A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support, and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.
Our community is strong and growing with record speed and maintaining a connection through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic, we’ve got a plan.
We are #OKGNtech is a showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters, and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth, and more excitement. Follow along on the blog and on Instagram @OKGNtech to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.
Meet Ryan. Ryan McDowell is the President of Aquify Systems. When he’s not creating one-of-a-kind aquatic systems, you’ll find Ryan coaching his kids’ baseball and hockey teams, or just out for a bike ride.
Where are you from originally?
I was born in Winnipeg, raised in Saskatoon, educated in Calgary, and opened my first business in Vernon. That’s what originally brought me to the Okanagan. My business partner and I opened up a small retail store called Urban Fitness that eventually expanded to Kelowna. After operating it for 5 years we realized that we didn’t actually like running a retail business. Luckily, we ended up selling it without losing money right before the 2008 financial crisis.
Where do you work in the Okanagan?
I’m one of the co-founders of Aquify Systems. We design, engineer, make and manufacture commercial aquatic equipment like swimming pool pumps, heaters, control systems and everything else that makes them work. All of our manufacturing is done in Canada, the US, Mexico and Germany. While we have team members based in Kelowna, we recently opened our headquarters in Dallas, TX.
What do you do there?
I’m the President and, lately, I’ve been focusing on team building and making sure that we maintain our mission and vision as we grow. Aquify is a completely decentralized team that’s working across multiple countries and time zones, so you’ve got to make sure everyone’s rowing the boat in the same direction and leveraging the right tools to have open lines of communication wherever possible.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into a similar industry?
At the end of the day, you’re in the sanitation business and you’re responsible for the human beings that use your product every day. You need to take it seriously but know that there are so many externalities to consider and you’ll still end up learning lessons the hard way. Working in a built environment, no two projects are the same—you’re liaising with structural architects, landscape architects, engineers of every discipline, and every kind of contractor; you’re dealing with local building codes, health codes and health authorities.
How did you get into this kind of work?
After I sold Urban Fitness, I took a day job with Waterplay. It was just supposed to be a short stop-over before I started another business but I ended up falling in love with the aquatic systems industry. You get addicted to working in public spaces and building playgrounds for people to enjoy. That turned into a 10-year career in the industry and being with the company as it grew from 15 to 100 employees working on projects across the world. Some people don’t realize that there’s a thriving and globally-recognized aquatic industry in Canada. I think it’s because we have such a playful relationship with water that we want to export that playfulness around the world.
How were you first introduced to the OKGNtech community?
I had been following some success stories in Okanagan like Disney’s Club Penguin. We were the benefactor of them being great employers and creating some awesome talent in the region. When Club Penguin was sold, it was really cool to see those founders give back to the Okanagan—they didn’t just take the money and run. They reinvested and created a space for all of us to be inspired and be a part of something bigger. As the community grew, Accelerate Okanagan hit my inbox more and more. It reminded me that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and motivated me to start Aquify.
Do you think there is anything missing from the community here?
For the last 13 years, I’ve been working with hundreds of public entities—working with city councils, seeing how their cities were run; how urban planning, design and the built environment worked in their towns. I’ve found Kelowna to be one of the most high-functioning cities. The people who work here are some of the best and brightest because they want to live in the Okanagan. It’s pretty magical to see them set the stage to allow businesses of all kinds to be successful.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Or can share?
Find a mentor. Find as many as you can, drill them with questions and make sure they’re willing to take your calls. During my time on their programs, I really leveraged Accelerate Okanagan’s Executives-in-Residence because you never really have your business figured out. Even now I’m constantly pestering them for business ideas and ways to solve one problem or another. I’ve learned that if you put yourself out there and ask for help, people will answer.
Is there something you want to be remembered for?
Kindness is something I try to adhere to. Whether it’s being kind to the environment or to the people I work with, I try to incorporate kindness into everything I do. It can be super easy to get wrapped up in work or get filled with negative emotions, but I find that if you shower people with “small town Kelowna kindness” then it will come back to you in spades.
They reinvested and created a space for all of us to be inspired and be a part of something bigger.