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  • Kamloops Innovation launches project to help small and medium-sized businesses learn and adopt no-code AI solutions

    Kamloops – Kamloops Innovation (KI) is pleased to announce the launch of the Discovery Foundation’s Applied AI for Business and Education Program aimed at supporting the education and adoption of the latest no-code AI business tools and platforms. Through its partnership as an agent of the Discovery Foundation’s Technology Education Program, KI will host a series of educational events, workshops and one-on-one learning and mentorship opportunities for interested businesses in the Kamloops region. Generative AI and no-code AI tools are designed to make AI more accessible to individuals and businesses without the need for extensive coding knowledge, democratizing access to AI-powered tools and fostering innovation. “Embracing Artificial Intelligence is no longer an option, but an essential avenue for maintaining a competitive edge in today's rapidly evolving business landscape. Our initiative promises to enhance capacity in the business and industrial sectors across Kamloops and its neighbouring regions,” said KI executive director, Michael Andrews. “A key aspect of this project is to reinforce our commitment to fostering growth in Indigenous businesses, providing youth with opportunities to engage with businesses and technology, and ensuring companies lead by women and new Canadians have opportunities to engage with the latest AI tools.” Computer Science and Engineering students at TRU will play a key role in educating businesses through hosting hands-on workshops and providing technology adoption and education support for participating businesses. “This is the right time to be launching this project,” said Musfiq Rahman, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Computing Science. “Businesses will have the opportunity to learn how to navigate use and apply these new tools and platforms, and our students gain valuable experience by supporting them in learning to create powerful, customizable tools.” “It’s a win/win opportunity for both businesses and our students, who will learn important essential skills to help advance their careers,” said Kevin O’Neil, Computer Science faculty and project liaison. Sarah Mathieu, Director & Founder, My Broker Pro Marketing Agency Ltd., is thrilled for the opportunity to learn how to integrate these tools into her business. “Successfully growing my business will require both an understanding of and access to those technologies that can help. AI is fast becoming a key lever in growing revenue, boosting operational efficiency, and improving my customers’ experiences. I’m excited to be a part of the Kamloops Innovation program that will help my business gain a competitive by adopting and implementing no-code AI tools that will support better decision-making and enhance efficiency and productivity gains.” The benefits of learning and using no-code tools in business operations include time and cost savings, increasing efficiency, streamlining business processes and workflows, resulting in better customer service and freeing up employees to focus on mission-critical tasks that require human expertise. --30-- Contact: Michael Andrews, Executive Director Kamloops Innovation executivedirector@kamloopsinnovation.com About Kamloops Innovation Kamloops Innovation supports entrepreneurs throughout the Thompson, Nicola, and Cariboo regions of British Columbia. We focus on new business start-ups that need support and guidance as well as seasoned entrepreneurs who want to take their business to the next level. For more information go to kamloopsinnovation.com. About the Discovery Foundation A registered charity, the Discovery Foundation has been a committed champion and enabler of the science and technology sector in BC since its formation in 1979. Its principal activity is the delivery of the Technology Education Program via agents that provide education and guidance to entrepreneurs in BC. The Foundation also provides funds for research and scholarship. For more information on the TEP winners, go to https://www.discoveryfoundation.ca/tep-programs

