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 Jason. Jason Richards is the founder and CEO of Minga. When he’s not working to bring community back into the education system, you’ll find Jason out on the mountain biking, skiing or a combination of the two with snow biking.
Where do you work in the Okanagan?
I’m the founder and CEO of Minga, a digital social learning platform that connects school communities together, creating a positive school culture. In education, there is a positive correlation between communication and engagement. Kids often complain that they don’t like school, but what if there was an opportunity to make school more enjoyable?
How has Minga been impacted by COVID-19?
We had a lot of interest in our service this time last year but that was kind of a panic move from the schools. When it came down to the implementation, most schools stuck with Zoom and Google Classroom. Teachers were just too emotionally, physically and functionally overwhelmed to adjust to anything more.
Did you go through any team changes at Minga this past year?
Some people had to go down to part-time, or no-time, for a few months to accommodate child care, but our team generally stayed the same. We experimented with hiring a fully remote team member which didn’t work out too well. It was a challenge to have the skills to develop relationships or build a community for the team remotely. At the end of the day, I like having people in the office and talking with them around the boardroom.
Are you cautious about changing the platform too much to align with the pandemic?
Now I am. Looking back, there was a period where I was taking us down too much of a COVID-centric path. In talking to teachers and administrators, we’re finding that they’re already thinking about going back to normal. We’re trying to shift our focus and get back to what our platform was originally designed for, I don’t think we’re too COVID-focused anymore. We’re still moving towards bringing community back into schools like we were a little over a year ago.
How has the investment from winning the 2020 OKGN Angel Summit supported you?
Outside of the Angel Summit, we weren’t looking to raise a lot during that period. The capital wasn’t the big thing, it helps take some of the pressure off, but building those connections with investors and founders who I can regularly talk to is the sustaining piece I was after. The money gets spent but the relationships and encouraging words have been really helpful, especially during so much change.
How were you first introduced to the OKGNtech community?
I graduated from Okanagan University College (now Okanagan College) in ‘99 and started with a tech company in Kelowna called Workfire. About a year later, we got acquired by Packeteer, a Silicon Valley company. That was my intro to the OKGNtech community, I didn’t know anything about tech before that. It was a great opportunity that offered me a lot of growth—I got to work out of San Francisco, get some mentorship and meet a lot of incredible people. In 2008, I came back to Canada looking to make a startup with the same people who I had worked with at Workfire and Packeteer. That venture became Vineyard Networks.
Did that fuel you to start Minga?
After we sold Vineyard Networks in 2013, I took 5 years off—which was just what I needed. I was a firefighter for a while on the Westside and, after that, I started to put the idea for Minga together. What motivated me, though? I love putting together the team and the vision. Building a company is a love-hate relationship. It’s sort of like, “why am I doing this to myself again?” but there is something inside you that drives you back. As humans, we have a fascination with innovation. If we think back to some of the most influential people, they were all innovators. Political, religious or social—all of it was innovation.
Do you think there is anything missing from the community here?
We need to continue developing our capital infrastructure. There’s a lot of money in Kelowna and that capital is so fundamental to building a thriving tech community. We’ve had some big acquisitions and exits over the years—which helps put talent and money back into the community—but we need more of that. Additionally, we still need capital to come from within the community, which is why the OKGN Angel Summit is so important. It lowers the barrier of entry for people to get involved in investing in tech—and it makes it fun.