As the CEO of Accelerate Okanagan, Raghwa Gopal is responsible for ensuring new and growing businesses in the technology industry are provided with competence, connections and community.
Born and raised in Fiji, Gopal has been calling the Okanagan home since 1979. Following his brother’s move, he came to Canada and by some stroke of luck, found himself in Kelowna.
Upon his arrival, Gopal immediately starting looking for jobs within the tech sector. Although the sector is booming in Kelowna today, there were far less opportunities available 30 years ago. At that time, there was only one tech-based company, Vadim Software.
He facilitated a conversation with owner Mike Schleppe and the rest as they say, is history. While he achieved his initial goal of working for a tech company, not even Gopal himself could have predicted the tremendous success and growth that the entire industry has experienced since then.
Looking back, Gopal notes the path to success for a tech business was very challenging. “Unless you have a cluster, it becomes difficult for companies to grow. Attracting talent becomes a huge thing. If you’re the only game in town and trying to hire, it becomes really difficult to convince people to move to a new city, because if it doesn’t work out they’ll have to make another move.
” In addition, having one or two companies in town can create a competitive atmosphere, something that used to happen quite frequently. The great thing about the sector now is the vast amount of companies we have. There are over 633 tech companies in the Okanagan, an increase of 75 over the past two years and the number continues to grow.
“With the size and growth of the industry, we don’t have the same small town thinking and issues we used to have. Everyone’s open to sharing and genuinely wants each other to succeed.”
At the end of the day, he said people are stunned by the amount of high-tech collaboration that occurs here.
“People don’t expect to see companies so intertwined and genuinely trying to help each other. It’s a small community where everyone knows everyone, where people will go above and beyond to help you find the resources required to be successful.”
Gopal’s quick to note that one of the most significant changes when comparing 1979’s tech industry to today, is the demographics of people involved.
“Thirty years ago, the trend was for students to move away from the Okanagan after graduating high school. Nowadays, more and more students are getting their post-secondary education within the Okanagan and staying for the lifestyle after graduation.
“A large percentage of students now stay and get local jobs, which is great. It’s so cost-effective and creates a positive work environment when you’re bringing someone on at the beginning of their career and having them grow within the organization”. The age and education of people in the industry isn’t the only thing that’s evolved, the average tech participant’s general outlook on work and life balance has changed as well.
“You’re getting this age group of 22 to 35 year-olds, who are just geared differently. They’re socially conscious. They don’t want to drive everywhere, they want to live in their apartment and work downstairs. They love arts and culture. They’re creating a very vibrant community, which in turn, is drawing more young professionals to the Okanagan.”
From an outsider’s vantage point, the Okanagan holds tremendous opportunity compared to other regions across the country, says Gopal.
“I really feel like the industry itself is a sleeping giant. People are starting to notice and I believe it will be the number one sector in the next five to ten years. Ten years from now I truly believe the tech industry’s reach will double or triple to become the number one driver in the regional economy.”
With the growth and success of the Okanagan tech industry, the timing for the development of the OCI couldn’t be more perfect. Located in the heart of downtown Kelowna, the OCI will be a place for the tech community to gather, share, and collaborate, a melting pot for entrepreneurship and innovation.
When asked what impact the OCI will have on the local community and region, Gopal explained: “The OCI will be a massive catalyst that will fuel the continued growth in the tech sector. All the start-ups and different agencies in the building will create a perfect mix of innovation, resulting in exponential growth. The impact will be astronomical.”
Gopal believes that the OCI will help create a tech industry in the Okanagan unlike anything that’s been seen here before.
“People will find that if they need any help, they’ll be able to come to AO for programs and resources, then they’ll be able to work out of the OCI, it’s really going to be one of the best places in the world to start and grow a technology based business.
“Whether it’s having a place where they’re happy working, finding mentorship and guidance, or obtaining access to capital, I believe entrepreneurs won’t find these opportunities elsewhere like they will in the OCI.”
The OCI will put AO’s impact on innovation and the tech ecosystem at a different level, concluded Gopal.
“The community that it’s going to create will be invaluable and from my vantage point, the growth that we’re going to see over the next three to five years will be unprecedented. The OCI is the catalyst, which is why we can’t wait for it to be finished and move into our new space.”