The Okanagan region of BC is more than just grape, sun, and vineyard.
It’s also silicon.
Home to 700 technology companies employing 12,000 people, the Okanagan’s tech prowess is long understated.
Recognizing this, let’s take a look at some of the region’s tech achievements over the past few months.
Kelowna’s INCA Renewable Technologies, a manufacturer of natural fibre composites, announced recently that the company secured a $55 million funding commitment as part of a Series B round from a private New York Family Office.
The announcement was made at the international JEC Composites Show Startup Booster Competition, where INCA was participating.
The funding will enable INCA to commercialize its line of hemp-based bio-composites for Toyota North America, Winnebago Industries, and Gurit, as well as move forward with construction of its hemp fibre processing facility in Western Canada.
INCA’s team has deployed experience in fibre processing and bio-composites innovation and manufacturing to produce lighter pre-pregs for the automotive industry, large dimensional panels to replace plywood in RV sidewalls, cores for wind turbine blades and boats, and compounded pellets to replace glass-reinforced plastics.
The product line will be manufactured from hemp.
“Our ability to transform a low-cost raw material into a set of patented high-value products, will enable our customers to produce lighter, stronger, lower cost and far more environmentally sustainable products,” added INCA’s Chairman and CEO, David Saltman. “We think it is a winning value proposition.”
Kelowna-based agriculture technology company Croptimistic secured $9.1 million in capital in February.
The Series B round was led by Forage Capital Partners, which operates as Canada’s most experienced team of agriculture investors, having managed over $500 million in commitments to the industry over the last 18 years.
“This new funding has enabled us to keep growing and investing in our software … and expand our team in our new office based in Kelowna,” stated Derek Massey, cofounder of Croptimistic, at the time. “By investing resources in our software we’ll be able to continue to scale and grow our company to meet the needs of our farmers and service providers.”
The company also recently acquired CropPro Consulting. Based in rural Saskatchewan, CroCrop is a farm agronomy consulting company.
“Croptimistic is very excited to announce the acquisition of Crop Pro Consulting,” stated Greg Stewart, Chairman of the Board for Croptimistic. “The new combined entity will significantly enhance our ability to serve farmers and expand our reach, solidifying our position as the market leader in soil mapping software and hardware.”
Croptimistic’s flagship product is SWAT MAPS, which creates maps encompassing Soil, Water and Topography—AKA “SWAT.”
The company is one of several BC-based firms helping build resilience throughout Canada’s complex food chain systems.
Initiatives such as those from Accelerate Okanagan illustrate how powerfully the region is evolving: Since its inception in 2019, the OKGN Angel Summit has contributed to over $4 million being invested into Canadian startups, training over 140 entrepreneurs, and engaging with over 80 accredited investors.
Recently over 200 community members gathered at the Kelowna Innovation Centre for the fifth Annual OKGN Angel Summit Finale.
After 10 fast-paced weeks of capital training, multiple pitches, investor meetings, and due diligence, Brad Pommen, CEO of SMRT1 Technologies, was awarded the $225,000 investment fund. SMRT1 specializes in interactive smart dispensing solutions for healthcare products and medical supplies.
“Five years ago we came here [OKGN Angel Summit] for some of the training sessions and meet all the wonderful people in the community along the way. That’s who’s invested in us, whether that was their time attention, or dollars. This ecosystem is so amazing to have” said Pommen.
Since its inauguration in 2019, the OKGN Angel Summit has supported over 200 companies as well as 98 investors who have directly invested over $800,000 through the Summit program.
Now in its fifth year, the OKGN Angel Summit attracted over 45 companies from across Western Canada, and 43 Okanagan-based investors, making it the largest summit, and the largest investment fund to date.
An award-winning mobile game studio in the Okanagan celebrated its 10th anniversary in October.
Hyper Hippo was founded in Kelowna in 2012, where it got started in the idle games genre.
Hyper Hippo created the AdVenture Capitalist game franchise, which includes AdVenture Communist and AdVenture Ages. AdVenture games have received multiple awards, including a Google Play Editor’s Choice Award, Most Played Game on Kongregate, Game of the Year on Miniclip, Top 5 Game on Steam, Popular F2P on Playstation, and Best Instant Game of the Year on Facebook.
Since 2012, the studio has expanded to a team of 130 employees working across British Columbia and Washington.
Looking ahead at its next 10 years, Hyper Hippo has “multiple exciting projects on the horizon including new partnerships and multiple new games moving into development,” according to a statement from the firm.
“While we recognize and are grateful for the successes we’ve had over the last decade, we truly believe that our best years are ahead of us and the best games are yet to be made,” stated Sam Fisher, CEO at Hyper Hippo in 2022.
The independent publisher hopes to develop unique intellectual property “while building deeper engagement with their players and fans.”
“We want to create engrossing experiences that capture the imagination,” offers Jon Warner, Senior Vice President of Portfolio at Hyper Hippo. “We believe that rich, high quality games are key to happy and satisfied players.”
We reported on how the Province of British Columbia is embarking on a plan to digitize the BC Building Code and streamline the building permitting process, paving the way for faster approvals and construction of new homes.
