Ask a Leader: Jill Tipping calls for a tech-enabled economy

Post-COVID, BC Tech Association president and CEO Jill Tipping calls for a tech-enabled economy.

Credit: BC Tech

The head of the BC Tech Association believes her industry can help all businesses succeed in a post-COVID world

We asked prominent members of the B.C. business community what they’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic—and how this crisis will change everything from work to leadership. For the first instalment of our series, Jill Tipping, president and CEO of the BC Tech Association, shares her vision for harnessing technology to build a stronger provincial economy.

For B.C. businesses that have survived COVID-19, what’s the most important thing they can do right now to make themselves more resilient to future disruptions?

The BC Tech Association is B.C.’s largest accelerator, and we provide programs to address key gaps in B.C.: the tech talent gap, the scale-up gap and the tech adoption gap. These same priority areas are even more important in light of COVID-19.

Now more than ever, we need to see all levels of governments helping re-skill workers and help small non-tech companies adopt technology to build resiliency post-COVID. At BC Tech, we believe that every company is a tech company, and closing the tech-adoption gap will build stronger companies and ultimately a stronger economy. Our HyperTech program and our Virtual Connection Days are just two of the ways we pivoted in response, helping companies adopt tech by connecting businesses with technology experts to discuss and provide solutions for digital marketing, e-commerce and working from home.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from the pandemic?

What’s important and what isn’t. Throughout this pandemic, we’ve been forced, both personally and professionally, to examine what really matters to us, and while that can be challenging, it also brings new insights and opportunities. What really matters is deeply rooted in our purpose and our values. At BC Tech, our purpose is to build B.C.’s tech-enabled economy, and every program and initiative we run advances this purpose. Our values are to be bold, courageous and bring positive impact in everything we do.

We’ve also discovered just how strong and powerful B.C.’s tech ecosystem is, and how tech can be a force for good. We’ve seen companies quickly pivot to develop needed solutions to COVID-19 and rally together. From AbCellera developing antibody therapeutics to combat COVID-19, to Thrive Health working with the Government of Canada to develop a COVID-19 self-assessment tool, we have seen so much good and incredible work come out of the B.C. tech industry.

Is there one aspect of your business, or business in general, that you think has changed for good or that you won’t be going back to doing the old way?

We’ve seen a lot of organizations, BC Tech included, who have opted for virtual events to stay connected with the community, and that’s likely to continue as part of our work even after the crisis is over. It’s a tool that allows us to reach every part of the province with our work, and it democratizes access to key programs.

We’ve also increased the intensity of our engagement with members—we now reach twice as many as before each week. We ran weekly Q&A sessions and newsletters itemizing government reliefs and increased our social media content to share good-news stories and connect. We’ll ease off to a monthly community townhall from September on, but this will continue to be virtual and showcase a fireside chat with some of the best and brightest industry experts in the community.

Over the next few years, how do you expect work to change as a result of COVID?

We still don’t know what the “new normal” will look like, and we’re learning more every day about the future of business. It won’t be “one size fits all.” Every business will handle things differently and make the best decision for their company. As a result of COVID-19, we’ll see more flexibility in how we approach the role of the office. We thought offices were needed for individual productivity—but it turns out not so much! What coworking space does provide is an environment that helps teams to create and to collaborate. The traditional office and traditional office hours are gone.

Which opens a lot of doors and creates a lot of opportunities! If team members can be based in any part of the province, that’ll drive growth in tech jobs in rural communities. And remote working will ease pressure on commercial real estate and transit in urban settings. B.C. is already a great place to live, and how our health officials guided us through this pandemic may well attract more talent to the province. In the future, if talent can be based anywhere, I see huge advantages to places like B.C., which have such a high quality of life and high social cohesion.

Looking ahead, what leadership qualities will be most in demand?

In a crisis, true leadership is service leadership. Leadership that asks, How can I be of service to others—to our teams, our customers, our industry, our government and our fellow citizens? When times are tough, we need leaders we trust, who stay positive and grounded in reality but are determined to build a better future.

I’m incredibly proud of how B.C.’s tech sector navigated these challenging times. We came together as a community to support each other and to support small business. And when the crisis is over, we need leadership that is bold, ambitious, courageous and determined. We have an opportunity to build back better—and that’s not a job for the faint-hearted!