I attended the #BCTECHSummit this week, but it could have easily been called the BC ‘Innovation’ Conference. The second annual summit was held in Vancouver, March 14-15.
In a keynote address by BC Premier, Christy Clark announced plans to expand a tax credit aimed at innovation in the entertainment sector that specialized in augmented reality. Indeed, virtual reality in all its forms was in the forefront of the summit that was attended by 5000 people on the first day. From medical imaging to real estate architectural visualization, every industry was represented at the 2-day event. Many of the participant booths had a ‘hiring’ sign on their desks echoing what Bill Tam, head of the BC Technology Industry Association said that augmented reality is a budding field and the province needed to make the “necessary investments to get ahead of the pack early.”
What struck me was the amount of young people not only attending, but participating as well. I spoke to Lance Balcom, Executive Director of the Pacific Youth Robotics Society (PYRS) while teams of high school kids readied their bespoke robots for competitions at the Summit. Not only were they building complex machines that could do a myriad of tasks, but they were also having fun. Balcom said that “the PYRS is not just about building robots, it’s a collaborative learning environment that will foster interest in technology” as these high schoolers find their way in school and work.
What struck me was the variety of tech companies in attendance. One comes to expect the usual fintech and product-based companies leading the way at these events, but some of the big winners were in the agriculture sector. One company, BioEnterprise is essentially an accelerator for agri-bio based businesses. Headquartered in Ontario, this national NGO has three companies they are working with in BC and 20 companies nationally. Like most accelerators, they provide coaching, investment training, advisory services and networking.
One of BioEnterprises’ clients, Commissary Connect is probably the most innovative ‘incubator’ I’ve ever seen. By setting up commercial kitchens in industrial areas they provide a network of commercial kitchens designed and built to provide the highest level of success for local food producer and vendor startups.
Sarb Mund, the founder and CEO, told me “each kitchen is built as a shared resource that provides structure and support for a newly established food business. With large brightly lit workspaces, brand new equipment, and ample cold and dry storage Commissary Connect kitchens strive to provide the best work environments for the most reasonable rental rates.”
With state-of-the-art software each kitchen is able to bill per use at each of its facilities and allow drop-ins at the closest available kitchen for travelling caterers and vendors. With the added services of in-house bookkeeping and accounting, sales strategy sessions and networking opportunities; the CommissaryConnect.com model is the perfect incubator for the food industry whether the business is prototyping food products or giving cooking lessons. In one location there is a small restaurant and retail space.
There was a strong government presence at the summit, from agricultural exporting personnel to professional internship facilitators like Mitacs. Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that has designed and delivered research and training programs to over 10,000 interns in Canada over the past 15 years. How it works is a student and supervising professor with a project applies to Mitacs and upon approval the project is funded by up to $15,000 per four-month internship. Dr. Allison Brennan, Business Development at Mitacs, said “Mitacs was initially setup to support applied and industrial research in mathematical sciences and associated disciplines but has expanded in response to industrial and university needs.“
BC Innovation Council’s TECH Talks were run both days sharing stories of technology transformations and innovation. The range of presentations was as diverse as the participating companies from a lengthy discussion on Clean Technologies to Connected Precision Healthcare that, in their terms, is “the next frontier.” Of course, Fintech was strongly represented and a discussion of what blockchain means to the global economy by Wiliam Mougayar author of The Business Blockchain was a good reminder of things to come.
One of the participants I was pleasantly surprised with was IBM. Of course, we are all familiar with IBM but some programs and partnerships they are into were surprising to me. Dino Trevisani, President of IBM Canada and Arlene Dickinson, CEO of District Ventures announced a new innovation accelerator to help entrepreneurs, startups and enterprise to solve business challenges. Partnered in Calgary this venture will help companies “incubate and innovate ideas more rapidly, moving their business plans to commercialization.”
Ms. Dickinson, familiar to Canadians as a dragon on the Dragon’s Den, said “Entrepreneurialism isn’t reserved for start-ups. It should be embraced by companies large and small, by innovators in the smallest of garages to the most sophisticated of laboratories and boardrooms.”
“This Innovation Space is just one more example of IBM’s continued investment in Canadian innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Dino Trevisani, president of IBM Canada. Indeed, IBM is one of Canada’s top 10 private R&D funders. In 2016, they provided more than $478MM to Canadian research activities.
IBM (IBM) showed they knew their market when they presented their Global Entrepreneur Program (GEP) at the show. With this program, qualified startups can receive up to $120k ($10k per month) in BlueMix iCloud services plus mentoring, go-to-market support discounts and other technical services. Considering the massive bandwidth these VR developers are using GEP sounds like a logical mix for the startup and IBM. With IBM’s commitment to startups through IBM’s SmartCamp, the cognitive learning tool Watson and IBM’s Learning Lab of curated online learning courses, building and scaling businesses has never been easier.
The BCTECHSummit was successful on many levels mainly through the government’s commitment to the tech sector. By 2020, investment will be increased by up to $100MM. BC knows that to stay competitive and a leader in the tech industry the strategy needs to grow, innovate and adapt. Amrik Virk, Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizen’s Services said that the $100MM was a response to the tech sector’s cry three years ago that their main concern was access to cash. Virk also stated “today the priority is talent and we are making sure that British Columbians are ready to take advantage of this growing industry by enhancing training in BC.”
The government has also committed to expand the eligibility for the Interactive Digital Media Tax Credit to include augmented and virtual reality products, increase BC’s trade presence in Silicon Valley and Seattle and to continue work on the Cascadia Corridor with Washington State.
I’m looking forward to the next big tech conference on Vancouver’s horizon – Traction! Daniel Saks, Co-founder and CEO, AppDirect said “Traction is THE conference to supercharge your business by learning from thought-leaders of the fastest growing companies in the world!”
Join us there May 31- June 2, 2017. If BCTECH 2017 was an indication, Traction will be incredible!