The University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia

Post Secondary

UBC Okanagan

With many of the hallmarks of a successful startup, including pushing boundaries, nurturing creativity, and fostering community engagement, UBCO has been cultivating and inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators since opening its doors in 2005.

A Hub of Innovation in the Heart of the Okanagan

Each year, students from within BC, across Canada, and around the globe make their way to the Central Okanagan to pursue post-secondary education in a close-knit community at one of the world’s top-ranked universities. The University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus (UBCO), located in Kelowna within the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Syilx/Okanagan people, employs 2,000 faculty and staff who annually welcome nearly 12,000 students from over 100 countries.

“It’s an exciting time to be here in the Okanagan—and much of that excitement is driven by the reciprocal relationship between the region and the university,” says Dr. Lesley Cormack, UBC Okanagan’s Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor. “As we grow and develop together, both the region and the university are strengthened by one another; both enhance one another’s identity.”

UBC Okanagan (UBCO) students, graduates, faculty and researchers offer an essential contribution to the fabric of the local community, supporting and diversifying both industry and the region itself. The university directly supports several local industries, including clean technology.

In 2022/23, UBCO attracted nearly $45 million in research funding to the Okanagan. In 2020, the Pacific Economic Development Canada (PacifiCan) provided $1.9 million in funding to help the university develop its innovative Cleantech Hub, where researchers and industry partners work together to develop new technologies and products. While the Hub works at advancing regional clean technologies, its sights are set on becoming a global cleantech contributor that helps Canadian companies further their reach and supports Canada in achieving its carbon elimination goals.

“We’re proud of our research partnerships with business and community organizations who are also growing along with our region. With over 1,000 active research projects, UBCO’s researchers are helping investigate a multitude of industry and community challenges,” says Dr. Cormack. “This includes everything from next-generative battery development alongside a leading local energy storage company to supporting municipalities with key issues like transportation, homelessness, waste, and water management.”

UBCO’s desire to collaborate also extends to Okanagan College (OC), elevating the research power of the region and providing students with opportunities that align not only with their own needs but with those of local industries, too.

“With both UBCO and Okanagan College embedded in our community, the Okanagan is punching above its weight,” notes Dr. Cormack. “For a mid-sized region like ours to have an outstanding college and a campus of a world-leading research university, it’s truly unique in Canada.”

Through a formal partnership, UBCO and OC have established a Green Construction Research and Training Centre (GCRTC), fostering innovation as students gain critical skills from hands-on learning opportunities. Collaborations within the industry have been established thanks to the GCRTC, contributing to economic development in the region.

“What I love about the Okanagan is what I love about UBCO,” notes Dr. Cormack. “We’ve got the perfect mix of close-knit communities and global renown. We live in an exciting, 21st century urban environment, yet we’re surrounded by stunning natural beauty. We’ve got everything to succeed today, and unlimited opportunities for tomorrow.”

Sector Stories

  • OKGo Magazine – UBCO Volume 2

    With many of the hallmarks of a successful startup, including pushing boundaries, nurturing
    creativity, and fostering community engagement, UBCO has been cultivating and inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators since opening its doors in 2005.

    Download PDF
  • University of British Columbia

    Since it was established in 2005, UBC Okanagan (UBCO) has seen its enrolment grow from 3,500 to 12,000 students a year, now representing more than 100 countries from around the globe.

    Download PDF

    RainStick Shower

    A nice, hot shower is something most of us experience daily, but did you know approximately 100L of  water is wasted for every 10 minutes of showering? 

    “We looked at how water is used within the residential home and 50% is used in the bathroom,” says  RainStick Shower Co-founder & CEO, Alisha McFetridge. “We’ve seen some efficiency with toilet flushing,  but we can’t say the same thing for showers, so that’s really where we started.”  

    These facts, along with increasing drought levels in water basins throughout Canada, were the impetus  for Alisha and Sean McFetridge—who both grew up in the Okanagan—to launch RainStick, North  America’s first circular shower that saves up to 80% of the water and energy typically used, while still  providing a nice flow rate.  

    From development to market, the product was years in the making. Alisha’s background in international  business and sustainability, including a master’s degree in climate change, and Sean’s background in  engineering and energy conservation made the perfect match for developing the RainStick prototype, a  cardboard version they created prior to officially launching the company in 2019.  

    With a small founder’s contribution, along with Alisha’s win in a pitch competition in 2020, the couple  kickstarted the R&D for the company; today, they are raising an investment round for the business and geting set to grow their team, which currently includes nine full-time employees and several  contractors. While the couple launched RainStick in Ontario, they made the decision to relocate back to  Kelowna, closer to family, the mountains, and the markets they serve along the west coast.  

    “We plan on adding roots to our headquarters and growing our team right here in the Central  Okanagan,” notes McFetridge, who had previously worked in the city’s tech industry at companies  including Bananatag and Disney’s Club Penguin. “We are very proud to be in such a beautiful region and  we are often educating folks on the opportunities that exist in Kelowna exists.” 

    To build awareness of the company, Alisha and Sean decided to showcase at the Consumer Electronic  Show 2022 in Las Vegas—out of 1,800 international companies, RainStick ended up being awarded Best  of Smart Home and Best of Innovation, garnering a lot of international interest. In early 2023, the  company was selected, out of hundreds of international applications, as one of 11 cohort members— and the only member from Canada—for Imagine H2O, one of the world’s top accelerators working with  early-stage water startups. RainStick Shower is also featured on TIME’s List of The Best Inventions for 2023, which features 200 groundbreaking inventions from around the world.  

