Okanagan Center for Innovation
The Okanagan Centre for Innovation aims to be "A hub of Innovation, Technology, and Creativity". The building itself promises to impress - approximately 100,000 square feet in size with a sprawling interior atrium, a public theatre, ground-floor commercial / retail space including a restaurant, a rooftop lounge with a small stage and sweeping lake views. The remainder of the centre is distributed over five floors, including the publicly funded second floor that will act as business incubation space for technology startups, entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations, the largest of which is Accelerate Okanagan.
Yet, this initiative is about more than a building. In the words of Robert Fine, Director of Business and Entrepreneurial Development at the City of Kelowna, "The building is just a vehicle; it's just infrastructure." The broader goal is to foster "creative collisions" between people working in the sectors of technology, arts and culture. Similar to the offices of Pixar and Google, the Innovation Centre has been designed so that workers consistently interact; socializing on the rooftop, chatting in the open atrium, getting coffee from the cafe, even walking to the bathroom. Such "collisions" have been shown to benefit the workplace by promoting collaboration, sustaining motivation, and improving productivity.
"There is nothing like this in Canada," explains Jeff Keen, Director of the Kelowna Innovation Society. In Keen's view, the Innovation Centre will make Kelowna a "compelling option" for entrepreneurs wanting to start a tech company. The centre will attract and retain a range of talented young professionals, from computer programmers and engineers, to fine arts graduates (for animation) to those with business savvy (for company marketing and development), many of whom currently leave the region to pursue career opportunities.
While the Okanagan Centre for Innovation is sure to be an architectural gem, it is perhaps the new infusion of creative people in Kelowna's Cultural District that will make the biggest long-term impact on our cultural economy. The centre will house hundreds of employees, many of whom will be keen to view the latest art exhibit, enjoy a ballet or symphony performance, and socialize at local restaurants and microbreweries. As Robert Fine summarizes, "The technology industry does not exist where there is no thriving arts and culture scene; creative people want to be around other creative people."