The Ministry of Housing, in collaboration with the Ministry of Citizens’ Services, is set to pilot the digitization process in select local governments in 2024, with an aim of making British Columbia a leader in digital permitting and construction.
The BC Building Code, currently available only in print or PDF format, will undergo a digital transformation to enhance accessibility and usability for builders and building inspectors.
“Utilizing technology is vital to cutting wait times and making government more effective,” says Ken Sim, mayor of Vancouver. “We are pleased to see these further efforts being made across the province.”
Sim’s election campaign in 2022 had a focus on speeding up housing production.
“Vancouver recently moved over to a fully digital permit system, where builders can apply, pay and receive their permit electronically through our ePlan system,” Mayor Sim stated. “Vancouver is proud to be a leading government in embracing technology, and we are excited to see other jurisdictions doing so as well.”
Kelowna believes it can reduce the goal of Vancouver’s permit time window from three weeks down to three minutes.
City of Kelowna staff have been working with Microsoft on an AI bot that could receive applications and issue permits within a matter of minutes.
“When you submit a digital application, it will be digitally reviewed through AI, and you’ll get a digital response saying it’s compliant,” Doug Gilchrist, Kelowna’s chief administrative officer, explained to Dan Fumano for the Vancouver Sun. “Or it’s non-compliant and here’s the errors, here’s the fixes, without sitting on a stack of paper that a plan-checker might get to after they come back from vacation and after they’ve reviewed all the ones on top of it.”
Gilchrist believes it is the first municipality in Canada to pilot this tech-forward, AI-powered approach to permit applications.
A basic version of the bot is expected to drop by end of summer. It will understand things like zoning bylaws, official community plans, and lot specifications.
An advanced version of the bot that can handle permits will arrive in 2024, according to an estimate from Gilchrist.
And when it is polished, Kelowna will look to offer its technology to other municipalities throughout BC and across Canada.
Canada’s luxury vacation home co-ownership startup Wecasa launched last year with properties in British Columbia.
BC-based WeCasa enables Canadians to co-own a luxury vacation home in the Okanagan with a minimum of two and up to eight other people.
In contrast to traditional timeshares and many other forms of fractional ownership, Wecasa owners share ownership of a distinct luxury home.
When they’re finished enjoying their vacation home, they can sell their ownership and receive the benefit of any appreciation in the value of the property.
Wecasa was the first company to solve the unique regulatory and financing challenges in Canada to bring the proven second home co-ownership model to local buyers and properties.
Unlike owning a second home all to yourself, Vancouver-born Wecasa provides a full-service, tech enabled solution that manages the property and removes the burden of maintenance and budgeting.
“At wecasa, we see an opportunity to fundamentally change the way Canadian vacation property is owned by offering a superior ownership experience for a fraction of the price through fully managed co-ownership,” stated Mark Proudfoot, Co-founder and CEO of Wecasa. “By introducing co-ownership to the Canadian market, we will increase the utilization of high-cost luxury homes, which in turn will reduce the number of buyers competing for single-family vacation dwellings at more affordable price points.”
FortisBC announced this week that its electric direct current fast-charge network in British Columbia’s Southern Interior has reached a new milestone, exceeding 30,000 charging events to date.
The regulated Canadian utility first started exploring EV charging infrastructure in BC in 2015 and has worked with numerous partners, including those with the Community Energy Association’s Accelerate Kootenays project, the Osoyoos Indian Band, as well as a number of local municipalities, to build a network of fast-charging stations.
Since opening its first public charging station in 2018, usage across FortisBC’s network has “increased significantly,” according to a recent statement from the firm—almost doubling the number of charging events each year.
In 2022 alone, the network cracked 13,000 charging events, compared to 7,000 charging events in 2021, FortisBC noted.
“It’s encouraging to see the amount of growth across our EV fast charging network in such a short period of time,” said George Thompson, EV infrastructure and investment manager for FortisBC. “Investing in low-carbon transportation is a key part of FortisBC’s strategy to help reduce customers’ emissions, so we’re thrilled our EV charging network is performing so well.”
With support from Natural Resources Canada’s Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program and the Province’s CleanBC Go Electric, FortisBC’s EV network has expanded over the past three years with the addition of 12 new charging stations since 2021, including its first high-powered 100 kilowatt chargers.
FortisBC’s network now includes 42 DCFC stations across 22 charging sites throughout communities in BC’s Southern Interior, with a majority of the stations along major highway corridors to facilitate highway travel through the region.
“More residents and visitors in the Southern Interior are transitioning to EVs so it’s essential that charging stations are available to provide quick, convenient and reliable EV charging, allowing drivers to travel through the region with confidence,” said Thompson.
“To date we’ve deployed over 40 Direct Charge Fast Charging stations at 22 sites in 20 communities including: Kelowna, Penticton, Osoyoos, Oliver,” FortisBC states online.
There are now more than 3,000 public charging stations in BC, including 750 fast-charging stations.
The province wants the opposite of range anxiety: it’s building an Electric Highway.