Kelowna, startups

The untapped talent well in Kelowna

In a constrained startup environment pushing for change it is important to identify and connect the “capable” members of a community. What I mean by “capable” is a bit nuanced, but effectively they are the “DO-ers” of society. If given the proper opportunity, these people could do great things, whether that means community engagement, creating new product ideas, or designing and developing the next big thing.

Attempting to drive all felines in the same direction typically results in a chaotic, leaderless mess. The best way to get action in a distributed environment is to find the do-ers and let them lead. The followers will follow. The community will become stronger. In his book Startup Communities Brad Feld estimates the number of true do-ers as 25% of volunteers — never mind the population at large. I will set an arbitrary (if optimistic) number of 10% of any given population. In our small startup community 10% is still too small to effect big, long-lasting change. Thus we must look to recruit other do-ers from other population pools. I have been considering a list of these pools for some time now, and so far have come up with:

  1. Those currently engaged in the startup community (us, as it stands);
  2. Those in the established tech companies (eg. Club Penguin, QHR, Vineyard, Vericorder) that for one reason or another do not interact with the community at present;
  3. Those rotting in dead-end web design jobs (you know who you are!);
  4. Those outside of tech, looking in (call them nontrepreneurs, wantrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs);
  5. Students, whether they are college/university grads or even promising high schoolers (we need to get them before they leave);
  6. Developers and other startup people from other communities (Kelowna has lots to offer, especially considering the progress in the past year);
  7. and, the immigrant community.

The final one is close to my heart, as someone who is married to an immigrant and who has lived most of his adult life as an expat in a foreign land. Immigrant communities are typically disconnected from regular economic activity but they don’t have to be. In four months of living here I have already met foreign-trained architects, engineers and nurses that do not have the local social connections to get jobs in their industry. I have been approached by one immigrant web-designer and my wife met an unemployed programmer in her ESL class.

Kelowna is still predominantly “old and white” but the immigration population has been rising in the past few years with the rise in education opportunities here, and the deterrent rise of living expenses in the traditional immigrant hub of Vancouver. There is a growing talent pool here that remains overlooked. These people are already trying to build something for themselves here. Why not get their help on building a new economic engine for the benefit of themselves and the city?

Our startup community has been using events organized through tools like Meetup.com and Twitter, as well as through the activities of Digital Okanagan and Accelerate Okanagan. We cannot expect a newly landed programmer to know about these resources. Yet to my knowledge Kelowna has no central clearing house for immigrant-related information that we can hook in to. I cannot begin to estimate the depth of the untapped talent well Kelowna’s immigrant population has to offer. We must find ways to reach out, and make newcomers to our country and city have the opportunity to plug in and offer their skills and experience. Our community will be better for it.

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