KAST Helps Hundreds of Kootenay Business Impacted by COVID-19 with Digital Transformation

One year into the pandemic and the Kootenay Association for Science and Technology (KAST) has helped hundreds of businesses in the Kootenays impacted by COVID-19 get help with digital transformation.

Partnering with the BC Tech Association was the first step in providing crucial 1:1 support free of charge to non-tech businesses in the Kootenays. The first Virtual Connection Day took place in May 2020 and due to high interest, KAST offered four more in July, September, October and January 2021.

KAST eventually paired up with Basin Business Advisors, Columbia Basin Trust and Community Futures Central Kootenay to expand the program to include the entire Columbia Basin. Businesses applied to receive free 1:1 mentorship with a tech expert in the areas of digital marketing, ecommerce, remote working and cybersecurity.

Technology experts, a lot of whom were tech consultants and digital service providers from the Kootenays, gave businesses personalized advice on tools and tactics they could adopt to ensure their company remained resilient in this uncertain time. They were also able to advise them on new ways to reach customers and maintain business revenue.

“This was the first step of many in KAST helping Kootenay businesses overcome challenges due to COVID-19,” said Sean Smillie, Executive Director of KAST. “Holding Virtual Connection Days with our partners is a great example of how we can work together as a community to build resilience, help local businesses with digital transformation and benefit the entire Kootenay economy. This is just one of many initiatives KAST has taken on to support both our non-tech and tech businesses locally.”

In September 2020, KAST expanded their digital transformation efforts by delivering the Digital Economy: Rapid Response + Resiliency (DER3) program, developed by Innovate BC and funded by Western Economic Diversification. The program helped 231 small to medium-sized businesses and organizations, in multiple sectors, enter or expand in the digital economy. At no cost or obligation, these businesses received 1:1 mentorship, support, resources and funding opportunities to enter or expand in the digital economy.

DER3 helped Kootenay businesses shift their business approach to be more profitable, expand into new markets or opportunities and respond to new challenges associated with COVID-19. The DER3 team, made up of four local advisors - Shane Hainsworth, Andrew Zwicker, John Leishman and Clee Roy -provided personalized advisory services, coaching, mastermind groups and matched businesses with Kootenay tech consultants and local digital service providers.

"It was important for KAST to pull together a team that could relate to, and fully understand, the unique challenges businesses in our region are facing," said Sean Smillie, Executive Director of KAST. "Rural communities face very different challenges than major centres, especially when it comes to digital transformation. It was critical that our local Virtual Connection Day service providers and our DER3 and Tech Resiliency Program contractors could relate to the people they're helping. Locals helping locals is the ecosystem we were after and we are thrilled it was successful."

The top five areas businesses needed help in were:

  • Websites
  • Digital marketing strategy
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Business strategy
  • Tech stack/back office systems/integration/bookkeeping

Highlights of the program include:

  • Most DER3 clients were referred by other clients already in the program, which speaks to the value clients received.
  • The program was widely promoted by local chambers of commerce, economic development offices, municipalities and nonprofit organizations.
  • Studies have shown that COVID has impacted and marginalized women much more than men and that was evident in the DER3 program, where 75 percent of businesses were women-owned.
  • Over 50 digital service providers signed on to the program to offer services in digital marketing, ecommerce, sales and so much more.
  • Two mastermind groups took place to help 21 Kootenay organizations with digital transformation.

Finally, KAST helped businesses and entrepreneurs in the science and technology sector with the Tech Resiliency Program. This program was specifically designed for Kootenay technology startups and companies who were impacted by COVID-19. Businesses received 1:1 mentorship and coaching in specific areas of their businesses including business development, capital raising, HR, digital marketing and more.