Left to right: Ray Szabada

Technology and agriculture work together

BC Afri-food Venture Acceleration Program launches in Mission

A new program in Mission will bring technology and agriculture together to support entrepreneurs and create jobs in B.C.

The 13th BC Agri-food Venture Acceleration Program was officially launched Tuesday morning at the Sumas Regional Consortium for High Tech (SRCTec), located in downtown Mission.

Local dignitaries joined BC Minister of Agriculture Norm Letnick and Minister of Technology, Innovation and Citizens Services, Amrik Virk as they announced $844,000 in funding from the provincial government.

The funding will allow SRCTec to bring in dedicated executives-in-residence who will provide coaching and mentorship to companies in the program.

“This will help early-stage investors,” said Virk.

He said 296 B.C. companies have benefitted from early-stage mentoring since 2011 and 850 jobs have been created as a result.

B.C.’s technology sector is the third largest producer of the province’s gross domestic product, generating $23.2 billion in revenue each year.

Traditionally, techies and folks in agriculture have worked separately, but that’s not the way it is anymore, said Virk, noting they have to work together to connect with buyers from around the world.

“Our agriculture is so unique,” he said, noting B.C. doesn’t just produce crops like berries and fruit, but adds value as well, such as turning grapes into wine and grains into cereals.

Technology will also help farmers produce better crops, said Letnick, such as solving problems like keeping birds away from berry fields.

Letnick said farmed salmon is B.C.’s top export, but it wouldn’t be possible without technology.

“Technology is all around us, especially in agriculture foods.”

There are currently four clients using the program at SRCTec, but six can be accommodated at one time. Intakes will happen quarterly and up to 16 clients can be mentored annually.

According to Ray Szabada, CEO and chairman of SRCTec, the current four businesses have plenty of potential and he’s excited talent from the Valley can stay in the area.

One company is creating a machine that removes the “stubble” from a field after the crop has been harvested, said Peter Briscoe, executive-in-residence.

The machine will remove the fibres from inside the stalks and gather it for disposal. Traditionally, farmers have either had to burn the field or turn it over.

Another business is developing new instruments to monitor soil and air quality, and to detect issues like crop disease.

Briscoe will be training clients how to market, sell, and build their business.

Other ideas being worked on are computer applications, including a farm safety application geared towards farmers, whose first language isn’t English, to help them keep track of the regulations and procedures required for safety certification on a farm. Another is an automated greenhouse system application for consumers, hobby farmers and small greenhouse operators. With the app, growers can use their tablet or smart phone to control light, moisture, and heat in their facility.

Even after clients finish the eight-week program, staff at SRCTec will continue to offer support, advice and networking opportunities, said Briscoe.

“There is strong potential for us as a region,” Szabada added.

Szabada, who has worked in the information technology industry for more than 20 years formed SRCTec in 2006 to develop this region’s strengths by providing resources for entrepreneurs. It focusses its work in the three main industry sectors in the Fraser Valley, agriculture, manufacturing and aerospace.

The centre, originally located in Abbotsford, moved to Mission last year after signing a lease agreement with the District of Mission which owns the building at the corner of Welton Street and Second Avenue, often referred to as the Welton Common.

Partnering with BC Innovation Council to bring the BC Agri-food Venture Acceleration Program to Mission is just one of the programs at SRCTec. Other activities Szabada is proposing are networking and educational and technical training.

“This is a very exciting initiative for Mission and I believe an important first step in making our community a high tech hub for entire Fraser Valley region,” said Abbotsford-Mission MLA Simon Gibson.