Pictured here is the Kootenay contingent at the 2019 #BCTECH Summit in Vancouver. Photo submitted

OPINION: Kootenay tech sector is on the rise and everyone is noticing

Community comment by Raghwa Gopal

A person’s attention is a very valuable commodity. It’s rare to have it, you aren’t sure how long it will last, and once you’ve lost it, there’s a chance you’ll never get it back.

So, when a regional community — that’s home to just 3.1 per cent of the provincial population — is drawing the attention of entrepreneurs, journalists, and investors from across the province, there’s probably a bit more than meets the eye.

Over the last 18 months, the Kootenay tech sector has been on the rise. Trail’s Advanced Biocarbon 3-D teamed up with Selkirk College to secure a $300,000 Ignite award to accelerate the commercialization of their breakthrough biotech research project. Rossland’s Thoughtexchange raised $20 million through private equity and venture capital investment.

Traction on Demand, a Burnaby-based company that employs more than 500 people, decided to open up an office in Nelson. And at the most recent #BCTECHSummit, five top Kootenay tech companies had an opportunity to showcase their work in front of nearly 5,000 people.

Moving forward, the region’s strong natural resource sector provides a big opportunity for tech companies to move their innovation into industry. Mining and forestry companies make up some of the largest employers in the area and represent some of the most willing tech adopters in the entire province. Teck Resources is already using virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) solutions to make their operations safer and more efficient, while Kalesnikoff recently invested $35 million into a new tech-oriented mass timber facility in South Slocan.

All industries are adopting tech at increasing rates, and many of these industry leaders have an established presence in the Kootenays. For local companies that are developing innovative solutions using IoT, VR/AR, blockchain, cleantech — you name it — an incredible opportunity exists to not only build a successful business in the Kootenays, but gain direct access to support, talent, and customers right in your own backyard.

As the president and CEO of Innovate BC — the crown agency that connects B.C. innovators to funding, resources, and support — I’ve experienced firsthand the wave of tech and innovation that’s sweeping across the Kootenays. We’re proud to be a primary funder of both the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (KAST) and the MIDAS Fab Lab. These institutions have been a strong catalyst for the region’s tech sector, providing funding, mentorship, and education to help entrepreneurs start companies, find customers, and attract investment. Nearly every company, including the sector’s biggest employers, have been influenced by the support of KAST and MIDAS.

Our provincial tech sector is growing year over year and there’s never been a bigger demand for innovative ideas, companies, and solutions than there is right now. It’s time for regional communities, like the Kootenays, to take centre stage and show the world the power, potential, and possibilities of B.C. innovation.

Raghwa Gopal is the CEO of Innovate BC.

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