Chris Heivly

Techstars entrepreneur in residence Chris Heivly of Durham, North Carolina, is in the Okanagan to help the Valley get started as a Techstars Outreach community pilot project.

Chris Heivly has the “coolest gig” in the world.

“I get to help people reach their goals. It doesn’t get much better than that,” said Heivly on the fourth day of his 11-day visit to the Okanagan.

Heivly is an entrepreneur in residence at Techstars in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, an incubator that helps tech companies start, commercialize, grow and hire.

Techstars has 31 incubators in 26 cities around the world, such as London, New York, Dubai and Toronto.

Heivly said the Okanagan isn’t big enough for a full-blown Techstars location, but it is big enough for his Techstars Outreach program.

Invited by Accelerate Okanagan, the Valley’s established tech incubator, Heivly is touring the region, meeting with tech types and dispensing his knowledge.

“Every community needs a healthy startup ecosystem,” said Heivly.

“It takes 10 to 20 years to build such a great community. I’d say the Okanagan is about five years in.”

As such, even in the year-and-a-half since Heivly first came to Kelowna, he’s seen the local tech industry boom with ideas, investments, startups and growth.

In fact, the Okanagan tech sector expanded 30 per cent between 2013 and 2016, and 633 tech companies have a $1.3-billion-a-year economic impact.

That makes the industry one of the biggest economic engines in the region, along with construction-real estate, tourism, forestry and agriculture.

Tech has also helped change the demographics of Kelowna to younger, hipper and richer as most tech workers are well-paid and under 35 years of age.

The biggest piece of physical evidence of tech’s growth is the seven-storey Okanagan Centre for Innovation office building, which opened in downtown Kelowna in April.

It houses tech companies of all sizes and phases of growth, from entrepreneurs with an idea renting a desk to established companies with employees.

Some of the firms Heivly has met with include WTFast, Strawhouse, FreshGrade, Bananatag, Nucleus and Data Nerds.

In fact, Data Nerds, which provides neighbourhood-specific facts and figures to homebuyers and real estate types, sent its founders to Techstars in Boulder, Colorado, for an intense three-month mentorship to further develop its business strategy.

“Basically, on this visit I’m assessing the three A’s of attitude, actors and activity of the tech sector and using my experience as an investor, entrepreneur and startup expert to help companies,” said Heivly.

His expertise is deep.

Heivly was a co-founder of MapQuest, the free online maps company that was sold to AOL (America Online) for $1.1 billion in 1999.

Since then, he’s been president of publisher Rand McNally, a university professor, venture capitalist and mentor.

With the information Heivly gathers on this trip, he’ll help Accelerate Okanagan create three-, six- and 12-month road maps to help the tech sector grow.

The Okanagan is the only Canadian community and one of only five in North America chosen for the Techstars Outreach pilot program.

Only two of the others have been revealed at this point — Richmond, Virginia, and Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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