By Karen Kornelsen

The Kootenays have always been innovative. One only needs to take a quick look around to understand this wild and magical region is home to people creating their own work, inventing new jobs and living out their dreams. It’s an awesome place where people are happily co-existing in the most creative of ways.

Some are thriving on living a life where nature trumps salary, some are living a life where their 9 to 5 fuels their backcountry adventures and some are building their chosen careers while living a balanced lifestyle in a safe and affordable place for their children. Some just love craft beer, and that’s acceptable too. It’s a place where work, life and play can truly exist in perfect balance.

Businesses, entrepreneurs and tech workers have noticed. They’re choosing to build startups where they can live comfortably and maybe afford to raise a family. They’re choosing a place where they can work remotely and enjoy the lifestyle and outdoor adventure opportunities that exist here. They’re choosing a place where coworking spaces and fab labs are on the rise.

“They’re choosing to invest millions of dollars in a region ripe with potential and innovation,” said KAST Executive Director Cam Whitehead. “What was our curse is now our blessing. Our rugged geography means eclectic small towns are oozing the innovative spirit. No matter which aspect of our three mountain ranges you are on, the digital economy is on the rise in the Kootenays and it knows no physical bounds.”

Kootenay tech is on the rise

Accessing a global market from this beautiful place is strengthening our local economies and creating vibrant healthy communities. And Kootenay tech is on the rise…just ask President and CEO of Innovate BC, Raghwa Gopal, and he’ll tell you how all industries are adopting tech at increasing rates, and many of these industry leaders have an established presence right here in the Kootenays (seriously, it’s a great article – check it out here). 

It’s true. We have major technology companies expanding here like Thoughtexchange, Traction on Demand, D-Pace, PodTech, Fenix Advance Materials, Drop Group, GrnLight, and high-tech manufacturing operations like Kalesnikoff’s new mass timber facility. 

2019 was a massive year, not only for our local tech companies, but also for us here at KAST. We did a full rebrand, launched our new website and created a membership model (pssst…become a member today!). We have expanded operations into the East Kootenay and now represent the entire Columbia Basin. KAST took over the management of the new Nelson Innovation Centre, brought in new money for the project and officially broke ground at 91 Baker Street in Railtown. Nelson Innovation Centre, a new community hub and support network for tech and knowledge workers, entrepreneurs and small businesses will be opening very soon. 

Not to mention MIDAS Lab in Trail had the honour of hosting B.C.’s first Innovation Commissioner, Alan Winter and Raghwa Gopal in June (read more about that here) and is supporting a diverse membership with over $1 million in equipment (3D printers and scanners, laser cutter, CNC, 3D metal printer and so much more) as well as mentorship, skills training and maker services.

KAST has an amazing group of entrepreneurs currently enrolled in our Venture Acceleration Program (VAP) which helps early-stage entrepreneurs grow their companies and is accessible to anyone in the Kootenay region. We run a monthly tech meetup in Nelson and offer events and programming around the region. And on November 14, 2019, we were thrilled to welcome a new board of directors (you can check em out here!)

Representing the entire Kootenay region

The KAST board now has representation from software as a service (SaaS), digital media, cryptography, cannabis-tech, digital fabrication, big data analytics, edge processing, applied research & commercialization, and also in science as it’s being used in eco-cultural applications.

“It’s really a fantastic spectrum of high-calibre people from diverse backgrounds,” said Whitehead. “KAST now has a wide geographic representation including four directors from the east and four directors from the west, plus our new President Lorri Fehr travelling between Balfour and the Columbia Lake Technology Centre.”

There’s never been a better time to adopt technology and innovation in your business – everything is moving very quickly, even in a place where “kootenay time” is a common phrase. 

“With massive improvements to the regional broadband network, it’s now possible to start a tech company, work for a tech company or work for one remotely,” said Whitehead. “This is great for a region that has been traditionally isolated—our connection to the outside world is now as fast as the speed of light. Externally, there are so many people who are looking to ditch the rat race in crowded and expensive cities. The Kootenay region is made up of a dozen or so unique towns that each have their own flavour—these versions of the Kootenay lifestyle means most people can find an awesome community to call home.” 

From craft beers to murals, from flowing rivers to glacier-fed lakes, from grizzly bears to moose, from peaks to thriving streets…the Kootenay region is truly one of the last frontiers…a secret locals keep close. And a discovery visitors and newcomers cherish.

For a detailed report on the progress KAST made in 2019, please check out our Executive Director Report from our Annual General Meeting. You can view it here

Sign up for the KAST newsletter and stay up to date with all things Kootenay tech by clicking here.

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