  • Inside Tree Track's Quest to Plant 100 Million Trees by 2028

    Tree Track is poised to become a robust force in reforestation, aiming to plant 100 million trees by 2028 using ground-breaking drone and seedpod technology. “We might go bigger than that,” said Amir Soleimani, chief executive officer and co-founder of Tree Track. “We need to act fast before the shrubs and invasive plants take over. We’re going to be the primary drone company in Canada and North America.” Port Coquitlam-based Tree Track is experiencing timely ascension — thanks in part to Kamloops Innovation (KI) — and rising into aerial action while staggering wildfire numbers reveal both perilous destruction and important work to be done. About 18.5 million hectares of Canadian land burned in 2023, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, making it the worst wildfire year in recorded national history. B.C. is making a habit of setting dubious wildfire records. Nearly three million hectares were razed last year in the province, more than doubling the previous-worst mark (1,354,300 hectares) established in 2018, which surpassed the record (1,216,100 hectares) set in 2017. Tree Track notes on its website treetrack.ca that 15 billion trees are lost annually and only five billion are regenerated, with wildfires, invasive pests and uncontrolled logging among culprits. “There is no solution to replant those lands,” Soleimani said, noting Tree Track drones can reach remote areas inaccessible to humans. “First of all, we are short on labour and when you have wildfires, there are safety issues because trees are burned and, at any time, they might just fall down. We are the only option.” Soleimani boasts agrology expertise, with a PhD in horticulture and a post-degree diploma in project management, and his business partner, Tree Track chief technology officer and co-founder Sam Sarabi, is the drone doctor, with master’s degrees in engineering and business administration. Seedling technology is integral to Tree Track’s vision. When fires exceed 300 C, ingredients in soil conducive to growth, such as bacteria and fungus, are destroyed. Tree Track seedpods include tree seeds and between 15 and 20 organic ingredients that inoculate seedbeds with precious soil portfolio extinguished in the fire, the building blocks that — after intensive research, development and testing — are achieving germination rates of 85 percent, according to Soleimani. “We produce seedpods based on the region and the seed, plant prescription based on our knowledge and customer ask, so it’s going to be a tailored formula.” Tree Track was formed in October of 2022 and quickly reached out to KI, a business accelerator that offers professional mentorship relationships funded by Innovate BC, a Crown agency of the B.C. government. Interior roots formed and have grown to secure a crucial bond. “We’re a different company after John,” Soleimani said, referring to KI entrepreneur-in-residence John Zubak. “He’s coaching us on the business side a lot. His advice is amazing.” So are his networking connections. Zubak is advising on outbound strategies — such as securing pilot projects and contracts in B.C. and beyond — and playing the role of matchmaker, putting Tree Track in touch with key players in Interior reforestation and potential customers that include provincial and federal governments, Indigenous organizations, forestry, mining and oil companies and other non-governmental organizations. “It’s really about trying to help them get the right exposure with the people they need, get the initial tests in place and get all the infrastructure they need to scale, grow and deploy this technology,” said Zubak, managing partner of Zubak and Associates. “I work with a lot of entrepreneurs and people who are there just to create business and money, but you’ve got individuals here that are very driven and passionate about solving a problem that is going to become bigger and bigger if climate change continues.” Pleased with the partnership, Soleimani is floating the idea of Tree Track expansion in Kamloops, an office in KI headquarters at Thompson Rivers University [TRU] that would provide better access to the wildlife hotbed in the Interior. Zubak’s direction on partnership with TRU is among the reasons for Soleimani’s vision for the future. “He was the reason we connected with TRU, getting two post-doctoral students through the Mitacs (a non-profit, national research organization) program,” Soleimani