It’s been nearly a year since COVID-19 changed our lives forever. Here at KAST, we’ve been extremely busy ever since helping Kootenay businesses navigate the digital world.

Partnering with the BC Tech Association was our first step in providing crucial 1:1 support free of charge to non-tech businesses in the Kootenays. The first Virtual Connection Day took place in May 2020 and due to the high interest, KAST offered four more in July, September, October and January 2021.

We eventually paired up with our amazing partners at Basin Business Advisors, Columbia Basin Trust and Community Futures Central Kootenay to expand the program to include the entire Columbia Basin. Businesses applied to receive free 1:1 mentorship with a tech expert in the areas of digital marketing, ecommerce, remote working and cybersecurity.

“This was the first step of many in KAST helping Kootenay businesses overcome challenges due to COVID-19,” said Sean Smillie, Executive Director of KAST. “Holding Virtual Connection Days with our partners is a great example of how we can work together as a community to build resilience, help local businesses with digital transformation and benefit the entire Kootenay economy. This is just one of many initiatives KAST has taken on to support both our non-tech and tech businesses locally.”

Helping companies remain resilient with personalized support

Technology experts, a lot of whom were tech consultants and digital service providers from the Kootenays, gave businesses personalized advice on tools and tactics they could adopt to ensure their company remained resilient in this uncertain time. They also conducted short reviews of the company’s business during the one-hour call, and were able to advise them on new ways to reach customers and maintain business revenue.

“The past year has shown us how important technology is for small and medium sized businesses to remain afloat,” said Jill Tipping, CEO of BC Tech Association. “We were thrilled to be able to support over 100 small and medium sized businesses in the Columbia basin with personalized technology advice via Virtual Connection Days.”

The companies came from across the Columbia Basin from Revelstoke to Creston, Windermere to Golden and Nelson to Kaslo. We were able to support companies from a variety of sectors, including retail, food and drink, and education and training providers. The majority of companies requested help with digital marketing, followed by ecommerce, and most companies had five or fewer employees.

Kootenay-wide success stories

Some of our successes include:

  • Teaching a local brewery how to set up an e-commerce shop so they can start selling online and increase their customer base
  • Teaching an interior design shop on how to optimize their social media to generate new sales, as well as developing their online presence and website, through Google My Business and the use of customer testimonials
  • Advising an independent running store in Invermere on the various e-commerce options for them and how to update their 12-year-old website to be able to engage new and existing customers
  • Supporting an established nurse education provider in Nelson on how to optimize their current website and start running paid ads to recruit new customers and remain competitive in the busy market

“The Virtual Connection Days created valuable insights and impacts to the businesses that participated,” said Alison Bjorkman, Program Manager at Basin Business Advisors. “It was remarkable what could be accomplished in only one hour with a tech expert.The long term benefit of a collaborative project like this to connect technology experts with curious businesses to create solutions and relationships benefits the whole economy. The goal was not only to assist businesses with things like digital marketing and e-commerce, but to also support our local technology consultants to make connections and get paid for their services.”

The Basin Business Advisor (BBA) Program made it a priority to support tech adoption for businesses in 2020. Working with KAST and our Executive in Residence (EIR), Steve Fisher, the BBA team improved their insights on tech solutions and were better able to assist businesses with the right solutions for software and strategy. Opportunities to pivot to online sales, curbside pickup and delivery were important for many business models. BBA has also helped businesses find efficiencies and ways to work remotely and remain effective.

Continued support for Kootenay businesses

Further to the success of the Virtual Connection Days, KAST is also helping hundreds of businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 succeed. The Digital Economy: Rapid Response & Resiliency Program (DER3) program has seen over 200 Kootenay businesses receive free 1:1 mentorship, support, resources and funding opportunities to enter or expand in the digital economy.

Our Tech Resiliency Program on the other hand, is specifically designed for Kootenay technology startups and companies who’ve been impacted by COVID-19. Businesses can receive 1:1 mentorship and coaching in specific areas of their businesses including business development, capital raising, HR, digital marketing and more.

Intake for both programs, DER3 and TRP, ends on March 10, 2021 and both programs end on March 31, 2021. If you’re interested in applying, please visit www.kast.com/der3 or www.kast.com/trp.

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