The building at 7337 Welton Avenue is empty and unused now, but as Ray Szabada walks through doorways and past vacant office space, he talks about nothing less than an incubator that could turn Mission into Canada’s next high-tech hub.
It’s a big goal, but the idea is a step closer to becoming reality after the announcement that Szabada’s non-profit organization will be opening its Technical Centre of Excellence (TCE) this fall.
The Sumas Regional Consortium for High Tech (SRCTec), of which Szabada is the chair, has signed a memorandum of understanding to lease portion of a Welton Avenue building purchased last year by the District of Mission.
The plan is for the 6,000-sq.ft. facility to provide office space and services to start-up high tech companies. The concept has been a long-time goal for Szabada.
“The idea was what if we can have a centre of excellence that breeds and incubates entrepreneurs,” Szabada said Tuesday.
“This is the culmination of several years of work in partnership with SRCTec,” Mission economic development officer Stacey Crawford said in a news release.
Szabada is president and CEO of i-Open Technologies. He said there are plans to move that company’s operations, along with a subsidiary, into the space as anchor tenants. The two businesses employ around 30 people, he said.
The concept is that rent paid by those companies will provide financial stability to the TCE as it develops. Szabada eventually wants to see a group of entrepreneurs who can learn from each other and take advantage of programs offered by the facility.
Szabada says a dozen start-up companies have expressed interest in the TCE.
SRCTec has also developed an Agriculture Venture Acceleration Program (AVAP) and applied for provincial and federal funds. The program would aim to help develop technology that would be useful to the local agriculture industry.
Mission might seem like an out-of-the-way place to become a new technology hub, but Szabada says there is no reason the district cannot become a high-tech centre.
“You look around the world, these types of initiative have been prone to literally start up in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
Mission isn’t the middle of nowhere; Szabada says its quality of life is high, and its low property costs are desirable to many technology workers and would-be entrepreneurs.
“There are a lot of tech workers who commute to downtown and they’d rather not take those two hours out of their day,” he said. “We feel that there is a solid opportunity here for Mission to capitalize on.”
As it prepares to open the technical centre, SRCTec is also planning on hosting Acetech – a non-profit training organization for tech, life sciences and innovative companies. The Sept. 15 meeting will feature s speech by author and entrepreneur Shannon Susko. Szabada hopes the meetings become a regular event that introduces local businessmen and women to Mission.