said, noting projects done in conjunction with the institution will further development of seedpods. “And [TRU professor] Dr. Lauchlan Fraser, you can’t put a number on that. He has 20-plus-years’ experience and he’s working with many of the ecology programs in the Interior. Most of our projects will be in the Interior. When you have him as an advisor and supervisor for those students, that’s really valuable for us.” The value of Fraser’s guidance might be incalculable, but you can put a dollar number on the Mitacs connection cultivated by Zubak. Soleimani said it costs about $30,000 per year for one post-doctoral student through the TRU-offered Mitacs program. Without the funding break, the price tag would be about $100,000. Zubak laughed when asked about the trajectory of Tree Track, the chuckle followed by an assertion. “You’re talking about a company that is going be very important for our whole area, province-wide, for years to come,” said Zubak, who meets weekly with the Tree Track team, which has expanded to about 10 and includes engineering and science departments. “They’re solving a true problem that we have not just here in B.C., but globally. Just to restore what was burned in 2023, it would take three million people for one week. We don’t have the capability to reforest what is being burned nowadays, with the changing climate. Their drone and seedpod deployment is allowing them to reforest areas that aren’t accessible by conventional tree planters. One drone can do the work of 10 tree planters, but it can work around the clock.” Sarabi said his drone design separates Tree Track from others, noting battery-powered offerings in the market fizzle in comparison to his gas-battery hybrid, which offers major upgrades in maximum payload, flight time and dispersal-mechanism capability. He said Tree Track drones, thanks to being gas powered, can fly for about five hours with no payload and 90 minutes with a payload of about 22 pounds. Meanwhile, similar-size, battery-only models used by others remain airborne for a maximum of about 18 minutes with no payload and about six minutes with a payload of about 22 pounds, Sarabi said. “It’s significant,” Sarabi said, noting his drones can also be used for surveying, delivery to remote areas and search-and-rescue operations. “For the hybrid engine, the density of the power we’re producing is much, much higher when compared to the battery.” The dispersal mechanism allows Tree Track to drop seedpods with maximum density aptitude and trees-per-hectare capacity unmatched by competitors, said Soleimani. Project sites are mapped using geographic-information-system and remote-sensing techniques. The drones (which by law can weigh no more than about 55 pounds) follow maps under pilot supervision and return to base for seedpod restocking and refuelling, a process that takes less than five minutes. Four real-world pilot projects in 2023, including three conducted in partnership with the University of British Columbia (UBC) and one paid pilot test with Tree Canada, explored the viability of 15 diverse tree and shrub species. Test areas included Malcolm Knapp Research Forest in Maple Ridge, Alex Fraser Research Farm near Williams Lake, the UBC campus research farm in Vancouver and the Nicola Watershed near Merritt. Results are expected to be released in the spring. More projects are scheduled for this spring, including a joint venture with the B.C. Ministry of Forests and lumber company Western Forest Products that will take place on Vancouver Island, and another project with Tree Canada. “Our competitors went big, overpromising, and because of that, many relied on them, and they couldn’t deliver results,” Soleimani said, noting the Ministry of Forests is taking a keen interest in the Tree Track pilot projects. “So, everybody is waiting on our results. They want to know what our results are, and they’ll start working with us, especially the federal government, with the 2 Billion Trees Program.” Tree Track brass is trumpeting its expanding drone fleet, with about 10 on the tarmac ready for launch, and machinery capable of producing a minimum of 200,000 seedpods per day. “When we have the results, when it’s successful, we will be the only successful drone-seeding company in North America and we will have tons of contracts,” Soleimani said. “We need to introduce seeds and beneficial bacteria and fungus to those fields, otherwise the faces of our forests will change forever.”

