Well-known local entrepreneur and community activist, Raghwa Gopal has been named the new CEO of Accelerate Okanagan with much fanfare. My sincere wishes for his success in this important new role in the community. However, it is extremely important to also recognize the major challenges he faces. Just this week BMO issued a report which ranked Kelowna the worst job market in Canada, well behind many seemingly more distressed Ontario communities.
The reasons for Kelowna’s economic problems are deep and long-standing. Accelerate Okanagan was hailed years ago for its potential value in boosting the local economy. Unfortunately, despite support and large funding infusions from the BC Innovation Council, not much has happened over these years. The small handful of companies that can be listed as having done well enough to survive or to be sold, have had virtually zero impact on the economy. One such company was sold to a Silicon Valley networking company for about $20 Million. Another was sold to Telus Health for an undisclosed amount. This is usually referred to in Silicon Valley as “parking,” or salvaging whatever is possible from a startup that did not do well. The other examples of Okanagan success, Club Penguin and recently, Immersive Media, are prime examples of how Canadian companies are bought for a song, and then stripped of their intellectual property (IP), and eventually the jobs as well. In the case of Disney and Club Penguin, I know a bit of the background. A few years earlier, I had been invited, under NDA, to see Disney’s big budget online project development, which had spent hundreds of millions without much to show for it. Club Penguin was dirt cheap in Disney’s world, compared to their past losses. Hootsuite is the one successful company whose founder is from Vernon. But CEO Ryan Holmes has openly admitted that he did not base Hootsuite in the Okanagan because he knew he would not be able to attract the necessary talent here.
More disturbing, the local Okanagan establishment seems lost in a delusion regarding the size and impact of its high-tech industry. Accelerate Okanagan recently published a report claiming that the high-tech industry here is valued at more than $1 Billion, which has been repeatedly cited by local leaders, including Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran. The fact is that no reputable industry analyst could honestly agree with the AO assessment, as the report was little more than an unscrutinized survey, lacking the most basic rigor of true industry analysis. Add to that, the simplest comparison with another Canadian $1 Billion industry, mobile phone advertising, for example, does not square with what we see in Kelowna.
Some time ago, I reported on New Zealand’s Ice House tech incubator economic impact report, which has much greater credibility. The AO report is essentially claiming that the Okanagan technology economy is more than twice the size of New Zealand’s…That’s too big of a leap of faith for me. Read New Zealand’s Ice House Startups Achieve Impressive Results and contrast it with the AO report.
So I offer my best wishes to Raghwa in his new position, and sincerely hope that he will be able to cut through the serious impediments to economic development and jobs growth in the Okanagan, particularly the need for a more realistic assessment of the current situation.
The Accelerate Okanagan Technology Association has named Raghwa Gopal, a veteran of the Kelowna technology community, as its new CEO.
Gopal had been acting CEO for the past two months. This new announcement simply cements him in to the full-time CEO role.
Over his 28-year career, Gopal co-founded Vadim Software, an asset management platform used by the Canadian government among other provincial and municipal clients, a company which eventually grew to generate $25 million in annual revenue and employed over 100 people before being acquired in 2001.
Gopal retired as president and chief technology officer of Vadim Software in 2006.
“It is an immense honor to be offered the position of CEO for Accelerate Okanagan, particularly because this is such an exciting time for the tech industry in the Okanagan and the province as a whole,” said Mr. Gopal. “With the Okanagan Centre for Innovation (OCI) opening soon, the new BC Tech Fund, and new and innovative programs being offered by Accelerate Okanagan, I see tremendous opportunity for the growth of tech companies in the Okanagan.”
The Okanagan Centre for Innovation is a six-storey, 104,000 square foot facility under construction at the corner of Doyle and Ellis streets in Kelowna.
“After an exhaustive search that involved over 120 candidates, we are extremely pleased to announce Raghwa Gopal as AO’s new CEO,” said Accelerate Okanagan Board Chairman Blair Forrest. “Mr. Gopal was by far the best candidate measured against the core competencies established by our CEO Search Committee and we are very fortunate to have someone of his calibre to lead our organization through the next stage of growth.”
In his “retirement”, Gopal has been involved in a number of volunteer roles, including Director of the Okanagan College Foundation, the Rotary Club of Kelowna, the United Way, and the Central Okanagan Development Commission.
“He is a very well-known and respected person with an extensive history in our community who will bring many years of business acumen, industry expertise and knowledge to the role,” continued Forrest. “Through his prior involvement as acting CEO and Executive in Residence, Raghwa is very familiar with our team, association members, programs, clients, partners, government funding organizations and objectives.”
Statistics Canada last year named Kelowna B.C.’s fastest growing city, with a population growth of 1.8% over the previous year.
“One of my primary goals will be to create an ecosystem of collaboration between different stakeholders – both here in the Okanagan and province wide – to provide bigger and better opportunities for local companies to grow and thrive,” added Mr. Gopal. “I’m looking forward to help further cultivate and nurture the burgeoning tech industry in the Okanagan.”