Whether you’re a remote worker on contract 5,000 kilometres from the office, or an ambitious new enterprise employing dozens of people to manufacture advanced materials, there’s never been a better time to go your own way. And there’s no better place to do it than the Kootenays – which have always been about unbridled self-realization. From the mouth of the Columbia River to the peaks of the Purcells, more people are making their best lives in our region’s idyllic wilds than ever before. Like the pioneers that first came looking for their fortunes in timber and minerals, this land continues to provide – only now in the renewable resource of ideas. Here are the five most up-and-coming startup tech businesses turning heads in the Kootenays.
1. PodTech Innovation Inc.
The brainchild of Rossland’s Brian Fry, PodTech manufactures modular data servers inside shipping containers and sells them all around the world. It’s cutting-edge tech that’s changing all kinds of lives in all kinds of places via speedy cloud-based processing, but much of it is equally being used right on site, at the Columbia Lake Technology Center (CLTC), in Canal Flats. Taking over the town’s defunct lumber mill, the CLTC and PodTech have reimagined local manufacturing, moving many of their “pods” only a few hundred feet before plugging them into BC Hydro’s grid, and the Columbia Valley’s fibre-optic internet with their own data farm. With plans for up to 100 employees, it’s a model of integrated rural economic revitalization even the provincial government is paying close attention to.
Remember that cringe-worthy punk rock album you and your college buddies successfully crowdfunded a few years back? Well, imagine if you could have crowdfunded college instead, and now you had no student loan payments instead of a bunch of unsellable CDs. Thanks to Nelson designer Nichola Lytle, aspiring students have an alternative to borrowing. She started EduFunder in 2017 as a tool to help young people pool in money from family members and well-wishers to fund their higher education. And it’s working. The online tool is free, helping slingshot the next generation into a brighter future.
3. SMRT1 Technologies
If you’ve ever been to Japan, you know we’re missing out. Vending machines are a big part of daily life in the Land of the Rising Sun, where you can buy anything from hot coffee to underwear. But even that technocratic society’s vending machines pale to those Brad Pommen builds through SMRT1 Technologies, in Nelson. According to SMRT1, there are 7 million vending machines in the world not plugged into the web, not collecting data, not interfaced through Bluetooth, and not learning from consumer habits. That’s something SRMT1 intends to change. Not only do their smart vending machines have updated digital interfaces that bring them into the modern era, they do all the aforementioned. The only question left is, what do you want to buy?
4. Pixel Cents
The artist’s longstanding fight for equal pay goes digital with award-winning photographer Melissa Welsh’s foray into the software world. As a leading Canadian photographer with a Master of Photographic Arts designation from the Professional Photographers of Canada, Melissa still found it was a struggle to get paid well for creative work – not the least because there was no standardization of prices in her field. It was too easy for new, and sometimes even experienced photographers, to undervalue themselves and undercut the whole industry. So Melissa wrote Pixel Cents, a book that proposed pricing digital files by the pixel, on a sliding scale according to experience and intended use. She’s since developed it into an app that does the math for photographers, pricing images for them, and also software to help photographers build realistic business practices to meet their financial goals.
As a side project for software programmer Aaron Davidson, of Revelstoke, Cronometre came from humble beginnings, but has since gone on to employ almost 20 people. That’s after only three short years in business. What it is, exactly, is an app that lets you track the nutritional value of food. Many notable health experts call it the most up-to-date, reliable, and exhaustive data available to consumers. It’s delivered conveniently through your phone, or online account. And, like all good apps, it makes something that’s otherwise really hard much easier. Aaron first built the app as a way to map an experimental low-calorie diet he was following for himself. And while he eventually moved back to a regular diet, he found leagues of health-conscious people tuning into the tool he built to manage any number of personal diet styles. Over 2 million people have signed up to Cronometre to date, and the company is growing faster than the Incredible Hulk.
This blog post is part of an ongoing series focused on the technology sector in the Kootenays. It is supported by Kootenay Association for Science & Technology and Imagine Kootenay. Read the next post in the series: Revelstoke programmer hits it big with wildly popular nutrient-tracking app.