A space once known for its food and drink is being turned into a place for innovation in downtown Vernon.
Work is underway for an innovation centre on 30 Avenue that aims to provide a central gathering space for creative people in the business community and the general public. The project is headed by Accelerate Okanagan—which runs the Kelowna Innovation Centre—and will also be operated by Community Futures.
The hub will assume the location formerly home to the Naked Pig, which officially closed in October. Plans for the hub were based on examples drawn from the Kelowna centre and a host of others, but the hope is to create something uniquely Vernon.
“We’ve toured a bunch of different innovation centres and took that back to say what’s working well, and what we could maybe do differently to put our own Vernon spin on it,” said Brea Lake, CEO of Accelerate Okanagan.
Lake said the owners of the Naked Pig—who also own the adjoining Marten Brewpub—were on board with the idea from the very start.
“I think they truly believe in what mainstreet business could look like in the future,” Lake said. “When we were looking for spaces we met with them and their whole personality and outlook really fit well, and they were saying they’re okay to move away from another restaurant going in here and do something a bit different, so it really aligned with their values.”
The hub will feature roughly 13 desks for large businesses to rent, as well as two larger anchor tenet spaces that can accommodate teams of four to six people. The centre of the space will be designed with versatility in mind.
“We’re hoping that the centre of the space can be really flexible to accommodate in-person events when we can have those again,” Lake said, referring to some future point in time when social interaction can fully resume following the pandemic.
According to Lake there are 700 tech companies in the Okanagan, and approximately 296 of them are based in Vernon.
“Some of those have teams and some members are just solo entrepreneurs starting out, and so it’s really about people who are looking for that support network who are building out a product or a company but want to be surrounded by other entrepreneurs who are like-minded,” she said.
A pilot version of the hub is expected to open by late summer, and plans for an expansion into Phase 2 will begin six months to a year later. Of course, the timeline depends on how COVID-19 evolves over those months.
“Given the current landscape especially with Covid we want to make sure we’re reassessing and meeting the demand where it’s going to be,” Lake said.
In addition to providing start-up funding, Community Futures helped conduct a feasibility study over the last year to gauge community interest. Through consultations and one-on-one meetings, the study found the community is ready to innovate.
When the time comes to expand, the innovation hub hopes to accommodate people young and old.
“Something we’re just starting to scratch the surface of is how do we involve multiple generations in this space, so how do we involve maybe people who are retired who are interested in learning new skills and wanting to repurpose the skills they’ve had or embrace technology,” Lake said.
On the other side of the spectrum is youth, and the partners hope to one day provide young people with opportunities to create with their hands, using technologies such as 3D printing.
Participating partners in the project include the City of Vernon, Okanagan College, Okanagan Regional Library, Okanagan Science Centre and Cowork Vernon.