Blog Post courtesy of Accelerate Okanagan
The Okanagan tech community was one of only five tech communities selected to participate in the Techstars Community Pilot Project. The Techstars team arrived at the end of August and performed a grassroots, founders-first assessment of our startup ecosystem. The goal was to accelerate growth in our startup community beyond what would happen organically and to inspire future innovation and ideas for a diverse group of community leaders and partners to rally around.
The initiative inspired much community support, with the following organizations acting as sponsors: Okanagan College, Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Valley First, a division of First West Credit Union, City of Kelowna, Lawson Lundell LLP., WTFast, Strawhouse, Community Futures of Central Okanagan, Bananatag, Data Nerds, and Nucleus Strategies.
The Central Okanagan Development Commision (COEDC) has been a huge promoter of Okanagan tech and a valued supporter of the Techstars Community Pilot Project. Corie Griffiths, Director of the COEDC, is passionate about supporting local business and attracting investment in the region. She believes there is huge potential in Okanagan tech and that the Techstars Project was the kind of initiative that would ensure the continued growth of this part of our economy.
Griffiths also believes that the tech industry in the Okanagan is not a vertical one and that we are only going to see more innovation emerging in “traditional” industries like agricultural and tourism as well as aerospace and manufacturing [Editor’s note: we could not agree more].
We recently caught up with Griffiths to learn more about her inspiration to get involved with Techstars, get her reaction to the report card, and her insight on the future of #OKGNtech.
Q. What inspired the COEDC to get involved with the Techstars initiative? What was your reaction to the report card?
A. The Central Okanagan Development Commissions (COEDC) mandate, in the most simplistic of terms, is to support the local business space and attract investment to the region. We were interested in Techstars because we knew it would provide us with the opportunity to get third-party validation that the Okanagan tech industry is a dynamic and growing community that crosses a multitude of sectors.
When I look holistically at what is happening here in the Okanagan I am overwhelmed with the notion that it really is all here—now. Listening to the report card readout made me feel very proud to be a part of this community, both professionally and personally.
Q. What role does Okanagan tech play in the future of our region?
A. I think due to globalization and the nature of industry classifications changing, finding high yield jobs that pay well and that attract a creative young professional demographic is really important when your thinking of the economic sustainability of a community. The reality is, the government doesn't create jobs - a lot of people think that our job as economic development is to create jobs and we don’t - entrepreneurs create jobs.
Our job is to best support an environment and ecosystems for entrepreneurs so that they can do that. The Okanagan tech community has done an incredible job at promoting a healthy, supportive entrepreneurial environment and the payoff is making headlines.
Probably the most inspirational piece of the Techstars report was around the culture and upgrading our attitude. I have experienced statistically as well as qualitatively the dynamic growth in this region. This growth has come by way of quality talent and infrastructure development. There is a real vibe and energy around teamwork. I am very much a regional thinker, beyond even the central Okanagan, it's not about each municipality or stakeholder getting a piece of the pie, it's about widening the pie - and making our region appealing place for investment and businesses to grow.
Q. What do you think success looks like, in terms where we go from here?
A. What I also liked about the TechStars report was the directive to support what you have already in the community. This is a best practice for economic development. We're already having strategic sessions to identify these key themes, messages, stories about what is already happening in our region in an effort to get the message out there and increase awareness. Our local businesses here in the region, are the most important part of what we do and are a huge indicator of success and ability to attract investment.
It is an exciting time for Okanagan tech and for the region as a whole. There is an incredible energy that is hard to articulate— you need to experience it.