BCBusiness + Innovate BC

Innovate BC and the Provincial Government Invest in Tech TalentImage courtesy Jeff Vinnick

$102 million will help create opportunities for co-ops, entrepreneurs and students

The tech sector is playing an enormous role in supercharging B.C.’s economy — contributing nearly $15 billion to B.C.’s overall economic output — but Dawn Wood, Director of Programs at Innovate BC, notes that a key ingredient is required for future growth. “We need to nurture new talent, not just for the tech companies but also for the thousands of businesses that increasingly rely on tech in their daily operations,” she says. 

That’s why B.C. Premier John Horgan’s pledge at the recent BC Tech Summit to invest over $102.7 million in the sector is so exciting to Wood and her colleagues. Of that sum, $10.5 million is going towards co-op opportunities and entrepreneurial training for post-secondary students, with the goal of helping them prepare for careers in tech.

Specifically, the money will enable Innovate BC (formerly the BC Innovation Council) to award more grants via its BC Tech Co-op Grants Program and re-launch the Crown agency’s Innovator Skills Initiative (ISI) Program.

The Tech Co-op Grants Program gives salary support of up to $10,800 annually to tech firms hiring for any roles as well as non-tech companies hiring for tech-specific roles, providing they’re established in B.C. and have less than 100 employees. Similarly, the ISI grant gives tech companies and startups up to $10,000 annually to hire post-secondary business or tech students from accredited institutions in the province.

Over the years, such programs have repeatedly proven to benefit both student and employer. “In the late 1990s and early 2000s I was a Simon Fraser University kinesiology student who was hired through a co-op program as a disability management consultant, and then by an orthopedics company,” says Eric Jang, who today is a chiropractor and owner of the TeamWell Health clinics in Burnaby, Richmond, and Surrey. “Getting these professional credits was great for my résumé and facilitated my acceptance into chiropractic school.”

In turn, Jang two years ago began hiring kinesiology students through the BC Tech Co-op Grants Program. “These students have been invaluable to me, since TeamWell is a growing business,” he says.

As for the ISI program, it has been a boon for companies such as North Vancouver-based DNA Power Inc., which studies clients’ genetic makeup to support their health and wellness, particularly in the areas of diet and fitness. 

DNA president and CEO Lois Nahirney explains, “We’re a small company that has to be careful with budget, and ISI enabled me to hire a student in digital media who helped me develop a digital media strategy that was crucial to our growth. I was so pleased with her work that I retained her for several more months outside of the program, and she has since been hired full-time by a large organization — which is exactly the direction in which she wanted to go. There’s no doubt that we’ll definitely be using the program again.”

A key component of the ISI Program is the entrepreneurial and business training the student receives from the company, which helps the student develop the skills required to run a successful business. The program’s focus is on covering the innovation and entrepreneurial gap that’s critical to providing the spark that ignites future business leaders. 

Wood concludes, “Nurturing new talent in the tech sector is an ongoing challenge, but $10.5 million from the province will greatly support both the BC Tech Co-op Grant and ISI programs moving forward.

“My one message to entrepreneurs in the tech field who require assistance in hiring staff is to simply apply for these programs. They’re a classic win-win for everyone, and so important to the future of our tech sector.”

To apply for either grant, head to bcic.ca

Created by BCBusiness in partnership with Innovate BC