  • Kamloops Innovation Spotlight: Entrepreneur in Residence John Zubak

    In the ever-evolving world of innovation, Kamloops Innovation’s (KI) Entrepreneurs in Residence are cornerstones of our commitment to fostering groundbreaking ideas. Today, we highlight Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) John Zubak, a visionary with an unparalleled passion for entrepreneurship. With a wealth of business experience, John exemplifies the driving force behind Kamloops Innovation’s relentless pursuit of excellence. John has over 30 years as an entrepreneur in a diverse range of business ventures, from landscape, construction and wholesale furnishings to real estate and a chain of retail stores. “From my earliest childhood memories, I always believed I would have my own business. Even in the jobs I worked while young, I was always thinking about how I would make improvements if I owned that business,” said John. John crafted his entrepreneurial path by spearheading successful endeavours, including the establishment of the most extensive retail mattress chain in interior British Columbia during the 1990s. Always fascinated and convinced by the power of technology in businesses, he championed in-store automation and leveraged technology in his business. “I believe innovation is the key to success in the business world, not just being “different” for the sake of it, but rather being different because you have discovered a way to provide more value to your customer, or a more efficient way to create a solution to a problem,” shared John. Reflecting on his role as a business mentor, John said, “It is a pathway allowing me to channel my passion for innovation while working side by side with others in the hopes of creating products or services that are more meaningful.” For John, watching others succeed is very gratifying. This is at the heart of why he has continued to mentor people who wish to create solutions that can be developed into profitable businesses. Through KI, John has mentored several individuals over the past 10 years. “KI feels like a second family now, and I look at being an EIR as an opportunity to give back to those beginning their entrepreneurial journey, plus those already years into their businesses. I’ve been extremely fortunate over the years to have had amazing mentors who helped me grow. I’m at a point in my life where I have more than what I need, and I get huge satisfaction from helping people,” he said. John also supported KI as the interim executive director for the first 7 months of 2023. During this time, he spearheaded the transition of the Kamloops Innovation from its North Shore location to its new location at the Thompson River University (TRU) campus. This transition was more than just a change of location; it was also a change in the direction in which Kamloops Innovation’s board wanted to take it. “Our board of directors is full of visionaries. The board did not see an organization that was just staying stagnant for the future. We needed to be something that grew and became more and had many more partnerships, not just to be sustainable but to be meaningful,” said John. “And now having Michael, KI’s executive director, on board has been exceptional. He has certainly taken the organization forward with a lot of vigour and drive.” John hopes that more people will take advantage of KI’s enhanced vision and partnerships. His advice for entrepreneurs is twofold: embrace failure and be inquisitive. More importantly, he insists on looking at the big picture. “Financial reward is an outcome of running a solid business, but it does not necessarily define one’s happiness or personal success. My business success has provided me with the free time and financial means to be a better husband to my wife and a better father to my two daughters and the freedom to spend time with friends enjoying the other passions in my life,” said John.

  • Kamloops Innovation’s Transition to TRU Sets the Stage for Collaborative Excellence

    In the Fall of 2023, Kamloops Innovation (KI) underwent a few major changes – from the appointment of our new Executive Director, Michael Andrews, succeeding Dr. Lincoln Smith’s decade-long tenure, to our move from the North Shore location to the Thompson Rivers University (TRU) campus. For any organization, a single change can mean a lot of transitionary hiccups, but for KI, the organization is only growing stronger. Talks of the transition to the new location began early last year when interim executive director John Zubak, who is also the Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR), was at the helm of KI. “The KI Board of Directors is filled with visionaries, and they recognized the need for change after COVID disrupted our existing business model. What began with COVID restrictions limiting the use of co-working spaces then turned to making such spaces not as appealing post-pandemic in our experience,” said Zubak. KI’s space was still being rented out, but our model of supporting entrepreneurs to grow into the space was slowly fading. At the same time, the Board also realized that they needed to clarify the vision for KI. From supporting major tech entrepreneurs to supporting entrepreneurs who are tech-enabled, the board has focused on being in a space that fosters inspiration, innovation, and opportunities for collaboration and building partnerships. This has become the focus for KI. “For years, we've been working and growing our relationship with TRU, with not just mentoring students, but also with the relationship we have with TRU’s research department for companies that need to access additional resources. So, we started to get into some exploratory talks with the University to see where it might make sense to collaborate. Because we already have a relationship through the TRU Generator, where we run workshops and work with students, it seemed like a natural fit. Although at TRU, we want to be sure that we remain accessible to everyone, even those outside the University campus,” Zubak added. Some of the synergies and benefits of being headquartered at TRU include: Enhancing collaboration with TRU faculty, researchers and fostering innovation through interdisciplinary interactions. Bridging the gap between industry and academia, connecting external companies and organizations to TRU’s expertise and resources. Building deeper connections with TRU’s entrepreneurial ecosystem to provide a hub for sustainable business practices and collaborative initiatives. Strengthening customized entrepreneurship training programming and mentorship supports for students, faculty, staff and alumni. So far, the response from entrepreneurs, both past and present, to the transition has been nothing short of uplifting—and a fresh start for many. Thriving in an environment of perpetual change, these visionaries have eagerly embraced the move with a forward-looking spirit. The idea of a fresh location has sparked curiosity, presenting an excellent opportunity for amplified services and support.

