The story so far: the tech community in Vernon
When I was considering moving to Vernon, BC, my biggest concern was that there wouldn’t be a tech community to connect with.
I’d been working as a Product Manager in Edmonton’s burgeoning startup community. The local scene there had birthed Startup Edmonton: a “community hub for hackers, artists + entrepreneurs.” It was an exciting place to be.
I knew Vernon was an amazing place to live but I worried that it would have little in terms of tech community.
I was wrong! Since I’ve moved here I’ve met folks who have worked with Tumblr, WordPress (Automattic), Apple, SAP, Yahoo, and Oracle.
Early on, I emailed Kevin Poole. Kevin works for Vernon Economic Development. 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.
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:
We’ve also started to see projects, companies and partnerships birthed out of the Startup Vernon community. For example, Cowork Vernon is a private coworking space for tech consultants, located on 3000-30th Street.
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.
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.
While Club Penguin gets a lot of attention, we’ve seen some big tech acquisitions come out of Vernon:
- 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. In 2016, they were acquired for $100 million dollars.
- At the end of 2017, AVS Systems, also headquartered in Vernon, was acquired for $45 million.
Vernon is also home to lifelong tech entrepreneurs, and new startups:
- Like2Have.it – an add-on for Shopify stores
- Roney Technologies – an enterprise software consulting company
- Transistor.fm – a podcast hosting and analytics platform
- Roost Energy – a solar energy provider (and installer)
- Therabyte – an app for rehab therapy practitioners
- Terrasense – a drone company that uses artificial intelligence
- Middleware360 – automation, and integration consulting company
- SQM Group – market research firm with a large tech staff
- Sproing Creative – local web development company
How Vernon, BC can attract more tech
Based on this history, there are two ways the community can encourage a tech culture and economy:
- 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.
- Attract remote workers: I’ve been here since 2012, 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.