Woman to Watch: Judy Bishop

The climate in Kelowna, mixing start-up companies with venture capital, will expand high-tech development in the Okanagan.

Judy Bishop

Judy Bishop’s business career has been about riding waves of change in the high-tech industry.

And as she has immersed her past business acumen and experience into Kelowna’s burgeoning high-tech sector, she sees the signs of another big wave about to sweep across the Okanagan.

Bishop says the ecosystem developing in Kelowna, mixing start-up companies with the venture investment and company building skills of long-time tech industry players seeking the Okanagan lifestyle, will further enhance that foundation to meet the demands of an expanding industry.

“I don’t think we will recognize the change that will have occurred in this industry 10 years from now. There is a huge wow factor that is going to come into play here,” Bishop said.

A big part of that wow factor, she says, will be the opening of the Okanagan Centre for Innovation now under construction in downtown Kelowna, which she says will be a huge symbol of the impact the high-tech world is making here,  drawing together start-up companies, investors and company development knowledge.

In B.C., she says, there are 550 high-tech companies and 7,000 people working in high-tech industries across the Okanagan. “In our province, technology employs more people than oil and gas, mining and forestry combined. But the average person is probably not aware of that.”

Bishop said even she was caught off guard when she began looking into the prospect of living in Kelowna and where she would fit in the local business community.

“I thought Kelowna was a technology backwater initially, and I admit that was my Vancouver chauvinism. Now I’m embarrassed that I ever let myself think that way.

“As I gained more insight into what is happening here, it was shocking to me how so few people outside the Okanagan understand the tiny tidal wave of successful companies that are already operating here. There is no question in my mind many of these companies can become world-class entities.”

She knows what she’s talking about, having been involved at senior corporate management levels of the corporate tech industry growth dating back to the 1980s.

“I think the birthing rate of new companies here in the Okanagan, and getting them to toddlerhood has been great, but what has been missing is having the ecosystem to get them to later adolescence or adulthood,” she said.

“But there are people like me who are moving here, choosing to want to live here because of all the Okanagan has to offer, who can lend their experience and investment to support the further development of that ecosystem.”

While she still has a place in Vancouver,  Bishop said she now considers herself a full-time Kelowna resident—”even my plants have made the move here”—where among other things she serves as an executive in residence advisor for Accelerate Okanagan.

Bishop acknowledges herself as a highly motivated “A type personality” who loves the business world, but is someone with an eclectic list of outside interests—orchid breeder, wine connoisseur, freelance photojournalist, jam-maker, electric bass player in a rock band. And she can fly a plane.

Where does she find the time for all that? “I’m organized, I don’t watch TV and I don’t have kids so I have lots of time to do these things. I’m the kind of person that needs new information pounding through my head all the time or I get bored.“

But still, getting into business was never her original intention as a career. Bishop was born in a northern Ontario community, to a francophone family who spoke very little English. “My parents realized I couldn’t survive in an English-speaking school so they shipped me off to live with my older sister in Quebec where I could attend a French-speaking high school,” she said.

Not particularly thrilled with the climate of Quebec, Bishop set her sights on Vancouver, studying biochemistry at UBC with the idea of going to medical school.

“I changed my mind at the last minute. I had received, and still have to this day, my acceptance letter to med school from UBC, but I realized at that moment that being a doctor was doing what my father wanted me to do, but that I really wanted to do something different with my life,” she said.

That “something different” led her to apply for a senior management position with a high-tech start-up company.

Ever since, Bishop says her business career has coincided with the ups and downs of the high-tech world.

Today, Bishop sees herself as bringing two distinct skills to the table from her past business experience: That of being a deeply trained negotiator and deal structurer, as well as being an experienced corporate board director.

“It’s easier than ever to start a company anywhere in the world,” she said. “Money has no country. It goes where opportunity exists for it to go to work.”



Crowe MacKay’s Women to Watch program is a weekly feature that profiles remarkable women in our community. This feature series is a joint initiative between Crowe MacKay, the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce and the Kelowna Capital News. To nominate the exceptional woman in your life, email womentowatch@kelownachamber.org.

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