  • Celebrating Traqspera’s Journey from Kamloops Innovation startup client to Trimble Inc. Acquisition

    Ever since our inception, Kamloops Innovation has nurtured incredible talent , and we are thrilled to shine a spotlight on the remarkable journeys of some of our clients. Our clients are the heartbeat of innovation in Kamloops, and their stories exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit that is needed to propel us into a more exciting future. Today we are sharing an extraordinary success story featuring one of our former clients—Traqspera. In 2023, this Kamloops-based technology company was acquired and seamlessly absorbed by Trimble Inc. (Trimble), a multi-billion-dollar industry giant. Traqspera co-founder Matt Thurber expressed, “It’s a story of how it is a win for everybody—for Kamloops, Traqspera, Kamloops Innovation (KI) and for Thompson Rivers University (TRU) — and I think it’s something everybody here is really proud of.” Traqspera started as an operations platform for construction contractors — a mobile app that connects the field and the office. Trimble is a software, hardware and services technology company that sells products and services to many industries, including construction. Trimble’s courtship with Traqspera gathered intensity in 2022 when it began to see great value in the 10-person company’s technology. Jon Fingland, vice president and category general manager for Trimble explained, “Our customers are contractors in construction. Their highest cost of capital is people and equipment, so they need to know they are putting the right people on the right equipment on the right jobs, and then they need to make those people and equipment as efficient as possible.” This is where Traqspera comes into the picture. “Traqspera tech helps with payroll and leverages that info in human-resource systems to make sure people are in compliance and operating safely, and it helps track miscellaneous expenses,” Fingland said. “We’re connected right to the users on their mobile devices through Traqspera. It was a very logical fit.” Traqspera now seamlessly handles the field side of the equation for Trimble, helping with day-to-day operations such as time sheets, data reports, safety equipment, and human resources. “They have this great, massive, accounting system with thousands of companies using it, but when the guys in the work boots in the field were filling out their timesheets, there was such a disconnect between that data getting into the accounting system,” Thurber said. “A lot of efficiency was lost in this process. So rather than scribbling it down on a napkin at the bar after their 12-hour shift, they are now entering it into a digital format powered by Traqspera, so it’s not getting lost in the chicken scratch on a napkin.” The Traqspera technology that now operates under the Trimble umbrella began to take form in 2013, when Thurber was still studying at TRU, as a programmer with an idea. Traqspera's brainpower has been developed nearly exclusively at TRU, with about 90 percent of the company’s employees having studied at the Kamloops institution, a fact not lost on Trimble. Fingland, highlighting Traqspera’s strong relationship with TRU’s computer engineering program, which produces co-op students who often stayed on as full-time employees said, “Part of the intriguing aspect of this is we can grow new talent in this market, with Kamloops Innovation, combined with the local engineering school, and then grow and mould those resources. We want the pipeline to continue.” Thurber came to KI — a business accelerator that assists businesses, entrepreneurs and organizations in the Thompson Nicola and South Cariboo with innovative solutions and business mentorship — about five years ago through the Venture Acceleration Program funded by Innovate BC, a crown agency of the B.C. government. As a part of this program, entrepreneur-in-residence John Zubak — managing partner of Zubak and Associates — was paired with Thurber, and they have met weekly for about five years, forming a bond that extends beyond the business world. “On some occasions, there may have been beers involved,” Thurber said with a laugh. “Because we were meeting so frequently, it was a pretty friendly, informal gathering, where we bounced ideas off of each other and said, OK, what challenges are we having? John would offer direction, advice and wisdom from there. There was a lot of valuable advice and mentorship over the years.” Zubak quickly identified Thurber as “very much a technical founder” and spotted areas for growth. He encouraged him to hire a direct salesperson, put systems in place to grow and manage larger sales and establish a greater presence in the U.S. market by travelling and networking down south. “Over the years, we’ve gotten to see some amazing ideas transition into solid businesses, and Traqspera is one of those examples,” Zubak said. Thurber echoed this sentiment and trumpeted the benefits of KI. “There’s a community side and networking opportunities that wouldn’t exist if KI didn’t exist,” said Thurber, who founded Traqspera with business partners Trevor Streek and Rob Couturier. When Traqspera sparked Trimble’s interest, they had roughly 100 shared customers. “Like most technology companies, Trimble would rather develop in-house, but it was far easier and made more sense for them to acquire such a robust technology than to find a way to manufacture something similar. For Kamloops and TRU, it’s a really strong, positive message about resiliency and how our tech sector here is growing,” noted Zubak. What does the acquisition mean for Thurber and his employees who made the jump to Trimble? “It’s a great career step for all of us, myself included,” he said. “We’re all early in our careers and have a ton of growth and potential ahead of us! Yes, our job titles have changed. Unfortunately, I don’t get to be the CEO of Trimble. But we still get to be a part of the excitement of continuing to grow our product. We’re part of bigger teams, with more horsepower and resources behind, being able to grow it a lot faster now.”

