This month, the Okanagan innovation ecosystem received a boost when the University of British Columbia (UBC) Okanagan Campus launched the Innovation UBC Hub in the Innovation Centre in Kelowna, B.C., joining forces with Accelerate Okanagan and cementing the region’s position as the Silicon Valley of the North (with cheaper housing and shorter commutes).
“We’re solving problems that affect each and every one of us,” says Camille Saltman, who is director of entrepreneurship for UBC Okanagan and based in the new UBC Hub. “What makes this generation of students special is that they see a problem and rather than shrugging their shoulders, they’re creating social impact ventures – they’re creating solutions, in effect, to make the world into the place where we all want to live.”
Among everyoneworking here,rolling up oursleeves to make newthings, there’s thisbubbling civic pride– a shared desireto change lives inour community ishelping fuel thismomentum.— Raghwa Gopal CEO of Accelerate Okanagan
These solutions not only benefit society but create a huge economic windfall for the region, the province and the entrepreneurs alike. An economic impact study commissioned by Accelerate Okanagan and the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission and released mid-September revealed 15 per cent growth in the technology sector year over year for the past six years – making Kelowna the fastest-growing tech and innovation hub in the country. There are currently 693 high-tech companies in the Okanagan region, employing 12,500 people and creating an economic impact of $1.67-billion, a 30 per cent growth since the last economic study was completed in 2016.
“There’s something going on. I’ve never, ever seen growth like this,” says Raghwa Gopal, CEO of Accelerate Okanagan, who points out that 55 per cent of the employees working in tech jobs are under 35. “Among everyone working here, rolling up our sleeves to make new things, there’s this bubbling civic pride – a shared desire to change lives in our community is helping fuel this momentum.”
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” is the phrase Ms. Saltman uses to explain the growth in her community. The Innovation Centre brings together people with disparate interests – AI and medicine, interior design and vegan food, cancer research and nanotechnology – collaborating and with the help of Accelerate Okanagan bringing new products from ideation to market with a collaborative thrust.
“The economic impact of a robust cluster of innovation companies on a community is profound,” says Ms. Saltman, adding that the imprint left by Lane Merrifield, co-founder of Club Penguin, benefactor of the hub and a new “dragon” on CBC’s Dragons’ Den, encourages participants to shoot for the moon. “To see so many diverse solutions and so much passion from the mentors and the innovators is energizing and we’ve only just started – everyone’s shared desires are to build and to grow.”
Indeed, goals for Accelerate Okanagan and the Innovation UBC Hub are ambitious. Mr. Gopal is content, temporarily, with the $1.67-billion economic impact and likes the rate of growth in the Okanagan. However, he believes this region can double that number – and double it soon.
“Two years ago, we said that if we build this dream of technology and innovation, we could make a $5-billion impact,” says Mr. Gopal, proudly. “We’re happy with our growth, but we’re not there yet. And we have the people, of this I am absolutely certain, to manifest this innovation dream.”
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.