The Okanagan tech community is one of only five tech communities selected to participate in the Techstars Community Pilot Project. The Techstars team arrived at the end of August and has been performing a grassroots, founders-first assessment of our startup ecosystem. The goal is to accelerate growth in our startup community beyond what would happen organically and to inspire future innovation and ideas for a diverse group of community leaders and partners to rally around.
The initiative has inspired much community support, with the following organizations acting as sponsors: Okanagan College, Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission, University of British Columbia Okanagan, Valley First, a division of First West Credit Union, City of Kelowna, Lawson Lundell LLP., WTFast, Strawhouse, Community Futures of Central Okanagan, Bananatag, Data Nerds, and Nucleus Strategies.
We are excited to welcome Valley First as our newest Patron and valued supporter of the Tech Stars Community Pilot Project. Susan Ewanick, President of Valley First, is passionate about the Okanagan’s entrepreneurial eco-system and the potential of #OKGNtech. She believes that the sort of talent and capital that is being attracted by the Techstars Project is exactly what we need to further collaborate and grow this part of the economy. Ewanick also feels strongly that having a seat at the table is the best way to gain valuable insight on how Valley First can best serve the tech community.
We recently caught up with Ewanick to learn more about her love for community, the importance of staying local, and the power of innovation.
As a financial cooperative, we are owned by our membership and our board of directors consists of democratically elected members of the community. As a result, we make decisions with a local focus and reinvest business proceeds into products and services that benefit our members. We also are deeply committed to investing in the communities in which we do business.
Two of the proudest moments I’ve had as president of Valley First is our donation of $50,000 to the Foundry in Kelowna and our $150,000 donation to the South Okanagan Similkameen Hospital Foundation to provide medical equipment for the new patient tower in Penticton. That being said, we are not just about writing cheques, we want to be involved.
Feed The Valley, our signature cause, which started in 2010, was designed to raise food, funds and awareness for local food banks throughout the 11 communities in which our 17 branches are located. These communities all have similar concerns around hunger so it is certainly something that our employees feel passionate about. To date, we have raised over $1.6 million and 70,000 lbs of food.
We see ourselves as a very innovative in the credit union system (from a Canadian perspective). We operate using a lean philosophy. This is a process of improvement typically found in the manufacturing sector so it was innovative to bring this to a service organization and a financial industry.
A really good example of Lean methodology is action is a project we did with The Central Okanagan Food Bank (COFB). Before they moved into a new building our leadership team spent two days working with COFB to apply some of our lean best practices and ensure they were making the best use of the space. Sharing expertise like this with community-minded, non-profit organizations like the Central Okanagan Food Bank is another way we ensure we are actively involved in helping businesses move forward.
On supporting entrepreneurs…
Entrepreneurs are the backbone of our community. We are here to help them succeed. Startup communities and incubators are an important ingredient in a healthy ecosystem that allows the strength of the collective to help the individuals in that community, and the community itself, grow. Through incubators, connections with investors and partners can be made faster, and there can be more focus on product development because of programs in place to support those entrepreneurs and a feedback network of both mentors and peers.
I think the most important thing we do, in terms of supporting entrepreneurs, is the expert advice we provide. Whether that be advice around cash flow and strategic business planning, capital investment or day to day banking, we pride ourselves on maintaining trusted relationships based on advice. We can do that because our experts get to know the business owners, spend time with them and truly get to know the company they have worked so hard to build.
On investing in Tech…
When I look at what’s happening with the Okanagan tech industry I see nothing but opportunity. When you think about our history as a credit union, we’ve been in the Okanagan Valley for just over 70 years and we are a financial cooperative and based on those principles, the collective is always stronger than the sum of its parts. So when I think about Accelerate Okanagan and the opportunity for collaboration to bring that environment and ecosystem to the greater Okanagan area I think, how could we not be part of something so exciting? This is something that mirrors the economy and also our membership.
The reality is over 98% of all businesses in B.C. are small businesses (2016 numbers) and more than 1 million British Columbians are employed by a small or medium-sized business. The Okanagan Tech Sector employs more than 7,000 people in our communities. We’re investing in seeing that community grow and thrive.
For more information about Valley First Credit’s many products and services, get in touch by visiting one of their 17 branches to make an appointment with one of their business banking experts.
To find out more about the Techstars Community Pilot Project join us for the readout.