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Kelowna  

Local tech celebrated

The Okanagan's $1.3-billion tech industry was celebrated Wednesday, on the heels of a new report which shows a 30 per cent growth in revenue in the region's industry over the last two years.

A press conference was held Wednesday at Accelerate Okanagan, a local technology startup “accelerator,” that has been credited, in part, for the leaps and bounds the industry has taken in recent years.

“We've been able to work with the executives in residence here, seasoned professionals who've been there and done that, who've been able to help us ... to find resources and to answer some of the hard questions of what do you do as you're growing,” said Karen Olsson, COO of Two Hat Security, a local startup company that is working to remove bullying from the internet.

Raghwa Gopal, CEO of Accelerate Okanagan, says they've helped at least 350 startup companies over the six years the non-profit has been around.

According to the Economic Impact of the Okanagan Tech Sector: 2015 Edition, the tech industry contributed $1.3 billion to the local economy in 2015, an increase of over $300 million from 2013.

While some startups have moved from the Okanagan, citing a lack of local investors, Olsson says Two Hat hasn't encountered that problem.

“Our investor loves coming here,” she said. “We took all Canadian investment, even though we had offers from the U.S., we decided to keep it in Canada ... we had no issue, it was never a problem.

“We hear it all the time, 'Oh you need to be outside Kelowna, or B.C., or Canada, but I don't believe that, we've been able to do it.”

Despite Two Hat's success, Gopal did acknowledge that investment opportunities is one of the challenges small startup companies face in the Okanagan.

“Vancouver has about 25 VC (Venture Capital) firms, we don't have any,” Gopal said. “A company can raise $100,000 to $200,000 through family and friends and some angel investors, but when they need the $500,000 to $2 million, there's nothing right now.”

Atrium Ventures Inc. has recently announced a $5 million investment fund in the Okanagan, that Gopal says will help the current investor shortage.

He says the other challenge the tech sector faces in the Okanagan is a talent shortage.

“Our job board constantly runs between 100 and 200 openings which means there's a huge shortage of people,” Gopal said.

UBC Okanagan and Okanagan College, both of which had representatives at Wednesday's conference, are looking to increase the talent pool of skilled tech workers in the area.

According to the recently released report, the tech sector in the Okanagan is an exciting industry to be a part of.

“You feel like you're part of a renaissance, you see the changes right in front of your eyes,” Olsson said.

And Gopal is confident the industry will surpass that 30 per cent growth, when they release their next report in two years.



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