High tech technology in Vernon BC - Startup Vernon

The story so far: the tech community in Vernon

When I arrived in Vernon, BC in 2012, my biggest concern was that there wouldn’t be a tech community to connect with.

I’d been working as a Product Manager for an Edmonton-based software company which was located in the heart of Edmonton’s burgeoning startup community. Down the block from our office was Startup Edmonton: a “community hub for hackers, artists + entrepreneurs.” There were meet-ups every day (for everything from Ruby on Rails to sold out Demo Camps). And, the scene had already birthed new startups like Jobber and Granify. It was an exciting place to be.

vernon sky

I was leaving all of that excitement for Vernon, which was an amazing place to live, but seemed to have little in terms of tech community.

One of the first people I met was Kevin Poole. Kevin works for Vernon Economic Development, and was interested in tech. He did a great job of welcoming me to the city, and introduced me to Kazia Mullin.

Kazia and I were interested in trying to build the local tech community. We wondered if there were other people like us. We started emailing anyone we could find that seemed connected to tech. What we found surprised us: world-class software developers, designers, creatives, and business people living right in Vernon (most of whom were working remotely, from their homes).

The biggest need was for a way to connect all these folks: they were all working from home, but didn’t know each other.

Justin Jackson on Huffington Post Live TV talking about working remote from Vernon, BC

Startup Vernon was really a response to that: we started putting on local events (Geek Beers, a Remote Work panel, and a series of programming workshops), blogging, and even did a TV appearance.

Geek Beers in particular became a central meeting place for local tech people. What started as a small group of 5 has grown to large gatherings of 20-25 people.


Effects on the community

In the last year, this momentum has begun to bear fruit. I began to receive emails like this, from tech people in the UK, USA, and Canada, interested in moving to Vernon:

Email from people moving to Vernon BC

People in tech started hearing that Vernon was a good place to be!

We’ve also started to see projects, companies and partnerships birthed out of the Startup Vernon community. Here are a few examples:

  • Cowork Vernon: a private coworking space for tech consultants, located on 3000-30th Street. coworkvernon.com
  • Network Effects: a small software product for automating group communication. networkeffects.me
  • Product People Club: this is an online community and learning platform that I started with the encouragement of local tech people. It’s been profitable from Day 1. productpeople.club

This increase in economic activity is encouraging: it’s proving that our efforts in Vernon are having an effect. People are hearing that Vernon is a good place to live, and that it also has a core tech community. Plus, folks in the tech community are starting businesses that will benefit the local economy.

Vernon is unique

Kelowna’s focus has been to encourage traditional venture-backed startups. Accelerate Okanagan is guiding local startups, and helping them to be investment ready. Steve Wandler created an excellent conference called Metabridge that brings investors from Silicon Valley to Kelowna every year. They also have a big anchor with Club Penguin, which is helping to draw talent to the city.

But Vernon is different than Kelowna.

As I look at Vernon’s entrepreneurial history, the culture of the city, and the attitude of the people who move here, it’s clear we need to forge a different path.

Historic Kal Tire Vernon location

Vernon is a city of do-it-yourselfers, bootstrappers, and makers. Our large local companies all started as small businesses, built from the ground up: Kal-Tire, Tekmar and Tolko.

One local company, Immersive Technologies, built the first 360˚ full digital camera system (the driving technology behind Google street view). This technology came about by tinkering, experimenting, and building.

Based on this history, there are two ways the community can encourage a tech culture and economy:

  1. Support the makers: There are individuals in Vernon creating really cool technology, products, and projects in their spare time. These folks need to be encouraged, supported and celebrated.
  2. Attract remote workers: I’ve been here 3 years, and almost all of the new tech talent that’s moving here is working remotely for companies elsewhere: San Francisco, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Portland, Boulder, etc… The community needs to target this group, and then do a great job of welcoming them when they arrive.

So that’s the story so far.

One of my favorite parts about living here has been the incredible people I’ve met. We can now say there is a tech community in Vernon, BC, and it’s awesome.

Justin Jackson

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