Where Business Meets Pleasure
Agribusiness and technology are key drivers of Canada’s economy, often overlapping while each injecting robust earnings to the national GDP.
Agribusiness generates over $112 billion annually – or 5.8 percent of total GDP – and regularly attracts local and global events related to agricultural production, innovation, and technology.
Agriculture and Agri-food Canada Research Centres manages 20 research centres across the country, aiming to find better agricultural practices and market opportunities through research and innovation while FoodTech Canada is a network of leading innovation and commercialization centres committed to turning research and development into innovated products for the food and bioproducts industry.
The technology sector contributes $89.4 billion to the national economy, accounting for 4.8 percent of total GDP. More than 41,500 technology companies make their home in Canada, spanning sub-sectors like artificial intelligence, digital media and interactive entertainment, and cybersecurity.
The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia holds the unique distinction as a major player in both industries, with agribusiness and technology not only existing harmoniously, but often integrating and inspiring the other.
Over the past few years, the Okanagan has become a magnet for entrepreneurs and start-ups ready to scale, as well as a world class destination for agribusiness and technology business events, welcoming conferences seeking direct access to industry expertise and influencers. A notable example is the invitation only Metabridge Retreat, a high-level networking experience that facilitates connections between Canadian tech CEOs and North American business influencers. The event has been hosted for the past several years in Kelowna, where technology is the fastest-growing economy thanks to an influx of gaming development, animation, medical technology, agricultural technology, and software as a service (SAAS) studios and companies. Indeed, the city has seen year-over-year growth of 15 percent over the past eight years.
Situated in the heart of wine region, Kelowna is key to the Okanagan’s technology and agribusiness success. Home to thousands of tech, animation and digital media professionals who gravitate to the city’s stunning mountain, lake and vineyard surroundings, the city made waves with the opening of the $35-million Innovation Centre, which unites startups, innovation firms and technology providers with an eye towards building Canada’s most entrepreneurial technology community. Kelowna is likewise an agricultural oasis, housing 794 agri-food businesses, 185 licensed wineries and a cluster of agriculturally focused research facilities like the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus, Summerland Research Centre and the newly opened BC Technical Access Centre for fermented beverages. These institutions, working with industry associations like the BC Tree Fruits, BC Cherry Growers and Certified Organic Associations of BC, have positioned the region as a leader in areas as diverse as tree fruit and wine research, pest management, and precision technologies tracking crop growth and nutraceuticals.
“While many visitors are aware of the dynamic culinary scene, sweeping landscapes and world-class wineries in the Central Okanagan, they may not be aware of the region’s entrepreneurs and thought leaders who are changing the face of agribusiness and technology,” says Krista Mallory, manager of the Central Okanagan Economic Development Commission. “From winemakers leading the charge in regenerative viticulture to cutting-edge research through the University of British Columbia that improves sustainability in agriculture, the region is driving innovation across the country and the continent.”
While agribusiness and technology are major pillars of the Okanagan Valley, viticulture is particularly prevalent. Sprawled over 155 miles (250 kilometres), the acclaimed wine region – which boasts 84 percent of BC’s vineyard acreage – stretches across a multitude of ecosystems, each with distinct soil and climate conditions suited to growing varietals ranging from sun-ripened reds to crisp whites (indeed, the Okanagan Valley is warmer and more arid than Napa Valley, soaked with nearly two hours more sunlight per day during peak growing season).
The Okanagan is home to over 182 licensed wineries, as well as 72 beverage companies manufacturing kombucha, mead, spirits and cider, which collectively contribute $2.8 billion to the provincial economy. The majority of these businesses embrace sustainable, biodynamic and innovative winemaking, with spectacular settings adding to the area’s allure for business and leisure travellers alike.
One example is Tinhorn Creek in Oliver, Canada’s first carbon-neutral winery and one of the first Salmon-Safe certified vineyards in BC. Part of its carbon-neutral efforts includes running winery trucks and tractors on biodiesel, and using organic leftovers from the winemaking process and onsite restaurant Miradoro to fertilize the vines.
