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Accelerate Okanagan – Leading Canada’s New Economic Development

Accelerators and incubators are part of a bigger shift in the changing methods of community economic…

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Accelerate Okanagan – Leading Canada’s New Economic Development

Accelerators and incubators are part of a bigger shift in the changing methods of community economic development

Programs that address the needs of entrepreneurs as they are starting up, as well as those which have earned a modicum of success, but which are facing the varied challenges of scaling up their operations are the focus of enlightened, focused and intensive community-based programs known as accelerators or incubators.

While these sorts of organizations have existed to one degree or another for decades, they are now being seen as an increasingly vital tool to helping economic and community development in regions of the country which are not normally seen as hubs for large-scale economic development, but which are nonetheless critical to the overall economic health of the Canadian economy.

Accelerator Expert Talks About Importance of Supporting Local Entrepreneurs

Andrew Greer has been on the forefront of this movement for several years and is currently the Program Strategist for Accelerate Okanagan. He is a firm believer in the powerful, practical and demonstrable way accelerator programs can enliven the entrepreneurial spirit within any community.

Greer spoke to QuinteVation as he was returning home after participating in the second-ever Canadian Accelerator Summit, which took place in Kelowna, British Columbia, where he has lived ever since being hired to run Accelerator Okanagan six years ago. The event was co-facilitated by that organization alongside Vancouver’s Wavefront Accelerator.

“The purpose of it was a ‘for us, by us’ training and collaboration event. It’s something that has been brewing over the last several years. We kept going to events for start-ups – accelerator stuff – and any training opportunities would kind of be off to the side at these events. So together with Wavefront we just committed ourselves to organizing and running a training and collaboration event to share best practices. This year we had about 110 people show up from all across the country, from accelerators and incubators, and it was an awesome event,” Greer said, explaining that the accelerator philosophy and model is one that is gaining traction within economic development circles.

“It’s actually part of a bigger shift in the changing methods of community economic development. We, of course, are there to support those very few companies that break out and maybe turn into a $100 million, or half-billion or billion-dollar company. But for the most part, we are also there to really help the everyday community companies continue to grow; it’s shifting the roles in the way it’s done. And perhaps it’s a little controversial, as the role of chambers of commerce or the economic development commission of a community, and some of their tactics and strategies, are being replaced by some of the things that accelerators and incubators are doing nowadays”.

Business and the Arts

Such an accelerator program is RevUP, which is being administered by QuinteVation for the Bay of Quinte Region. It is one of eight similar programs that have launched recently around the country, with support and practical assistance for all of them coming from Accelerate Okanagan, where the program was first devised and successfully rolled out. Greer sees such programs as adding a significant new tool in the toolbox of economic development officials or business organizations looking to help their entrepreneurs start up, grow and scale.

“I think there is a lot to be gained from embracing this model. And, to be honest, ‘innovation’ is a buzz word and I kind of hate it. There is a lot to be said for just helping support entrepreneurs where they’re at, instead of just trying to attract the next big manufacturing plant. I think accelerators and incubators allow entrepreneurs, whether they are from a more rural region like Quinte, or from more urban locations, to receive some mentorship to help continue to grow,” he said.

“And I would add that this sort of model or way of thinking is not just about business. It’s also about art and culture and music and an enviable, healthy and diverse lifestyle which all help to create a richer community. This in turn attracts more people to want to come and visit, live and set up businesses. I actually think that just focusing on the business aspect is a pretty big oversight that many of the more traditional approaches to economic development totally overlooked. Whereas if you look at some of the newer approaches and it’s about how will music and art and culture and experience and lifestyle all fit into it. And it’s a pretty strong model that is working.”

Measuring Success

Greer said the metrics for success of any economic development program, but particularly one based on variations of the acceleration or incubation model, do include key aspects such as jobs created, increased municipal tax revenue and the like, but also metrics that many might see as more ‘touchy feely.’ He believes they are just as crucial to measuring the accomplishments of a program.

“Yes, we can measure things like jobs created, amount of new investment and revenue generated – those are very, very standard metrics. We can measure those, and we are seeing positive results on those metrics. But you need to get into more company specific things to help understand what other metrics are actually driving the company outcomes through an accelerator program,” he explained.

“Some of the harder things to measure, that nobody has really figured out, are like the health of a community. But you can get things like entrepreneurial density, you can get measurements on cultural assets and some kind of metrics about institutional support and collaboration. So, we’re saying, ‘yes, we’re helping companies, but what’s the deeper layer on how they are impacting on the community?’ One of the metrics we’re really seeing show up is called Net Promoter Score [NPS], and it’s based on a very simple question, ‘would you refer this to your friends or colleagues?’ You can measure the success of a community event like that, you can measure an accelerator program like that, you can measure a specific mentor or EIR. It is pretty quickly becoming a global standard metric in accelerators and incubators.”

At the heart of the incubator/accelerator approach is that participants are engaged in a very intensive program that focuses on key aspects of their business, guided by the staff of the individual program, as well as working in close quarters with a mentor – the aforementioned EIR or Entrepreneur in Residence. Greer said that while it would be ideal for the EIR to be from a similar background or business as the person they are helping, it isn’t necessary.

“When you gather a real diversity, it does add some wonderful subject matter expertise. But an entrepreneur who has experience starting, growing and scaling a company, sometimes even going through an acquisition, chances are, can help almost any type of entrepreneur. At a certain point, it’s just company building and organization building, not necessarily requiring a certain specific industry expertise,” he said.

Connecting to Bay of Quinte

Greer has a fondness and many long-standing connections to the Bay of Quinte region as he grew up in Rednersville in Prince Edward County, attended Albert College, and earned his Master’s at RMC in Kingston after getting his undergraduate degree at Dalhousie University in Halifax. He is a long-time friend of Quintevation founder and Chair Ryan Williams.

“Right out of school I worked as a sales manager for Xerox for Eastern Ontario and was based in Kingston and then I joined the Launch Lab program in Kingston, which was their version of an incubator, before I decided I really liked the mountains and came to Accelerate Okanogan here in Kelowna. So, I am a big supporter of the initiatives and programs being put together by QuinteVation, including RevUP, which we are supporting behind the scenes with guidance and tools and operational support,” he said, adding that he will be attending the first-ever Canadian Rural Innovation Summit, which takes place during the week of Nov. 18, and is being hosted by QuinteVation.

“I am planning to be there because it’s sort of a first attempt at having a little more of a broad focus on rural economic development. There will be some accelerators and incubators there from more rural regions. I think it’s going to be a great event,” he said.

For more information on the Canadian Rural Innovation Summit, visit

http://ruralinnovation.ca

For more information on the Quintevation RevUP program, visit

http://www.quintevation.ca/rev-up-quinte

And to learn more about Accelerate Okanogan, visit

https://www.accelerateokanagan.com

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