Business

Unleashing Chilliwack’s high-tech potential

Colin Schmidt wants to make Chilliwack a high-tech startup centre for British Columbia. He and others are hosting a 24-hour
Colin Schmidt wants to make Chilliwack a high-tech startup centre for British Columbia. He and others are hosting a 24-hour 'hackathon' starting at 5 p.m. on Feb. 17.
— image credit: Jenna Hauck

Colin Schmidt wants Chilliwack to be the next Boulder, Colorado.

The local software entrepreneur sees our city brimming with untapped potential, along with the geographic parallels to the American Rocky Mountain community.

Boulder has approximately 100,000 people, and like Chilliwack is a smaller city a stone’s throw from a large population centre. In Boulder’s case that’s Denver just 50 kilometres away.

What puts Boulder on the map, and what Schmidt wants to see emulated, is its density of high-tech startup companies – the highest in the world, even higher than Silicon Valley by population.

Schmidt’s BHAG, or his “big hairy audacious goal” — to use the entrepreneurial lingo — is to see 500 new high-tech jobs in Chilliwack in a decade.

“We are just really starting from scratch almost,” Schmidt says, pointing to the particularly audacious aspect of his BHAG. “But Chilliwack does have some inherent advantages that would help us to get caught up.”

That main benefit is that relative real estate affordability with close access to the population centre of the province.

But the city has a long way to go.

Schmidt runs a software company, Cnawlece Incorporated. He incorporated in 2003 but the company started to come together back in the 1990s.

Last summer he looked around with the desire to take his company to the next step.

“I was head down getting our product built,” Schmidt said. “As I was contemplating how do you grow a company in Chilliwack and get more staff and be a place that people would want to work . . . it was clear there were some downsides being all out on your own in Chilliwack.”

So Schmidt and his can-do attitude starting turning over rocks, looking in dark places to find people doing what he was doing. Or something complementary.

In August 2016 the Chilliwack.Tech monthly meet-up was born with a handful of local entrepreneurs and tech folks, and it’s only growing.

According to the latest numbers on the Chilliwack.Tech directory, there are 17 companies/organizations listed with 58 Chilliwack employees and 43 employees outside of the city.

Schmidt figures he’s only tapped into about half of what is actually out there, so if there are 100 employees in Chilliwack, his BHAG is to grow the industry five-fold in 10 years.

“Chiliwack is a place where we could have more success,” he said.

Schmidt is not doing this alone, and is getting support from the Sumas Regional Consortium for High Tech (SRCTEC) and from the Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO), the private company that is the economic development arm of city hall. There is also support from the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) and ACETECH, the not-for-profit organization involving CEOs of B.C.’s major tech companies.

CEPCO president Brian Coombes said it’s early days and the pieces are just coming together.

“Colin is a great example of what I’m excited about,” Coombes said, adding that CEPCO’s role in all of this is one of support and networking. What they do not want is to come at high-tech startup development with a top-down approach.

Mentorship is a big part of it.

“For business and entrepreneurs especially on that start-up side, building mentors in the community that have different areas of expertise,” he said.

Then there is the financial piece: How do startups find financing, because it certainly does not always come from traditional bank loans.

“We hope to be able to put those pieces together,” Coombes said.

A big first step in that regard, is a planned 24-hour “hackathon” to be hosted at the Downtown Business Centre Feb. 17 and 18, a way to connect people and business ideas.

Schmidt’s goal also parallels the stated goal of the provincial government when it comes to tech growth. In partnership with the BC Innovation Council, the province is hosting B.C.’s second #BCTECH Summit, March 14 to 15 at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

paul.henderson@theprogress.com

@PeeJayAitch

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