Another is Frind Estate Winery in West Kelowna, owned by Plenty of Fish founder Markus Frind. Eager to combine his passions of technology and agriculture – and with 500 years of family farming history – Frind leverages cutting-edge technology to craft truly distinctive wines. The first beachfront winery in the world, Fritz Estate Winery regularly stages showstopping events, including festive brunches or high teas in translucent domes that overlook Lake Okanagan.
Alongside production, wine tourism is becoming increasingly popular, with many wineries offering exceptional dining opportunities, farm tours and tasting adventures for groups of all sizes.
One of these is Indigenous World Winery, the brainchild of Robert and Bernice Louie, descendants of the Syilx First Nations. Located near Okanagan Lake, the winery is an ideal spot for meetings and events with 2.5 scenic acres showcasing fruit from the land that has supported the Syilx people for 10,000 years.
Prior to opening the vineyard in 2011, Robert and Bernice joined forces with notable winemaker Jason Parkes to craft wines that could compete at a world level. “The goal was a big award winner,” says Ryan Widdup, sales manager of Indigenous World Winery. “They wanted to open the doors with showpiece red wines.”
And so they did: in 2015, Indigenous World Winery’s small-batch Simo red won two medals and the first Double Gold Medal. Since then, the awards have kept coming: the 2014 Simo received Double Gold in the 2019 All Canadian Wine Championship, beating out 1,378 entries, and the winery’s elixirs regularly earn gold at international competitions in the US and Europe. In 2020, Robert and Bernie launched an Indigenous Spirits craft alcohol line that incorporates locally sourced botanicals and ingredients with a medicinal history in the Syilx culture.
Close by, Summerhill Pyramid Winery is a leader in organic wine, incorporating practices such as biodynamic agriculture, permaculture and organic viticulture that have inspired fellow agribusinesses across the region. Owner Ezra Cipes is part of the winery’s second generation; his father arrived to the Okanagan in 1986, where he found the perfect conditions to produce intensely flavoured small grapes – the ideal base for sparkling wine. After entering the organic certification program in 1988, Cipes Senior produced his first vintage in 1991, and the winery received Demeter Biodynamic certification in 2012.
“My parents helped build the modern wine industry in BC, and were founding members of the BC Vintners Quality Alliance and the BC Wine institute,” said Ezra. “Today, we’re a mid-sized winery, though we have a large team, mostly because of the extensive hospitality we offer. Event organizers love us, because we have a beautiful restaurant and banquet room, both overlooking the vineyard, lake, and mountains.”
Summerhill’s event offerings extend beyond farm-to-table catering and tantalizing wine pairings to fully equipped meeting venues, helicopter access and a professional team with extensive experience running large-scale events.
Whether winery, hotel or dedicated conference venue, Kelowna boasts 110,000 square feet of meeting space, as well as 4,500 total guest rooms. After long days in he boardroom, delegates benefit from a myriad of after-hours pleasure, including five distinct wine trails, three ski resorts and the longest golf season in Canada. The region is ideally suited to meetings with a focus in viticulture, agriculture, technology or manufacturing. Planners also benefit from alluring team building opportunities, robust options for pre- and post-meeting activities, and venues and natural surroundings certain to boost attendance.
“When organizations choose to meet in the Okanagan, they get to experience more than our dynamic culinary and wine scene and area attractions. They also gain access to local industry thought-leaders and innovators shaping what we eat, and where and how it’s grown,” says Mallory. “There’s a real buzz to the region. We’re looking to the future, and we know that no one wants to miss out on what’s happening in the Okanagan.”
In Canada, agribusiness leaders will find support from federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as academia and innovation investors. Further simplifying the business process is the pool of destination and sector experts provided by Destination Canada’s Business Events team.
The team’s specific knowledge of this vast land makes Destination Canada Business Events team an organizer’s first stop for tailoring the right package for their event, whatever the size.
To learn more please visit…businesseventscanada.ca