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 a connection through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic, we've got a plan.
Introducing, We are #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 James. James Schlosser is the Senior Manager of Business Developments and Contracts at the BC Cancer Agency and he is also the Co-Founder and Winemaker for Niche Wine Company. When he isn’t helping researchers and clinicians improve the availability of their research, you’ll find him honing his skateboarding skills, crushing some grapes, or working on Arduino projects with his son.
Tell us about where you work in the Okanagan?
I work for the Technology Development Office of the BC Cancer Agency. We’re responsible for commercializing any of the research that comes into the agency. So, if our researchers come up with an invention, or they have created some software, we will acquire patent protection, help to start companies or look at licensing out to pharma companies. What I love about my job at the Cancer Agency is that I get to support researchers in the Okanagan and throughout the province.
What are some of the goals of the Technology Development Office at the BC Cancer Agency?
The patient journey is always top of mind and at the heart of everything we do. In order for cancer outcomes to improve, research has to be translated from basic research into something that can be given to a patient. For some things, it’s a shorter journey. Software and apps can be deployed relatively quickly. But something that involves diagnosis or therapy is going to be a much longer pathway. You need to get it through a lot of research stages before it’s able to impact humans. That’s what our office is there to do, help researchers through that process and ultimately improve cancer outcomes.
What are some examples of research that were born here in the Okanagan?
The brachytherapy program, introduced to breast cancer treatment in B.C. by Dr. Juanita Crook, is really leading the way for the cancer agency provincially. Previously, women with breast cancer were treated using a linear accelerator. This required them to travel to Kelowna for a multi-day treatment. Brachytherapy is a half-day procedure that enables them to return home afterwards. The side effects are much more favourable, and the outcomes are equivalent if not better than previous treatment methods. The Cancer Clinic in Kelowna has goals to become a world-class center for that kind of treatment.
What kind of experience do you have with being an Entrepreneur?
I’m the co-founder, winemaker, bookkeeper, and dishwasher for Niche Wine Company. Owning a small business can be very challenging but I love the act of making something and putting it out there. It’s nerve-wracking but it’s my passion (and the wine helps). Making wine is a reminder of the passage of time. If I was only working with BC Cancer, I would likely go from season to season without really paying attention. With Niche, I am connected to the seasons from an operational perspective, so I find that I’m forced to live in the present moment.
What inspired you to join the Scale Up mentorship program with Accelerate Okanagan?
Niche Wine Co. is a small operation and over the last couple of years we have struggled with finding the time to work on our business in the broader sense. When you make a physical product, it can be easy to get trapped in the weeds of production. Working with a mentor on a structured program that supports not just myself but the entire leadership team, really helped us to set and achieve big goals. We have increased our production by 40%, streamlined our pricing structure, and are now in the process of revamping our sales and marketing strategy. The third party validation and support we have received through Executives-in-Residence at AO has really been amazing and a big part of our recent success.
What advice would you give to someone interested in a job like yours?
It helps to have a scientific background or to have some scientific training. I wouldn't say it necessarily matters which field though. If you’re in physics, it would be just as useful for working at the BC Cancer Agency as genetics or microbiology would be. There’s also the business aspect. So, starting off in a science program and then maybe doing some business courses or vice versa would be beneficial. Volunteering at the cancer agency so you understand how that whole system works would help, as well.
What do you love about the OKGNtech community?
Having a tech community is imperative for the Okanagan. This has largely been an agricultural, manufacturing, forestry, tourism-based economy. This transformation into a knowledge-based economy has been a game-changer for the Okanagan. The vibrancy about it—when I was growing up here, I never could have imagined how much opportunity would one day be accessible here. I really appreciate how UBC and Okanagan College are giving opportunities for students to see the Okanagan as somewhere they can have a career, somewhere they can stay. That’s something that wouldn't have occurred before. OKGNtech is supporting the local youth in their ability to stay and improve the region.
What inspired you to work with Accelerate Okanagan, Interior Health, and UBC to launch the Future of Health Cancer Care Forum?
I think that Accelerate Okanagan and the Okanagan Tech Community have attracted some really great minds from all over the country. There is also some incredible talent within the walls of Interior Health and UBC Okanagan. Creating an environment where these groups can connect has not been easy but I am convinced that this kind of collaboration is what will spark innovation and really put the Interior on the map. I am really interested in seeing how all that talent can foster discussions.
What’s one word that describes you?
Jack-of-all-trades (does that count as one word?). I don’t like to focus on just one thing. I am curious and driven to understand how things work and because of this, I’ve developed a broad range of skills. I can code Arduino, make wine, and ride a longboard. I mean, I am still working on my ollie. It’s probably fair to say that last one is a work in progress.