Abbotsford Innovation Network launches with inaugural event
The organization hopes to break down silos within the Fraser Valley, and help innovators collaborate within their own community.
The challenge of innovation in the Fraser Valley, says Johann Roduit, is that it’s always looking up to Vancouver.
There’s lots of reasons why that shouldn’t be the case. Roduit, a founding partner of Conexkt — a full-service innovation studio — lists agritech, healthtech, and aviation as the three areas in which he feels Abbotsford best excels, but notes that there’s plenty more tech and innovation companies that don’t fall into those categories. A major reason the ecosystem isn’t growing as swiftly as the juggernaut to the west, he says, is that leaders are siloed.
His solution? The Abbotsford Innovation Network (AIN).
Helmed by Roduit, Jon Morrison, and Gavin Dew, the AIN is a community of entrepreneurs, innovators, freelancers, creatives, and tech-minded individuals committed to building a culture of innovation in Abbotsford. The initiative connects anyone with an interest in the topic, provides resources and opportunities for skill development, and hosts events to showcase the latest developments in innovation and entrepreneurship.
“The idea is to create together an ecosystem; bumping into each other to see what can be made,” says Roduit. “There are a lot of great companies, tech companies, innovative companies that are here. And I think it's time for us to just look at ourselves, and [recognize] that there's a lot to offer here. One of the challenges [is] that often the people here don't even know what the other people here are doing, because we have been so focused outside. We want to create that network for opportunities in Abbotsford.”
Roduit and his co-founders believe that the future of the Fraser Valley cannot be written without tech. There are already moves to cement the city’s status as an innovation leader in Western Canada. Dew, for example, is spearheading the Abbotsford Tech District: a research and commercialization hub for homegrown agricultural innovation. The project, located on Sumas Mountain, hopes to build a complete community for thousands of people across its 100 acres of land, and already boasts a multi-billion-dollar private sector investment. Morrison, meanwhile, is the owner and lead consultant of Get Clear — which teaches business leaders how to effectively market their brand — and is a passionate advocate for the city.
“I'm in this tiny little bedroom community here in Abbotsford, but we're serving clients all around the world,” he says. “And I'm in meetings all the time, right from this office, but across North America. We can be anywhere, and especially with me growing a family, [raising them] in the city is not what we wanted to do. We wanted to have some room. It doesn't matter what industry you're in now with remote work. If you're in tech, I think the Fraser Valley is an enticing option for those who want more than just work.”
The AIN will bring that community together for its first event — titled Abby Innovates: Connecting Minds, Sparking Ideas — on February 28. The meetup will take place at Trading Post (3058 Gladwin Road) in Abbotsford, and will feature a keynote speech from local expert Jon Thomas, director of the Esposito Family Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of the Fraser Valley. A key feature of the event is a world café discussion format, where guests can connect and engage on the latest trends and developments in innovation. The AIN, the co-founders stress, is a grassroots organization, and will be driven by the needs of the group – whether that be an extension of its Slack channel, more in-person events, or other formats.
“I’m hoping to build a sense of community,” says Roduit of his goals for the newly launched organization. “That we can do things together, and — it sounds a bit cheesy — shape the habits of tomorrow. And to believe in ourselves, that in the Valley we can create things here. It’s important to gather the groups that are here, and start building those groups.”
“I’m excited for the people that I’m going to meet as a human being,” Morrison agrees. “When you get great people together, great things can happen. So already just meeting Johann, because of this community, we both put our hand up and said we want to be part of this. And I'm just amazed with the stuff that he's been able to pull off in such a short amount of time. So that's what getting people together under the name of innovation can do.”