The Okanagan Centre for Innovation is open for business and just about everyone is singing its praises.
“When the city decided to make to make this prime, downtown real estate available to the Kelowna Sustainable Innovation group, we said we didn’t want just another office building, and today we are not disappointed,” said Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran. “Inside and out this building features the kind of innovations you’d expect in a leading edge technology incubator.”
The six-storey, 9,728 square-metre state-of-the-art centre is designed to help Canada’s most “innovative, creative and entrepreneurial technology community” thrive in what’s become the fastest growing tech hub in Canada.
Raghwa Gopal, the CEO of Accelerate Okanagan, said the economic impact of the industry in the Okanagan is currently $1.3 billion, which reflects growth of 80 per cent.
And it’s not just dollars that tech is producing. There are 680 tech companies in the Okanagan, employing 7,600 people. Around 52 per cent of those people are under the age of 35.
“The tech industry is changing the whole demographic of the city,” he said. “We are bringing in a whole new young generation.”
The second floor will house Accelerate Okanagan, which aims to nurture that young generation of entrepreneurs. It was paid for by with $7 million from the provincial government through its Crown agency, BC Innovation Council.
That floor, Gopal said, is perfect for up and coming techies. It’s set up in a “funky way,” he said, with foosball tables, table tennis and lounging chairs. Below, on the first floor, there’s a theatre, a living wall and an art wall.
While the amenities are impressive, it’s something more human that will make the building work.
“If you’re doing stuff from your basement you’re very isolated,” said Gopal. “When you get an opportunity to come out and hang out and interface with like minded people, there are a lot of benefits. We also have programs and mentorship as well.”
The building is currently 90 per cent occupied and will house everything from two-person start-ups to large-scale technology and innovation firms with the goal of fostering collaboration and innovation between tenants.
In additon to the provincial and municipal governments chipping in, the Government of Canada has provided $3.4 million for tenant improvements, equipment and the operation of the second floor incubation space and main floor presentation theatre.
The Government’s Innovation Agenda aims to make Canada a global centre for innovation.
“Canadian entrepreneurs are working hard to bring their innovative products and services to market. That is why we are proud to support the Okanagan Centre for Innovation as it provides tech start-ups with access to workspace, funding, and mentorship,” said Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification Canada.
The Okanagan Centre for Innovation is a joint venture between the governments of Canada and British Columbia, BC Innovation Council, City of Kelowna and Kelowna Sustainable Innovation Group Limited Partnership.