment commissioned by the company shows the Okanagan technology sector is a $1 billion industry. Tech company Vineyard Networks is an example of local success. Gopal explains that the founders used Accelerate Okanagan and its Executives-in-Residence program to grow and get local investments. Four years from inception, it sold in 2013 to California-based software company Procera Networks for US$28 million.

“It was three guys with an idea, homegrown, with local mentoring and support, they were able to grow a company to 30 people,” Gopal said.

Entrepreneurship, Gopal believes, is for anyone with strong determination.

“I think entrepreneurs are people who are a bit more creative, someone that wants to be self employed, someone with an idea, and someone that has a great work ethic,” he said. “Being an entrepreneur basically means working 24 hours a day, seven days a week when you’re expanding. When you are successful, you have a lot of money and a lot more time.”

Meanwhile the Okanagan Co+Lab opened its doors in 2011, supporting Kelowna’s local business minds and solo professionals. It includes Okanagan startup success stories such as Mathtoons, Yeti Farm and Volinspire and their membership includes non-profit organizations like Elevation Outdoors and Okanagan Carshare Co-op.

Okanagan Co+Lab co-founder Shane Austin. Photo contributed

“The Co+Lab has been home to more than 100 people — helping them find their career path, start and grow a business, and be a part of an amazing community,” co-founder Shane Austin said.

Co+Lab partners with other organizations that have similar goals to grow in the technology industry.

“We have developed our own programs for professional skills development and have an incredible network of entrepreneurial mentors and supporters,” Austin said. “We’ve recently partnered with Lighthouse Labs to bring an intensive eight-week coding boot camp to grow our developer talent pool.”

Kamloops: ‘At the centre of new technological markets’

Lincoln Smith describes the integral industry background of student entrepreneurs in Kamloops as one of the advantages the BC interior can capitalize on.

“Often they grew up in forestry or mining because their family was involved in those industries, or they worked at a mill or related service industry,” he said. “They have this external understanding of how things work and then they apply it to their studies, we add on the mentorship, give the business background.”

Lincoln Smith is the executive director at Kamloops Innovation and director of research partnerships and enterprise creation at the local Thompson Rivers University. Photo: contributed

Smith nurtures the Kamloops start-up community and technological sector in his dual role as executive director at Kamloops Innovation, an organization supported by the BC Innovation Council, and as director of research partnerships and enterprise creation at Thompson Rivers University.

“Kamloops Innovation sees the advantage that our region has in the fact that we have an economy built on that natural resources sector,” Smith said. “These industries are becoming more and more technology driven and we see Kamloops, and the some of the interior communities, as having the advantage of being the best place to develop these technologies.”

Two major business tech stories that have come out of Kamloops is the Hummingbird Drones which provides a valuable aerial imaging service and Lightship, a company that was started three years ago. With a background in oil and gas, the founder of Lightship saw an opportunity to provide safer work environments while at the same time helping management improve efficiencies.

An example of a worksite using Lightship. Photo: contributed.

“The company has grown from one employee to nine, and now they’re looking to have 15 employees by the end of March,” Smith said. “They provide a service that allows managers to see where every piece of equipment, where safety sensors and where employees are and communicate with all of them with the click of the button. And they’re getting a lot of traction in the mining industry.”

It’s this kind of knowledge that is putting Kamloops at the forefront of technological innovation.

“We have access to the sectors, we have access to the companies, often we have a lot of domain knowledge in these sectors and that is what Kamloops is looking to capitalize on in the coming years,” Smith said.


This sponsored post was created in conjunction with YourLink Revelstoke, and the new Revelstoke Mountain CoLab (formerly Revelstoke Coworking).

Inside the Revelstoke Mountain CoLab's downtown office space. Photo: Keri Knapp
Inside the Revelstoke Mountain CoLab’s downtown office space. Photo: Keri Knapp

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