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Abbotsford project plants seeds for agricultural innovation

Echoing Kelowna’s Innovation Centre, Abbotsford Tech District eyes collaboration, community benefits

As American entrepreneur, CEO and writer Margaret Heffernan once said, “for good ideas and true innovation, you need human interaction, conflict, argument and debate.”

Today, as we near the quarter mark of the 21st century, innovators, entrepreneurs and agricultural specialists in Abbotsford are working to bring the Fraser Valley to the forefront of innovation in agriculture and food security.

And it’s not only about farming, as the team eyes forward-thinking project developments, accessible education, affordable housing and a city that both new and long-standing residents can be proud to call home.

As Chief Strategy Officer at Abbotsford Tech District, Gavin Dew, has dedicated the last four and a half years to engaging local stakeholders to inform the project vision while persuading local and provincial governments to embrace the initiative.

Inspired by successful precedents like Kelowna’s Innovation Centre and Ion District in Houston, the vision behind the Abbotsford Tech District is an innovation hub that brings forward thinkers together to discuss, debate and develop ideas that will help progress Abbotsford’s agriculture industry – already regarded as one of Canada’s most valued farming regions.

“Done right, an innovation hub in Abbotsford provides affordable housing, quality education and a vibrant community with an amazing quality of life. When people with diverse interests from farming to robotics have a place to connect and collide, they’ll cultivate ideas that will make a difference for Abbotsford and beyond. ” Dew says.

It’s an innovative idea, but hardly a moonshot. Abbotsford’s peer city in the Okanagan has laid the framework for a similar vision, launching Kelowna’s Innovation Centre in 2017.

Through a diverse range of community focused initiatives, the Innovation Centre supports everything from solo start-up opportunities to large technology, plus spaces for early-stage companies, non-profits and community groups to become self-sufficient.

A vision for Abbotsford

Here in Abbotsford, Dew and the Tech District team are currently four years into their mission to convince the city and its citizens of the value of Abbotsford’s very own innovation hub. It seems to be working.A recent phone survey of 300 residents found that, among those with an opinion on the Tech District, 93% were supportive.

“You’ve got to meet people where they are and invite them in,”says Dew.. Say there’s a 70-year-old farmer who’s hearing about innovations that are happening and they just want to get hands-on exposure. This becomes a place where you can do that.”

“If you’re looking for contract-based research to dig into a problem you are trying to solve, you can get that here, if you’re looking to hire the next generation of tech-enabled managers, or if you’ve got a business idea but need more support figuring out how to bring it to a market, the Abbotsford Tech District help grow our ag sector and support our food security.”

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