Nelson Innovation Centre opens in Railtown

From left, Nelson Innovation Centre manager Karen Kornelsen, KAST interim executive director Kailyn Skuban, and community engagement co-ordinator Laura Vaché. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Nelson Innovation Centre staff from left, manager Karen Kornelsen, KAST interim executive director Kailyn Skuban, and community engagement co-ordinator Laura Vaché. Table by The Traditional Timber Framing Company, the designer-builder of the centre. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Manager Karen Kornelsen in the private booth set up for individuals to take part in video conferences. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
The lounge area at Nelson Innovation Centre that can function as an event space. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

The boardroom table in the new Nelson Innovation Centre is made of birch that designer-builder Joern Wingender rescued from local firewood cutters 10 years ago.

The design on the wood panels on the private work booth and the front counter were laser-cut at MIDAS Lab (now Selkirk Technology Access Centre).

“And the burned timber pieces in the closet and counter in the washroom look like [laser-carved pieces] but were actually carved by bugs,” says centre manager Karen Kornelsen.

This mix of textures and sources is part of the leading-edge atmosphere in the centre, located in the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce building in the historic CP railway station.

“We can’t wait to welcome people to this incredible space – a stunning community hub that visually merges the wild, rugged and earthy Kootenay landscape with modern technology,” says Kornelsen.

Wingender calls the space “contemporary rustic, featuring local woods with all their natural attributes and imperfections.”

The centre has been on the drawing board at the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (KAST) for several years, based on the estimate that there are 7,000 tech workers in the Nelson area who need a place to meet with clients, network with like-minded people, upgrade their skills, or access an in-town work space.

“The tech scene here in the Nelson area is thriving, and it actually has for quite some time,” Kornelsen says. “You look at companies like D-Pace – a particle accelerator company who has been here for years. And companies like ThoughtExchange, and then new companies moving in like Traction on Demand. Drop Manufacturing has been here for a while too. These companies are are putting us on the map.”

Workspace and networking

Tech workers can use the centre as a workspace, but Kornelsen says it is not a co-working space where you have your own desk reserved. Space in the centre will be first-come first-served eventually, but now it must be booked on the centre’s website because of a 20-person capacity in the centre during the pandemic.

“If you are working in your house, and you need peace and quiet and better internet, come here,” says Kornelsen. “We want to bring people together. And the collaboration that happens when we bring the tech community together is amazing.”

For example, she says a man from a neighbouring community is launching a process automation company, and is looking for a local engineer and software developer.

“He was in town trying to make connections because he wanted to build his team locally. And he was so thrilled that Nelson Innovation Centre is opening and he has a place to come and work when he’s travelling through town and have a place to meet other like-minded people.”

The centre will be free for all users in July and August. Beginning in September there will be a daily flat rate fee of $10. KAST members will have free access.

Kornelsen knows first hand about the power of tech networking because she runs the monthly Nelson tech meet ups. The group has over 1,000 people in its private Facebook group.

Tech worker can mean a lot of things: web developer, software engineer, UX (user experience) consultant, virtual reality specialist, information technology specialist, security analyst, network administrator, data analyst, business analyst, fabrication lab technician, and the list goes on.

People with those kinds of jobs work in almost every industry including agriculture, manufacturing, finance, mining, forestry, health care, and telecommunications. Many of them, Kornelsen says, crave networking and training opportunities.

E-commerce and digital marketing

There are many small- and medium-sized businesses that Kornelsen says need help, mainly with three things: remote working, e-commerce, and digital marketing.

For example:

• A pet food manufacturer wants to learn about online sales platforms where they can sell their products and reach new customers.

• A transport company wants to learn how to optimize their current technology, enabling smoother project management and better communication between drivers.

• A local sporting retail store wants to ramp up their digital marketing as they launch a new website, and get tips on connecting with new customers through using social media.

Those are samples from the list of companies that took part in KAST’s first Kootenay Virtual Connection Day, held in May, in partnership with the B.C. Tech Association.

“The response we had was incredible, and this is just one example of how we’re serving the broader community,” says Kornelsen. “We had over 44 local businesses, from here to Creston, Grand Forks and Revelstoke, apply for free one-on-one consultation with a tech expert.”

There will be a second Virtual Connection Day on July 24 for small- and medium-sized businesses. The registration form is on the centre website.

The centre has a roster of courses coming up, to be announced soon.

“We have some big things in the works,” Kornelsen says.

And the centre’s staff will provide impromptu advice to anyone who asks.

“Maybe they need access to funding. Maybe they are wondering what jobs are available in our local community. Maybe they want to be connected to someone at a specific tech company. Whatever it is they need, we’re here to try to connect them.”

Boardroom and event rentals plus a private booth

The centre also rents out the boardroom with the aforementioned spectacular birch table to local companies and organizations for meetings, not necessarily tech-related, and a non-profit rate is available.

The boardroom and the rest of the space is decked out with state of the art technology: audio, projectors, Smart TV, fast internet through Nelson Fibre, and lots of floor boxes and outlets.

There is a work booth for video conference calls in sound-proof privacy, leasable office space, and a lounge area that can serve as an event space.

The centre is a partnership between KAST, the City of Nelson, Community Futures Central Kootenay, the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, the Nelson and Area Economic Development Partnership, the Southern Interior Development Initiative Trust, and the B.C Rural Dividend Fund, with contributions from local residents, business and industry.



bill.metcalfe@nelsonstar.com

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