Aligning local government, provincial government, and industry to support innovation, industrial research, and tech transfer to increase skilled tech training and local jobs.
The Fraser Valley is an incredibly diverse region with an abundance of agriculture, manufacturing, and aerospace-focused enterprises. With a sprawling geographic land area of 13,362 square kilometres, unifying the region as a connected and collaborative district required a concentrated effort on the part of local governments, multiple industries, and academic institutions. Along with a segmented population base, entrepreneurs spread throughout the region were not able to connect with any one institution or organization to further their business goals within the region. Though the Fraser Valley is home to some of the brightest and most innovative companies in British Columbia, their ability to network with one another was limited to events within their local municipalities and Greater Vancouver. Raymond Szabada, the visionary and founder of XLRator (formerly known as SRCTec), and the volunteer board comprised of seasoned tech entrepreneurs helped bridge this gap of collaboration through an innovative approach to community alignment.
British Columbia is home to a vibrant and dynamic tech sector that is a major driver of job growth and clean industrialization. As this sector rapidly grows and emerging technologies and tech companies locally and globally set their eyes on B.C. and its thriving regional hubs, it is now more important than ever for the Fraser Valley to grow and maintain its position within this sector.
The District of Mission, which was selected as XLRator’s headquarters due to its equidistance to neighboring Fraser Valley municipalities, had a strong industrial heritage catalyzed by the railway. Today, the District of Mission, along with XLRator, recognizes the importance of clean industrialization to push the region forward technologically, environmentally, and in terms of job growth. With land shortages and mounting costs of doing business within Greater Vancouver, the Fraser Valley is well-positioned to leverage the digital economy due to its affordable housing and the recent corporate interest to operate in the region.
However, the District of Mission, or any municipality residing within the Fraser Valley, could not compete directly with the tech investments occurring in Vancouver. Local organizations and institutions were also finding it difficult to retain Valley talent, oftentimes losing out to the lure of a big city position.
Over the course of the last ten years, XLRator has led the charge to unite the Fraser Valley tech sector, and by employing a simple “hub and spoke model,” has acted as the facilitator of collaboration between industry, government, and educational institutions. With three primary charters: supporting innovation & incubation, research & tech transfer, and skilled technical training & education, XLRator has introduced and effectively produced and/or administered a number of programs and projects to drive and support entrepreneurism and technology startups in the Valley.
Programs such as the Venture Accelerator Program (VAP) and the Agri-Tech Venture Acceleration Program (AVAP) were administered by XLRator to provide the necessary education to local entrepreneurs looking to build and grow their ventures.
In 2017, the Fraser Valley Tech Forum was organized in an effort to bring municipal stakeholders and the community together to discuss the ongoing needs of entrepreneurs, skilled workers, and industry to address issues including the disconnect between funding agencies and startups.
In addition, XLRator created Fraser Valley Tech Jobs, a job portal for local companies to post and engage with prospective tech-sector employees through various industries including aerospace, manufacturing, information technology, and agriculture to make it easier for local companies to find, attract, and retain local talent.
Over the course of the past three years, 42 startups, including Eleos Robotics and Picker Drones, have passed through programs administered by XLRator, many of which are thriving today. These entrepreneurs would have otherwise left the Valley but are now prospering in our diverse region with collaborations and funding from major organizations including British Columbia Innovation Council, Mitacs, and more.
An open discussion to move the Valley forward has now been formed between municipal stakeholders. In the fall of 2017, the first annual Fraser Valley Technology Forum was held to create an open discussion between regional tech-sector stakeholders to move the Valley forward. Over 200 participants attended the event, furthering recognition and awareness of Valley needs as well as the steps required in order to achieve tech success as a region. Representatives from the City of Abbotsford, City of Chilliwack, City of Maple Ridge, the Township of Langley, and the District of Mission attended the forum along with major sponsors and influencers including Fasken, PwC, Prospera, and BDC.
Following the success of the inaugural Fraser Valley Tech Forum, the City of Abbotsford has launched an Intelligent Communities Forum and the City of Maple Ridge held its first Innovation in Emerging Cities event in April 2018. The 2nd annual Fraser Valley Technology Forum is being hosted in Mission on September 20th, 2018, which will further push the envelope for important technology discussions as related to the Fraser Valley region.
In the Spring of 2018, the Fraser Valley Tech Jobs portal was redeveloped to make it easier for employers and prospective employees in the agriculture, aerospace, and manufacturing industries to connect. The Fraser Valley Tech Jobs portal will relaunch in the fourth quarter of 2018 and already has a database of job offers awaiting prospective tech and manufacturing talent.
One of the biggest hurdles involved with XLRator’s aim was connecting the fast-paced technology sector culture with detail-oriented municipal processes. Working with Stacey Crawford and the District of Mission’s economic development office was integral to the success of XLRator’s initiatives. Though the two vastly different worlds of tech and government may never completely align, it’s important to begin the process sooner rather than later.
Academia, industry, and government all have their own approach and vision on how to foster innovation and collaboration in the Fraser Valley. Getting regional stakeholders together in one room was incredibly important in aligning various visions to achieve a greater good. In this case, the greater good was connecting Fraser Valley municipalities to encourage and develop the tech sector while also providing our entrepreneurs with the tools they need to succeed.
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