Maintaining Momentum at the Vernon Innovation Centre

Born out of a grassroots movement to support entrepreneurism in the North Okanagan, The Vernon Innovation and Entrepreneur Workspace (The VIEW) has quickly become a focal point for innovation. The technology-driven centre supports entrepreneurs and businesses throughout the North Okanagan to connect, collaborate and commercialize their ideas. Along with several partners, Community Futures North Okanagan (CFNO) originally initiated the project, which is now operated by Accelerate Okanagan, a regional business accelerator supporting technology-driven businesses with resources and connections to grow.

The VIEW opened its doors in 2020 and in its first eight months, 35 high quality tech jobs were filled and 300+ businesses participated in training, mentorship, networking, and coaching. The facility has grown to include five full-time tenants, 12 ‘hot desk’ tenants, two private offices shared by small teams, 10 full-time desks, and space for meetings, events, and workshops.

COVID-19 Impacts and Challenges

With the impacts of COVID-19, although occupation restrictions became a barrier to the delivery of The VIEW’s services and programs, interest in virtual programming continued. “A waitlist of entrepreneurs wanting to access the VIEW developed and a shift was made to provide many services virtually,” said Leigha Horsfield, CFNO’s Executive Director. “It was challenging to meet the collaborative needs of clients as effectively as in-person interactions.”

Given the continued demand for access to The VIEW during the pandemic, CFNO successfully applied for a $26,000 grant from ETSI-BC to become fully operational.

The project aligned with ETSI-BC’s strategic pillar of Economic Development Capacity Building with a focus on new job creation. The VIEW is enabling local tech businesses to source talent and grow their businesses in the region. The project also demonstrates the value of regional collaboration between partners in government, public institutions, non-profits, and businesses. There is a strong focus to elevate and grow the region’s emerging tech sector while also promoting business resilience and growth for established businesses ready to expand.

The ETSI-BC funding was used to bridge operational costs from August 2021 to February 2022. Jessica Wicks, the North Okanagan Community Lead for Accelerate Okanagan at The VIEW, coordinated day-to-day operations, liaised with tenants and clients, and connected clients with community members and other resources across the region.

“With in-person activities limited by COVID-19, we stepped up our grassroots outreach that has characterized The VIEW from the beginning,” said Wicks. “We did more one-to-one communication and relationship-building in the community and ramped up our virtual training and meet ups.”

Exceeding Targets and Expectations

By the end of February 2022, The VIEW reached several milestones including hosting six virtual Start-Up Coffee events where diverse members of the community interested in innovation and entrepreneurship meet and collaborate. Approximately 400 people took advantage of training programs focused on entrepreneurship, leadership, business recovery, and growth and skills training – greatly exceeding the target of 100 participants. Networking sessions for entrepreneurial youth were hosted, and more are being planned.

“We still have a wait list of people who want to access space at The VIEW and some early users have outgrown our facility and have gone on to create and fill jobs directly in the community,” said Horsfield. “The funding from ETSI-BC was absolutely key to the success of the project during a difficult time, supporting the space to become an economic driver that spurs innovation and creativity throughout the region.” 

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