JUNE 8, 2020 | BCBUSINESS
Amidst a global pandemic, innovation persists.
Across Canada, our approach to flattening the curve has been a communal effort between our governments, communities, and private sector. And these efforts have been enhanced and accelerated by our country’s world-renowned tech sector.
In B.C. specifically, we’re seeing our tech companies pivot, collaborate, and innovate to provide hands-on support to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. The most prominent example is AbCellera, who secured a whopping $175M investment from the federal government to identify antibodies that could be used to create a treatment for COVID-19. The B.C.-based Digital Technology Supercluster has also stepped up to the plate, funding several local projects through their COVID-19 Program.
But as we expand our scope outside the Lower Mainland, it becomes clear that our province’s COVID-19 relief efforts have received a significant boost from all of our regional tech communities, most notably in Vancouver Island.
Victoria’s tech sector, which accounts for $5.22B in economic impact for the region, represents one of the country’s fastest growing tech hubs. Since this pandemic began to take hold in early March, some of the city’s top tech companies have quickly mobilized to provide direct support to hospitals, governments, and Canadians across the country.
StarFish Medical, Canada’s largest medical-device design company, is working with the Federal Government to manufacture 30,000 ventilators in an effort to curb expected medical device shortages across the country. Fellow Victoria medtech standout, Telmediq, is leveraging their extensive reach across North America to give healthcare systems complimentary access to their software to provide distance support for patients and families dealing with COVID-19. And not to be outdone, one of Victoria oldest tech firms, ImmunoPrecise Antibodies, is working with the World Health Organization to develop coronavirus vaccines.
Dan Gunn, the CEO of Innovate BC-funded VIATEC, notes that while some of the city’s biggest companies have tackled the pandemic head on, the entire Victoria tech sector has come together to share resources and experiences to help their peers navigate the changing landscape.
“While our community has been apart physically, we have never seen it come together more in spirit,” says Gunn. “A sense of community is always important but during a crisis the value of coming together is even more tangible and appreciated."
With the Victoria tech community providing support to Canadians across the country, Innovation Island Technology Association (IITA) – another Innovate BC funded accelerator – is focusing efforts on getting their local business communities through this pandemic.
IITA supports island-based businesses outside of Victoria. This sizable scope means they’re responsible for 15 communities, including Ladysmith, Gibsons, the Village of Cumberland. Local SMEs are the economic heartbeat in rural areas and IITA is leading the charge to ensure these businesses have access to the resources and support they need to revamp their operations or simply just stay afloat.
The Digital Economic Rapid Response Recovery Program (DER3) is a joint initiative between IITA + Island Coastal Economic Trust (ICET) that provides one-to-one business and technical expertise for companies that have to pivot their business models. Or, as IITA likes to put it, the program is a ‘‘hyper local, back to business initiative for businesses interested in entering or expanding in the digital economy.’
“COVID-19 has brought about a forced shift to how many of us do business,” says IITA Executive Director, Graham Truax. “And DER3 is here to support these sorts of transitions for businesses in any sector.”
Since the program’s launch in mid-April, hundreds of businesses from across Vancouver Island have taken advantage of the DER3 as they now try do in months what their online counterparts have done over years. But despite the uphill climb, Truax believes local entrepreneurs will pull through.
“I'm very excited about the level of dedication and creativity that the business community has shown in weathering this crisis. Entrepreneurs will fill any void and when the "new" normal settles into place, we can be certain that many hybrid physical and digital business models will be open for business.”