Building a vibrant startup community in Kamloops
Kamloops Innovation was front-and-centre at the recent Startup Canada Awards ceremony in Vancouver. The BC Acceleration Network partner took home the 2015 Entrepreneur Support award. The accolade does more than bring greater awareness to the growing support structure for tech firms in Kamloops. It helps showcase the depth and diversity of the innovation in the region, according to Dr. Lincoln Smith, Executive Director of Kamloops Innovation. “People from outside our region are often surprised at the level of sophistication and size of the tech sector that’s being developed here,” he says.
BCIC recently spoke with Dr. Smith about the region’s entrepreneurial evolution, leading innovators and common attributes of the top tech companies.
How has the Kamloops tech scene changed over the past five years?
There’s always been a tech sector in our region, but in the past it was more fragmented. The successful tech companies in Kamloops weren’t necessarily working with or aware of the other successful firms. Today there’s a much stronger awareness of where we’re headed and a shared vision for tech development in our region. There’s a Startup Community being cultivated, and it’s clear that Kamloops is headed in a positive direction.
The strong partnership between Thompson Rivers University and Kamloops Innovation has also been a development that is producing great results. Students are starting companies, graduating, and hiring fellow students into exciting jobs in our region. Our growth is such that we’re attracting technology professionals and founders to the interior from other regions in Canada.
What is spurring this growth and evolution?
Kamloops has always been an entrepreneurial city. There is a long history of the self-employed and entrepreneurs running companies here. I am seeing a surge in tech startups as technology becomes more ingrained in everything we do. What may have been traditional resource industries in the past, now have a great deal of technology woven through them.
Resource firms, many of them in the interior, are the companies that built the province—and we have ready access to them here. Manufacturers are here. Head offices are here. Kamloops tech firms are taking advantage of that proximity. Startups serving these companies have a real advantage in being situated in Kamloops.
What are some of the other advantages of building a tech firm in Kamloops?
Beyond access to BC’s resource sector customers, we have a great asset in Thompson Rivers University. TRU is a research university that graduates 2,500 highly trained students every year in the region. That’s a extremely valuable supply of talent and ideas for someone looking to start or grow a company in our region. The university also provides research and development support.
Another advantage of starting a tech company in Kamloops is the lower cost. Startups need to keep an eye on their burn rate, which is their negative cash flow. If their burn rate can be lowered, their runway is extended. We’re only a four-hour drive and half-hour flight from Vancouver. Wecan access what we need from the larger city centre, but we can do it in a place where it’s less expensive to have your day-to-day operation. It is important to realize that lowering your expenses does not come at the cost of reduced startup support or community – if anything both are intensified in a smaller tech centre.
Can you talk about the challenges of growing a tech firm in Kamloops?
A challenge for Kamloops and other smaller centres in the province is awareness of what is being achieved here. I have a lot of confidence that any company can be started and managed from Kamloops, but the key is ensuring everyone knows what’s possible. You don’t need to be in the largest metropolis; you can be entrepreneurial and access the right resources no matter where you are. There are resources and advantages that exist only here and are not available in larger centres. Getting this knowledge out is a challenge, but as our companies grow and succeed, more attention will be given to these advantages.
Tell me about some of your leading innovators.
HummingBird Drones is a great story of two students taking advantage of entrepreneurial resources in the province. They participated in the TRU Generator, undertook the New Ventures BC online Market Validation Training and enrolled in the Venture Acceleration Program (VAP) at Kamloops Innovation. From there, they rapidly grew their company and product, and over the course of the summer did nearly $50,000 in contracts with the province.
There are many other exciting companies including:
- Lightship, a VAP company that produces an advanced productivity and safety application for worksites.
- Truvian Labs helps municipalities track and visualize infrastructure, streamline data collection, simplify asset management and increase public engagement.
- Sewllkwe Tracking Solutions uses technology to help communities manage and understand their water and waste water systems through improved data collection and analysis.
iTel Networks, a firm that provides data, voice and cloud services to businesses, is an anchor tenant in our building that has been growing rapidly. It’s the kind of story that proves you can build great companies in Kamloops.
Beyond Kamloops Innovation, where else do companies go for resources or support?
Kamloops Innovation is a hub for entrepreneurial support. If somebody doesn’t quite fit in our programs, we connect them with other municipal, provincial or federal support bodies. Futurpreneur is one example of another organization that we work with to help young people in Canada start a business.
We also leverage the BC Acceleration Network that gives us access to many seasoned entrepreneurs and experts. We never hesitate to reach out to that network if we need specific expertise that we don’t have here.
What are the common attributes of successful VAP companies?
There are many attributes that entrepreneurs can benefit from, but in my opinion, there are three that they must have to be successful. The first is domain knowledge. An entrepreneur must be extremely familiar with the industry they are selling into and the problem or pain they are solving. Some individuals can pick this knowledge up fast, but it is a requirement for success.
The next attribute is the ability to be coached and mentored. If you think you know it all, then you obviously don’t. Success is found through listening to other people’s experiences, avoiding their mistakes and welcoming discussion on your own business ideas.
Last, they must be driven. Entrepreneurship is not easy; it’s extremely difficult. The people who aren’t passionate about what they are doing will quickly find themselves looking for something easier to do.
What’s your vision for the future of tech in Kamloops?
We see Kamloops becoming a globally recognized Startup Community. In the last three years, we’ve seen the community grow rapidly, companies helping and learning from one another and knowledge being funnelled back in to the community.
In the next five years, you will see more of those activities, but at an increasing pace. Soon, technology companies selling into BC’s resource industries will be looking to Kamloops to set up operations or access programs and our networks in this sector. Companies looking for innovation in these industries will be looking to Kamloops as we export our products globally.
Learn more about technology in British Columbia at the #BCTECH Summit 2016 – January 18 + 19, 2016.
“#BCTECH: A provincial view” profiles BC Acceleration Network partners who are driving growth of the tech sector across the province. Tech is booming in BC – but in very different ways in different regions. Read about the people who are building businesses, creating jobs and embracing innovation in our spotlight series.