Blog March 22, 2018

Posted by Joanna Schlosser


Phil Ashman, Regional Dean for Okanagan College, shares his thoughts.

The Okanagan tech community was 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 performed a grassroots, founders-first assessment of our startup ecosystem. The goal was 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 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.

Okanagan College has been a long-time supporter of Accelerate Okanagan and a powerful partner in creating strategy around talent pipeline and student engagement. The College was quick to get involved in the Techstars Community Pilot Project and their contribution is already proving invaluable. Philip Ashman, Regional Dean for the Central Okanagan, is passionate about providing learning opportunities and attracting talent to the region. Ashman sees huge potential for growth in the Okanagan Valley and believes the Techstars Project is the kind of initiative that can inspire our community.

We recently caught up with Ashman to learn more about his love of community, his reaction to the report card, and his hope for the future of #OKGNtech.

On Community

The job of the Regional Dean is really about community outreach and helping people to plug in. I spend a lot of my time helping people understand the role the College plays in our community and conversely sharing what’s going on in the community with the College.

Okanagan College has always worked with Accelerate Okanagan and other key stakeholders to effectively engage with industry and community. One of our goals has been to bring people together to create those dynamic collisions, encouraging collaboration on projects, and then sharing the exciting things happening in our region. There is so much potential here! Not just in Kelowna but throughout the entire Okanagan.

On the Techstars Pilot

My initial reaction to this project was honestly excitement. The Techstars Community Pilot Report recognized the potential of this community and confirms the buzz happening here in our ecosystem. The assessment was very complimentary about what we’ve achieved so far, but what I really appreciated was how it identified the gaps and some goals for moving forward.

The report served as a reminder that there is still work to be done and now the question is, how are we going to make that happen? We are all very busy, but if we each do our part to contribute, I believe we can achieve many of the recommendations in the report card.

On the Innovation Fund

One of the ways the college is supporting innovation is through our financial commitment to the partnership with Accelerate Okanagan. The college has contributed to a fund focused on supporting collaborative initiatives between Okanagan College and Accelerate Okanagan stakeholders.

On Student Opportunities

Creating opportunities for students to access quality learning environments is one of my priorities. One way is to focus on how we integrate the learning outcomes in many of our programs with the skills required in the workforce. Our strategic partnerships with industry, employers, Accelerate Okanagan and other post-secondary institutions are key factors in achieving this goal.

Working with local studios when creating our Animation diploma program is an excellent example of this collaboration. There are many challenges and required due diligence when creating a formal credential in a postsecondary institution. It is therefore difficult to respond quickly to demand from industry for formal credentials. In saying that, I think this often creates opportunities for us to respond to this demand by offering short-term specialized training.

On the Innovation Centre

The Innovation Centre has become a focal point for Okanagan tech and we are fortunate to have an incredible space from which to grow and play.  Okanagan College supported the idea of an Innovation Centre when it was first promoted by Lane and others. Our executive then helped nurture the idea until it became the vibrant reality it is today. We currently run our new Animation program out of the second floor of this space and the feedback we are hearing is overwhelmingly positive. Students are actively mixing and mingling with a lot of those who are working in the space—a prime example of the kinds of collisions the building was designed to promote. With our partners from Innovation UBC moving in next door, the chance for these kinds of valuable collisions will only increase. The report references the need to double down on the the potential benefit of the Innovation Centre and I think both the college and university will play a key role in supporting this effort.

On Managing Growth & Talent Pipeline

There is no question that with fast growth comes challenges. We see the impact in the increased demand for our graduates. As a community, I feel we are knocking it out of the park in a lot of areas, but what the Techstars Report pointed to so clearly is the need to focus on identifying strategies to build on our success and continue expanding our partnerships.

Something awesome about the college is that so many of our programs are aligned with the demands from our employers. However, although a lot of our programs involve skills-based training, we also broaden the scope and depth of their education with the critical thinking and analysis of our academic courses.

One of the big challenges we are hearing from the industry and startup community is the shortage of talent. The college is a key stakeholder in helping deliver solutions to address this need. Although the college holds traditional career fair events we are starting to look at more focused and innovative strategies for specific areas of study.

To learn more about Phil, check out his @OKGNtech feature on Instagram and his interview on the blog.

Learn more about the Techstars Pilot Project or connect with our team to get involved.

[View the report]

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