State of the heart: tech sector gives big

It’s a massive industry that makes a deep economic impact on the region, and for most of the year it quietly goes about employing more than 20,000 people.

Yet at this time of year, when the need is greatest and the weather cold, the region’s $4-billion technology sector roars into action with the annual Victoria Innovation Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council Food Bank Challenge.

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The event, in its 13th year, has raised more than $2 million for the Mustard Seed Food Bank since its inception.

“I think it’s important the technology sector does what it can for the community, and this is one of the most visible ways we have to show that,” said VIATEC chief executive Dan Gunn. “The interesting thing about this is very few tech firms have customers in Victoria, so they don’t do marketing charity work. All their philanthropy is hidden because they don’t need their logo on it.”

But Gunn said the companies, in a collegial and tight-knit tech community, are ultra-competitive.

“And when you pit them against each other, it brings [the best] out of them,” he said, noting the challenge has grown to include 34 local tech firms.

This year, the challenge raised $82,274 in cash and food.

The vast majority, $68,256, was raised in cash, cheques and online donations, while about 5,367 pounds of food was collected.

Gunn said the sector has decided to push the cash side of the challenge, especially at this time of year.

“It’s a great time to ask people to give because people are more generous of spirit, but that’s a challenge for the food bank,” he said. “Because they get all this food at once, they may have a slow month [in terms of donations] later.

“We focus on cash, so they will have funds to distribute throughout year and to target things they don’t have in stock.”

The Mustard Seed also has better buying power, with its dollar able to get up to three times more than a regular shopper could.

The competing tech companies were also vying for titles, as well as bragging rights.

This year’s biggest money raiser was Carmanah Technologies, which donated $21,377, and the greatest food contribution came from Beanstream, which collected 1,502 pounds of food.

To raise money and food, all 34 companies held fundraisers over the past four weeks, including a Flytographer Christmas sweater fun run, Starfish Medical’s annual chili cook-off, Ringpartner’s wine night and Carmanah’s ping-pong tournament.

Last year, VIATEC’s challenge raised $74,000 and 1,000 pounds of food during its Christmas drive, while a food drive in February of last year raised another $47,000 for the Mustard Seed Food Bank.

The annual challenge has become a huge event for VIATEC, and it has spurred the organization to establish a foundation.

“It’s something we expect to launch in the new year so we can do things like this throughout the year,” Gunn said.

How to donate

Since 1956, this newspaper has collected money to benefit the less fortunate. Last year, through the Christmas Fund, we raised and distributed about $320,000, and we hope to beat that total this year.

To donate, go online to: You will be directed to a Canada Helps donation form; once you make your donation, a tax receipt will be provided immediately.

Or mail a cheque, payable to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund Society, to the Times Colonist Christmas Fund, 2621 Douglas St., Victoria, V8T 4M2.

You can use your credit card by phoning 250-995-4438 between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. Outside those hours, messages will be accepted.p

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