Chances are, starting the viral “One Bag” challenge to give back to Food Banks and dressing in drag aren’t what come to mind when you think of your average Mayor. Then again, neither do the words “Top 40 Under 40”. As the youngest elected Mayor of Kelowna’s history at age 37, Colin Basran’s job and responsibilities change daily, a challenge he embraces in order to help keep Kelowna moving forward. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with him and discuss what he believes the Okanagan Centre for Innovation, otherwise known as the OCI, will mean for the city and it’s future.
As a born and raised Kelowna local, Colin appreciates the importance of deep relational ties that can be created within a community. When asked why he ran for Mayor he was quick to say “I chose to get involved and do what I’m doing because I thought that Kelowna had a lot more potential than was being realized at the time”. Since being elected, he’s taken extraordinary steps to achieve that potential. As exhibited with the Sugarplum Ball, gone are the days of a small town atmosphere. Thanks to Colin, Kelowna’s now at the forefront of relevant social topics and with that, is also experiencing growth in relevant sectors like tech.
With fast industry growth comes the need to facilitate and ensure longevity. Colin’s involvement in the Okanagan Centre for Innovation started before his run for Mayor, when he was on the city council. One of their initial goals at that time was to have a technology centre downtown. Although firm plans weren’t set, Colin says the idea for the OCI came about through a number of key community stakeholders getting together to say “how can we make this a reality?”. The ability to work alongside community members who cared about making a difference sparked his passion for helping to create a tech community home base. Said Basran, “the best part about city council and their goals for a tech hub was being able to share my thoughts in terms of city input, based on my connections with people in tech”.
The ability to create connections has also stimulated a large dialogue in Colin’s term as Mayor. “Just the fact that this building is meant to be open and accessible to not only everybody who’s going to be housed in it, but the community at large, is going to force people to run into each other and create connections. I don’t think it will feel forced, because everyone there is there for the right reasons and wanting to work on new ideas and be creative. This might sound naïve, but I think the OCI is really providing a place for the type of community connections that people desperately want. It’s creating a place where relationships can happen on a much larger scale”.
In terms of political impact, Colin anticipates two major benefits that will stem from the OCI. “One, the economic impact. You’re going to have people making a good wage and spending it on local businesses, which leads to the bigger point. A lot of people in tech today are socially conscious. They care about where they spend their money and they care about social issues. They’re the kind of people who want to get involved in local, charitable organizations. Overall, the OCI’s attracting the type of people who care about things like riding their bikes, walking to work, and living close to where they work, something the city is trying to heavily promote. The types of people drawn to OCI are the people who are going to help us find solutions to problems not only here, but across the world”. Beyond political impact, Basran also sees tech having a large impact economically. “Tech touches absolutely everything because it’s weaved into everything we do. One could make the case that it’s our top industry. What Kelowna needs to do now is help our small businesses grow to the place where they’re able to hire the next 2-3 people and so on. Things will grow that way, our economy will grow when small businesses in our community become successful, and they’ll expand. We need to grow our own locally run businesses, as opposed to this romantic notion of trying to attract large scale manufacturers. This is done by looking after our own and the entrepreneurs in our city who have made an investment to make Kelowna as business friendly as possible to allow that internal growth because that’s where the real opportunities are”.
As Kelowna’s youngest Mayor, Colin recognizes the challenges and hurdles so many youth entering the tech sector are facing. His advice? “Don’t care what those people think. At the end of the day, you know you have the education, skills, training, and confidence to be doing what you’re doing. There will always be people who will doubt you, but you can’t pay any mind to that. When you think about any great achievement, there were always doubters. Kudos to the people behind the OCI because there were people saying it would never happen, but guess what, it’s going to open to predicted full occupancy, something that’s unheard of in our community. So to anybody, whether they’re starting a business or doing something crazy like run for Mayor, life’s too short. You have to do what you’re passionate about, and you can’t live with regret. Just go for it. You’ll find people that are there to support you, and are there for the right reasons. I think that’s what’s so great about the OCI, it’ll create those connections and people will find the support that they need to be successful”.
When asked to describe what the OCI means to him in two sentences, Colin says he sees the OCI as “a place of prosperity for people in tech and the community as a whole. It will be a place where the positive spin-offs will touch every facet of our community, economically and socially”. Now, that’s a great Kelowna.