Growing demand for workspace, connections amid COVID-19 fuels excitement about Innovation Centre
For so many reasons, and now more than ever, the upcoming opening of the Vernon Innovation & Entrepreneur Workspace in downtown Vernon is something to look forward to. While many storefronts have had to dim their lights in recent months, a new face on 30th Avenue aims to become a bright spot for local collaboration, community and innovation.
“This is a grassroots Vernon project that has seen many individuals and organizations work incredibly hard. To see the walls go up and the lights coming on, it’s amazing and we’re so thankful for their support and the support of our board, because this was a big leap,” says Leigha Horsfield, General Manager, Community Futures North Okanagan (CFNO).
The centre, set to open in mid-August next to Marten’s Pub, will feature 2,400 square feet of space for meeting and coworking on the main floor. The basement is a potential future link of the grassroots Creative Campus initiative with community partners. The centre also aims to act as a hub for emerging and established freelancers and entrepreneurs to collaborate, network, learn and grow.
With both in-person and virtual opportunities taking shape, members of the Innovation Centre community and Vernon’s ‘hidden’ (home-based) workforce can connect and let ideas take root, an important factor as people look for a place to belong post COVID-19. The events of recent months and new ways of working have also fuelled growing demand for cowork space.
“We are fielding a lot of queries and we’re hearing people say with family at home more of the time, they need another place to work and focus, and this way they also get that check-in time with their peers,” says Kazia Mullin, Business Services Manager at CFNO, adding the centre will open with an evolving health and safety plan to ensure the wellbeing of our guests and community.
“We are so looking forward to seeing how members of our tech community with connections and experience will inspire others, including youth and Indigenous people, to take their business ideas forward.”
The idea for the centre grew with support of several local stakeholders, and it was propelled with local and federal funding and project management by CFNO. A local steering committee created critical roadmaps and relationships to help bring the project to fruition. Mullin says once the centre was ready to operationalize, Accelerate Okanagan was invited to manage the centre—drawing on their expertise while mindfully fueling the vision and values of this uniquely Vernon centre.
To help make the centre’s goals a reality in the day-to-day when it opens, Vernon resident and longstanding member of the local tech community Jessica Wicks is the Accelerate Okanagan Community Lead based in the centre.
“We are very committed to leveraging the feedback of the Vernon community to continue making this a centre they are proud of,” says Wicks.
Through its hub-and-spoke model, the centre will continue to inspire meaningful local collaboration with organizations such as The Okanagan Science Centre, Okanagan Regional Library, Vernon Arts Centre, City of Vernon, Okanagan College, School District 22 and others. This project is supported in part by Western Economic Diversification Canada.