A built-on-the-Island program designed to help companies transition to the digital economy or expand their digital footprint is about to spread across the province and allow some Island tech firms to flex a bit of their muscle.
The Digital Economy Restart, Recover, Reimagine program, also known as DER3, developed by the Innovation Island Technology Association in Nanaimo, will be offered in regions throughout B.C. starting Monday.
The program, which has been operating out of Nanaimo since April, offers one-to-one business and technical expertise for companies hoping to improve their digital capacity and give them the tools they need to respond to the current pandemic and expand to new markets.
Graham Truax, executive director of Innovation Island, said the program has been a boon for some businesses in the mid- and north-Island, and they are optimistic it will see the same kind of adoption as it is unveiled around the province.
Truax said Innovation Island has worked with nearly 400 companies of all sizes, from all sectors and with varying degrees of digital literacy.
“This program covers everything from the absolute basics to stuff on the cutting edge, based on where a company is at,” he said, noting they have linked companies with no web presence to experts that have guided them into the global marketplace, and at the same time helped established technology firms pivot when their markets disappeared during the pandemic.
The expanded program, funded out of a $2.95-million infusion from Western Economic Diversification, is also expected to be a shot in the arm for local tech companies and the regional technology associations that will administer the program.
“For us, it’s a nice little stretch from having a mandate of helping technology companies thrive and succeed to helping main street adapt,” said Dan Gunn, chief executive of the Victoria Innovation, Advanced Technology and Entrepreneurship Council. “We happen to know a lot of people with the skills and resources that would be helpful to main street. The goal is to provide support and resources to help more typical companies and businesses to adapt their models and approach to the realities of the pandemic.
“And it’s probable it will mean improvement for them beyond the pandemic.”
Truax said he has seen some success stories already out of the mid-Island, with old-school companies now finding strong sales online with an improved online presence and enhanced digital marketing.
“Some of them have wondered why they didn’t do it 20 years ago,” he said.
Gunn said he’s not sure what the uptake will be like in Victoria, but he said VIATEC has a target of working with at least 180 companies to start.
“I don’t think there’s any question there are more than 180 businesses that can benefit from experienced advice from subject-matter experts to help them move their business forward utilizing more digital tools and approaches,” he said. “The real key will be how many will want to and take the time and do the work to make the change.”
Links to application forms for businesses wanting to take part in the program are online at VIATEC.ca and Innovatebc.ca