Ryan's Blog

Innovate Belleville

Ryan Williams, Past Chair of QuinteVation, and Rob Clute, Executive Director (Photo Credit, Johnny Lam, from Watershed Magazine Spring Edition)

In the first year of council I hope that if elected we would develop a new 12-year strategic plan and vision.

This vision could be many things, but I would envision something that includes ‘To be the best rural innovative municipality in Canada’.

That would be the vision of Innovate Belleville: that we can lead rural tech and diversify our economic development in the city and help lead the region with jobs and growth through the next decade.

What we would be doing is finding our vision, thinking big, and partnering with some of the best in the country.

With QuinteVation, to which I founded and Chaired until October, this vision meant: ‘To be the most dynamic rural innovation destination in Canada by 2023’.  QuinteVation is doing incredible things working with entrepreneurs, and has accomplished the following in its short 2-year existence:  Discovered clusters that exist in the Bay of Quinte Region that can lead rural innovation in the country, working with over 200 engaged businesses, and has partnered with Accelerate Kelowna and Launch Lab on a program that accelerates companies in growth-stage called RevUP.

The result is that Belleville and the Bay of Quinte are already assisting entrepreneurial development in the rural tech and innovation game.  It’s through continued partnership, particularily with Kelowna and other like minded tech communities, and a new vision and plan for cheerleading entrepreneurs that will lead Belleville further up the CFIB list of entrepreneurial cities in Canada.

The partnership with Kelowna is essential.  Kelowna and the Okanagan are thriving on a national level.  The region boasts one of the top tech and startup hubs in Canada.  Kelowna is ranked the #1 entrepreneurial region in Canada by CFIB (Belleville ranked #73).  It has resulted in big gains for the Okanagan Region, gains I see happening for Belleville and Bay of Quinte.

Kelowna has over 633 technology businesses employing over 7600 employees.  In 2015, the Okanagan tech industry contributed a whopping $1.3 billion to the local economy and 52% of tech workers are under the age of 35.

Ryan Williams, Cathy Ireland, and Rob Clute in Kelowna at the Accelerator Summit in March

So what are the next steps for Belleville to jump into tech?

First of all, the government will not be the complete answer.  Entrepreneurs create jobs, not governments.  However, the municipality of Belleville will be responsible for helping to cheerlead in creating the culture for entrepreneurs to thrive and assisting in collaboration that brings entrepreneurs and their tribes together.  The most important question we need to answer at all times is:  What is good for the entrepreneur?

Belleville can help a thriving culture to thrive in rural innovation and be valuable to the entrepreneur by:

  1. Creating a startup innovation centre (the Rural Innovation Centre) where entrepreneurs in seed or startup stage can be around other entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, and resources to get through the all important start-up stage. Starting a business is tough, especially the first 6 months to year, and we can assist in helping attract entrepreneurs, bringing them together.
  2. Working with the region to market our area to rural tech entrepreneurs.  There are thousands of tech grads and budding entrepreneurs in the cities; cities that are expensive to live in, and hard to have the way of life we provide in the Bay of Quinte Region.  Those grads that are renting space in Communitech or MARS but developing apps that test for example the nitrogen content of soil, or marijuana research technology would find their niche in Belleville, not Toronto. If we market rural innovation and walk the walk, we can start to cluster more entrepreneurs to the region. QuinteVation already has Eastern Ontario’s only accelerator program, and can continue to advance companies that end up here.
  3. Partnering with Loyalist College.  It’s only natural to partner with Loyalist both in developing graduate entrepreneurs, and also to attract students to the region.  The college already has the province’s first marijuana research lab, and Belleville is already attracting marijuana industry.

There is much more we can do, and this is just the start, but innovating Belleville will be essential to attracting youth and to our city and region’s growth.

If I’m successful in earning your vote I look forward to working on above and much more over the next 4 years.