Techstars global accelerator program has chosen Okanagan region and Accelerate Okanagan to participate in its worldwide community pilot project.
The region in British Columbia was the only Canadian applicant selected for the Techstars pilot that will develop a community roadmap for the tech startup ecosystem. Only five regions around the world were selected for the project.
Chris Heivly, the accelerator’s entrepreneur in residence, is currently in Okanagan until Sept. 5 meeting and interviewing startup founders in Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton—the first phase in a four-step process.
While other Canadian cities have established a niche within the tech ecosystem—Waterloo for quantum computing and Toronto for fintech and AI—Okanagan has a different and perhaps surprising strength: community-building.
“The Okanagan is fighting way above its playing weight. They have a robust and mature startup ecosystem compared to the size of the overall population,” said Heivly. The co-founder of MapQuest and accelerator The Startup Factory, Heivly invests in early-stage companies and even leads them in chief positions.
“I have been to the Okanagan a number of times over a year and a half period but this will be a deeper dive and a chance to really connect with what makes this community, the people,” he said.
During Heivly’s first visit, Techstars will also conduct a community assessment. Based on the interviews and assessments, the global accelerator will team up with the local Accelerate Okanagan to create a three, six and 12-month community roadmap. Techstars also supports the implementation of the plan.
“We are confident that Chris Heivly’s insight will be valuable to us as our tech community continues to grow,” said Raghwa Gopal, CEO of Accelerate Okanagan. “The fact that we were chosen out of 20 applicants as one of five pilot locations is a testament to the vibrancy of our tech community.”
Since its launch, 165 companies have graduated from Accelerate Okanagan, creating 456 jobs and collectively generating $40.5 million in revenue. The region’s tech sector is also the fastest growing and currently worth $1.3 billion, up 30 per cent since 2013, according to Accelerate Okanagan’s most recent Economic Impact Study.
The study found that Okanagan’s tech sector employs more than 7,600 workers—and more than half are under the age of 35.