  • Partner Spotlight: KPMG's Collaboration with Kamloops Innovation Empowers Local Entrepreneurs

    In the fast-growing entrepreneurial landscape of the Thompson Okanagan region, KPMG has emerged as a steadfast ally to local businesses through its collaboration with Kamloops Innovation. Paula Presta, Partner at KPMG Enterprise, sheds light on the significance of this partnership and its profound impact on the entrepreneurial community. Presta, a founding member of Kamloops Innovation as a Society in 2012, provided valuable insight and engagement into the setup and purpose of the Society. Since then, KPMG has been a partner to Kamloops Innovation in its journey to provide local innovation and technology support to the local community. “We believe Kamloops Innovation members benefit from the mentorship, services and advice from KPMG Kamloops by having a steady hand to guide them in their financial journey whilst also getting world-class service locally,” said Presta, adding, “KPMG really appreciates the partnership with Kamloops Innovation. It allows us to meet new people, use our skillsets to mentor and assist new entrepreneurs, and share in their excitement.” Kamloops Innovation serves as a vital resource for local entrepreneurs, offering mentorship, seminars, and inspiration. KPMG recognizes the importance of financial acumen for small businesses and actively engages with Kamloops Innovation to provide educational sessions, on-site support, and affordable accounting and tax services. Through its partnership, KPMG aims to empower entrepreneurs with financial expertise and assist them in navigating often complex financial and tax obligations. Initiatives include providing office hours, hosting educational workshops, and offering discounted services tailored to startups' needs. KPMG Kamloops takes a hands-on approach to mentorship, working closely with entrepreneurs to enhance their financial literacy and strategic planning. With over 25 entrepreneurs supported by KPMG Kamloops alone, KPMG's commitment to nurturing local talent is profound. “We partner with the entrepreneur and provide a discounted fixed price for two years as the company is building out. This includes as much mentoring and discussions as required and allows the owner to tap into the KPMG resources without worrying about the cost,” explained Presta. The partnership enriches both KPMG and Kamloops Innovation, fostering collaboration, skill-sharing, and community engagement. While pre-COVID initiatives were predominantly on-site, both organizations are adapting to the changing landscape and embracing online platforms to expand their reach. KPMG looks forward to continued collaboration with Kamloops Innovation, aligning with its strategic evolution. “We envision this to be an ongoing partnership through our involvement in education sessions, presentations, the Advisory Board and support of the talented Entrepreneurs in Residence,” said Presta. To learn more about KPMG Enterprises, click here: https://kpmg.com/ca/en/home/about/offices/kamloops-1.html. Follow Kamloops Innovation on our social media pages to stay updated on the various workshops and mentorship opportunities offered by Kamloops Innovation through such partnerships.

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