South Okanagan Incubator starts cooking

A dream stretching back nearly a decade was realized last week when Accelerate Okanagan opened the doors on the Penticton Innovation Centre.

Jeff Keen

Jeff Keen

A dream stretching back nearly a decade was realized last week when Accelerate Okanagan opened the doors on the Penticton Innovation Centre.

The dream started with the Okanagan Research and Innovation Centre back in 2005. The idea was to create a technology incubator that would bring together resources and mentorship that would help tech entrepreneurs establish and develop their products.

That first tech incubator was based in the Dominion Radio-Astrophysical Observatory at White Lake. Now, Accelerate Okanagan (AO), the successor to ORIC, has established a full-fledged incubator in one of the most technologically advanced buildings in the world, the Centre of Excellence at Okanagan College’s Penticton Campus.

“We’re really excited to be in the South Okanagan and have a presence here, especially in this incredible building,” said Jeff Keen, the new CEO of AO, speaking at the opening last Friday, as he introduced the venture advisors and team that would be working with tech companies in the incubator.

“All the programs, services, activities, events and resources that we have been offering out of our Kelowna location will now be available out of the Penticton Innovation Centre,” said Keen.

Accelerate Okanagan arose from the 2010 merger of two previous organizations, ORIC and OSTC, the Okanagan Science and Technology Council.

The focus of the group shifted to Kelowna and the Central Okanagan, but now that the facilities are ready at the Centre of Excellence, Keen said they are ready to get to work in this region.

“We have been having a bit of a slow ramp up period over the last few months. We’ve got our full venture advisor team now and our new community manager starting,” said Keen. “You should start to see a lot more activity and engagement with the local community here in the South Okanagan.”

The Innovation Centre already has three tech company tenants, selected to be part of the new entrepreneur@AO development program: Cadent Computing Inc., Factor 9 Sports Inc. and MG Electronics.

“We’ve got three tenants now and are looking for more. Hopefully we can shake the trees down here in the tech community and maybe encourage some people that may be working out of their basement or might be thinking about starting a company to come and talk to us about the services that we have that can help them do that,” said Keen.

Peter Haubrich, founder of ORIC, is happy to see the Innovation Centre going into operation. It was, he said, part of the original plan for the Centre of Excellence when the idea was first developed in 2009.

“We had very early meetings with the college when everything was still secret. They asked me if I would like to join the team and think about an incubator,” said Haubrich, adding that it takes time to get an incubator up to full speed.

“Of course it is always difficult to get started. You have to do a lot of marketing and getting the word out, but I think what Accelerate Okanagan is offering to entrepreneurs is the maximum package,” said Haubrich. “I think the South Okanagan needs a boost. There is a lot of interest and this only can go up.”

“It’s been a very busy and exciting 17 months,” said Keen. “We owe Peter a big debt of gratitude for his vision of pushing the technology sector forward.”

Andrew Greer, the community manager who will be working out of the Penticton Centre, should start work in mid-May. He will be joining AO after filling a similar position with LaunchLab in Ontario.

You meet people who are doing wonderful things, and you talk to them and they have just have no idea what services are out there to help them,” said Greer.

Keen explains that Greer will begin working with stakeholders to find out how they can work together to grow the tech sector. “We’re looking to get really engaged with the tech sector in this region,” said Keen.

“Our mission is to increase the number of  technology companies that start and grow in the Okanagan Valley.”