Kelowna techies talking mentorship

A program out of MIT aims to link big fish with floundering startups

  • Mar. 18, 2011 6:00 p.m.

If British Columbia is going to expand its tech sector, it’s obvious a boost from some pretty heavy hitters is needed.

What’s likely less obvious is the latest theory to provide that boost, which considers building the sector on a one-on-one basis, a single company at a time.

Thursday afternoon, the newly amalgamated Okanagan Science and Technology Council (OSTEC) and Okanagan Research & Innovation Centre (ORIC)—now Accelerate Okanagan—announced just such a venture with the BCIC Mentor Program.

“Today tech makes up 4 per cent of the GDP (in B.C.), but long-term we would like to double that,” said Paulin Laberge, BCIC entrepreneur-in-residence.

During the dot-com bubble, Paulin pointed out the sector was already twice the size it is today, saying he’s hoping for a return to a more information-based economy as it does not tax natural resources, offers good return for a small investment and provides higher paying jobs.

The BCIC program launched in Vancouver two months ago. It offers a structured approach to building a company taught to program leaders through MIT.

Laberge’s job is to link successful tech mentors with entrepreneurs just launching their business—a role he says should provide more stability for the B.C. economy in the future.

“Rather than cutting down trees and pulling out fish why don’t we just use our brains?” he asked, during a pitch session for media aimed at attracting mentors to the program.

After the January launch in Vancouver, BCIC was able to drawn in 100 companies. In the Okanagan, they’re hoping to partner 25 companies, but said the trick to starting the venture is to attract quality mentors.

“I think we’ll see a good number of people step up,” said Jeff Keen, AO program manager. “This area actually has a lot of people who have been very successful in the sector.”

Finding mentors comes with strings. The mentors need to have run multi-million dollar companies, need to have roughly two days a week worth of hours to dedicate per month and can’t be in it for themselves.

“We’re really looking for people who don’t have any hidden agendas,” said Martin Yuill, ORIC director.

The mentors sign confidentiality contracts and are barred from investing in the companies they are mentoring to ensure there is a free flow of information and the up-and-comers get the full benefit of the process.

“It’s as much work as you want to take on,” said Phil Holland, a mentor up from Vancouver who developed CIRCA Communications, the predecessor to Polycom, a digital telecommunication company.

Holland said his efforts as a mentor are the next step for him as he’s gone from developing one company, to helping shape the future of the sector for the entire region.

“It’s just a bigger game,” he said.

As part of the mentorship, companies are put through the Acetech Validation Program to figure out whether their idea will fly before investors ever come on board.

According to Laberge, less than five per cent of the startups come out of academia, with 30 per cent stemming from those trying transition from a service-based company to a product and the rest largely comprised of individuals who have had a great idea the company they’re currently working for does not want to pursue.

Just Posted

Vancouver artist rocks to fight opioid crisis

Jeremy Allingham is set to bring his guitar-focused rock ‘n roll to Kelowna April 6, Vernon June 9

World Down Syndrome Day: The up side of Down

A Kelowna family’s journey with Down Syndrome: ‘There is tremendous beauty in these kids’

Kelowna cops crack down on drivers using cell phones

Drivers caught talking or texting behind the wheel now face a fine totalling $543

Okanagan Falls winery showing international photo project

Liquidity Wines will be sole Canadian show of National Geographic’s Photo Ark

West Kelowna mayor meets finance minister to protest speculation tax

Doug Findlater presents Carole James with booklet of info outlining tax’s impact on his city

Crook’s Corner

Arts and entertainment highlights this week across the Okanagan

B.C. Scientists witness first-ever documented killer whale infanticide

“It’s horrifying and fascinating at the same time.”

Lawyer for one suspect in beating of man with autism says he’s not guilty

Ronjot Singh Dhami will turn himself in, lawyer said

Liberals awarded $100,000 contract to man at centre of Facebook data controversy

Christopher Wylie says his voter-profiling company collected private information from 50 million Facebook users

Facebook’s Zuckerberg admits mistakes in privacy scandal

Zuckerberg admits to privacy scandal involving a Trump-connected data-mining firm, but no apology

Rockets’ Foote a finalist for top WHL D-man

Cal Foote named the Western Conference top defenseman; Foote and Dube named all-stars

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

UPDATE: Former B.C. city councillor sentenced nine months for sexual assault

Dave Murray, convicted this past fall, hired a private investigator to intrude on the victim’s life.

Shots fired in Kamloops

Kamloops RCMP are investigating a report of shots fired and a possible explosion at a trailer court

Most Read