Growing city infrastructure and entrepreneur resources networks are bringing more entrepreneurs to the Okanagan Valley and turning startups into fully established businesses.
Kelowna’s continued growth and thriving small business community has prompted the municipality and the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission to expand offerings and initiatives that they say will enable even more entrepreneurs to succeed.
“Small business really is the lifeblood of our local economy,” says Mayor Colin Basran. “It may sound nice to attract large employers, but in reality, Kelowna is going to succeed by attracting small businesses and helping them grow into larger businesses.”
Basran says the City of Kelowna is working hard to build Kelowna into a safe, vibrant community with world-class amenities that will entice more entrepreneurs to call the city home.
With today’s modern work-from-anywhere economy, he says, most entrepreneurs place quality of life at the top of their list of desired qualities in a community.
“What I like about our growing tech sector is that it’s attracting young people to our community and creating good jobs for them,” Basran said.
“In the past, young people have had to go elsewhere for work. Our airport is also attracting a number of small businesses. It’s the tenth busiest airport in Canada, but we’re nowhere near the tenth largest city. The airport gives easy access to markets.”
COEDC manager Corie Griffiths says that having local resources to support entrepreneurs is critical to creating more success stories like that of Club Penguin.
“We tend to talk a lot about Disney Interactive,” Griffiths said.
“It started with Club Penguin, which had three cofounders.
“It now houses 350 staff, and those three cofounders are now starting multiple businesses and reinvesting into the local economy. There are other examples of companies in other sectors that spin off into other companies, as well. (That’s why) it’s important to mention succession planning.”
Succession planning is one area where Kelowna’s existing small businesses fall short. A full 10 per cent of existing business owners in the Central Okanagan plan to leave their businesses within the next five years, Griffiths says, and the vast majority of them do not have an exit strategy.
But it’s not just succession that catches small business owners by surprise. Griffiths says that many local small businesses don’t have a business plan.
“(Creating a business plan) is the number one piece of advice we give to small businesses, and also one of their biggest challenges.”
But with easy access to business planners and other resources, the COEDC and the City of Kelowna hope to do away with this and other problems that befall small businesses. Mayor Basran notes that in the past, institutional and infrastructure barriers have been a challenge for entrepreneurs. But now, the city is taking steps to change that.
“We hired a Director of Business and Entrepreneurial Development, so we can offer first-class assistance to anyone looking to set up a business,”Basran said.
“We can help them access whatever services they may need to start a business. We have a mobile business license that is good for multiple municipalities in our region. We’re also working on a dark fibre strategy to allow businesses to send and receive massive amounts of data.”
Griffiths and Basran hope all this can attract more small businesses to the Okanagan and continue to foster a thriving economy built on the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.