A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support, and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.
Our community is strong and growing with record speed and maintaining connection through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic, we've got a plan.
Introducing, The Faces of #OKGNtech. A showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters, and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth, and more excitement. Follow along (on the blog and on Instagram @OKGNtech) to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.
Meet Raghwa. Raghwa Gopal is the new President & CEO of Innovate BC. When Raghwa isn’t supporting entrepreneurs and driving innovation throughout the province, you’ll find him volunteering for the Rotary Club, working on research projects with UBC Okanagan and the RCMP, or enjoying a glass of wine (or two) with his family and friends.
[Editor’s Note: Raghwa has been an active member of the OKGNtech community for 40 years!]
We recently caught up with Raghwa to learn more about what motivates him and what he looks forward to in his new role at Innovate BC.
You have accomplished so much in your career. What motivates you to keep going?
“I grew up in a very small town in Fiji with a population of 60 people. A lot of kids I grew up with didn’t go to school at all, but my Mom was really really passionate about education. We didn’t have a lot of money, but she made up her mind that somehow - beg, borrow or steal - she was going to send her kids to school.
I remember on the first day of grade four, she sent me to school, even though we didn’t have the money to pay for it. At the time, every kid was responsible for bringing their daily tuition to school and paying the teacher. My Mom said to me, “Don’t worry, just go to school.” When my teacher realized I didn’t have the money to pay, he wouldn’t let me stay, and I was forced to walk the 4 km home. This went on all week, but the group of students who showed up and couldn’t pay got smaller and smaller, and on the fifth day, it was just me.
The following Monday she sent me back, and this time the teacher sent me home with a message— “Don't come back until you pay your school fees!”. I remember thinking “Good! I’m never going to have to go to school again,” but the next morning my Mom woke me up and told me to get ready for school! Eventually, my Dad stopped by the school and cleared up the feed owed, but this happened term after term.
What I learned from this experience was the power of showing up. There were five days of that whole week that I would have been very happy to give up and say “I am done!”. I hated getting in trouble and sent home, but in the end, I am grateful that my Mom made me do it.”
What did you love about working with Accelerate Okanagan?
“The opportunity to help entrepreneurs first and foremost was what excited me about my role as CEO at Accelerate Okanagan. Since I retired in 2001, I have invested in over 40 local entrepreneurs because they needed that initial capital to get started. I didn’t make these investments because I was hoping to make any money, but because I was passionate about helping them get to the next level. Although I am going to miss the team and community here and I excited about my new role at AO —community cheerleader.”
What’re you most looking forward to about your new role at Innovate BC?
“This new role is not unlike what I have been doing in my role at Accelerate Okanagan, but now I have the opportunity to do it province-wide. Outside of our traditional role as a funding agency, we have an opportunity to bring a lot more to the table like resourcing, programs, and go-to-market support. InnovateBC is sitting in such a great position. I am confident that the connectivity we have with trade accelerators will act as a great conduit for companies around BC looking to do business on a national and global scale.”
Do you have leaders you look to for inspiration?
“Louie Chestner, the CEO of General Electric, has some amazing leadership advice. One thing that resonated with me was when you’re leading you to want to make sure that your team receives the credit for what they are doing. So for example - my staff, they are doing some amazing stuff, and I want to make sure that the external community realizes what they’re doing. That's paramount. The other side of that coin is taking responsibility when things go wrong. When you are running a business or any organization, there will be things that go wrong, and a leader needs to wear that, and accept that.”
Can you speak to the value of mentorship?
“Mentorship for young and budding entrepreneurs is humongously important. When you’re starting a business, you don’t know what you don’t know, right? Mentors act as a guide and can help you level up your company. They are also so helpful on a mental and an emotional level as well. The value of mentorship is HUGE. I wish I had known some people that could have been my mentors 40 years ago. It’s so valuable to have a designated mentor that you have a trusted relationship with. It’s not totally about that particular industry or job; it’s more about personal and emotional support.”
What do you think the future of the technology industry looks like?
“Technology used to be its own sector, but now technology is embedded in every sector. It could even be somebody selling fruit at a fruit stand! Ten years ago, that fruit stand would be using cash and paper receipts. Today, they are using an iPad. It might not seem like a company that uses tech, but it is a company that relies on tech. I think the concept of tech and tech-enabled companies will get more and more embedded moving forward.”
Do you think that the terms innovation and technology should be used interchangeably?
“Innovation and technology are not the same. Technology is creating a program, an app, a device, a piece of hardware. Innovation is so much bigger than that. Innovation is new ideas, new methods, new ways of doing things. It can have a technological component like creating new devices or new apps, but innovation is much broader and packed with potential.”
What do you love most about the OKGNtech community?
“I love that the Okanagan tech community is so collaborative. Our community is still small enough, and there are so many people willing and wanting to work together to do the right thing for the whole. It is about the rising tide and the larger vision. There are very few places that have what we’ve got going here.”
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