    The next version of the RainStick Shower, specifically for more cost-conscious consumers, is already in  the works. The company recently announced international partnerships in New Zealand and Australia  and launched distributors in California. They have also been fielding substantial interest from parts of  Europe. Decentralized water technology for other areas of the home is at the core of RainStick’s future developments, all of which will take place from the heart of the Central Okanagan. 

    “We are a water conservation company—we know there is lots we want to do in this space, particularly  in the residential home,” says McFetridge. “A lot of our water and energy use can actually be controlled  in a better way. Showering is just the beginning.”

    “Our region is growing in terms of opportunities for companies, so it’s a really exciting  time to be in the Central Okanagan. Area residents want to support local, it’s a really encouraging thing.  You don’t get lost like you do in larger cities, you are very much part of the ecosystem, which is really  cool.”

    Hexagon Purus

    Clean Tech

    Hexagon Purus

    Though many may think cleantech is the result of recent sustainability and economic trends, the team at Hexagon Purus has spent more than two decades working on innovative solutions that support the transition to clean technology for commercial vehicles.

    In spring 2023, Hexagon Purus—a business unit within Hexagon’s portfolio focused on zero emissions mobility—held the grand opening for its 60,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art micro-factory, one of many new buildings located in the rapidly growing Kelowna International Airport Business Park.

    “We are, today, putting both fuel cell electric and battery electric vehicles on the road,” says Hexagon Purus Executive Vice President—and Kelowna local—Todd Sloan. “The technology is here, now infrastructure is the next step.”

    It is expected that the micro-factory will produce more than 1,000 battery systems annually for heavy-duty vehicle applications. By 2024, more than 150 engineers and assembly technicians, along with additional team members handling operations and administration, will be employed at the Kelowna micro-factory. Attracting talent to the region is easy, thanks to its picturesque landscape, big city amenities, and enviable quality of life, which includes work-life balance, a close-knit community, and minimal commute times.

    “We’re excited to have the new micro-factory where everyone can come together under one roof,” says Sloan. “While the building is new, the team isn’t—it is made up of many folks who have been around since the early days as well as a lot of new talent, made up of locals and individuals from across Canada and around the world.”

    The early days involve Sloan’s more than 20 years of experience in the trucking and clean mobility industry, which eventually led to the company he founded, Enviromech Industries, joining forces with Hexagon.

    Now, as part of the Hexagon Purus Executive Management team, Todd continues to be at the forefront of the company’s growth and innovation. While Hexagon Purus is making an impact locally in the Central Okanagan, the work being done in Kelowna will have a global impact.

    Shortly before the Kelowna micro-factory opening, Hexagon Purus signed a landmark long-term agreement with Hino Trucks to produce complete battery-electric heavy-duty trucks for the US market. The agreement, valued at approximately $2 billion USD, will see up to 10,000 trucks delivered by 2030, with the initial battery system volumes being produced at the Kelowna facility.

    “We are fortunate to be able to research, conceive, and design this in Kelowna,” notes Sloan. “We will continue to expand into new areas in North America and the next [vehicle integration] facility is opening [in Dallas, Texas] in 2024.”

    Sloan also notes there is a lot of support for cleantech growth in Kelowna, including the Cleantech Hub at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus (UBCO), which provides access to researchers, students, and programs to assist in launching projects.

    “The Okanagan brings the ability to attract talent, create local opportunity, and have an unbeatable lifestyle and a career with purpose,” says Sloan. “BC has always been progressive in the clean and green economy. In Kelowna, we have a great mix of opportunity and the Okanagan lifestyle.”

    Sector Stories

    • Clean Tech

      At the heart of the Okanagan, a green revolution has rapidly taken shape, transforming the region and beyond thanks to innovative cleantech solutions that are establishing a sustainable and vibrant future.

      Download PDF


      Since its launch in 2016, Vitalis has used its expertise in CO2 handling to develop original equipment, supporting and furthering the clean tech industry within the Central Okanagan, BC, and beyond.                         

      “What started as a core competency in CO2 handling has now allowed us to utilize that knowledge and create different lines of products,” says Carla Berrie, VP of Revenue. “Our extraction machines are CO2-based, using the gas in its liquid and supercritical fluid phases as a solvent to pull the terpenes and cannabinoids out of cannabis primarily. From there, we started to expand into other markets, including hops extraction, which has taken off.”                   

      Taking elements from the original extraction machines, Vitalis developed its R744 heating and cooling solutions for commercial- and industrial-sized applications, which use CO2 as a natural refrigerant. Its Coolshift chiller for breweries is one example.                                             

      “The reason we use CO2 is that it’s a clean solvent, it’s a clean refrigerant, it has low global warming potential, and it’s non-toxic,” explains Berrie, noting that CO2 has a “bit of a funny rep” because it is also used as the unit of measure for global warming potential.                            

      “If you were thinking of CO2 as a refrigerant, the global warming potential is 1, whereas if you think about the refrigerants that are most commonly used right now, synthetic refrigerants, you are getting into the 3,200 global warming potential. So, CO2 is extremely low with the global warming potential,” she adds.                                               

      The Coolshift chiller, as Berrie describes it, uses R744 (CO2) to recover “waste” heat from the chilling process, offsetting the need for gas boilers to create hot water, which is used a lot in breweries. The chiller can also be paired with a system that captures CO2 from the fermentation process, which is then cleaned, liquefied, and provided back to the brewery for its numerous CO2 needs.              

      “It’s a big deal in Western Canada, as there are not a lot of CO2 suppliers,” notes Berrie. “It can provide breweries with CO2 independence, and the ROI on the chiller unit is quick, about one to two years.”                                                      

      Offering product lines that benefit businesses by contributing to their success and profitability, while also reducing their environmental footprint, is the sweet spot for Vitalis and what they are most excited about. Profitability is also one of the “Ps” that guide the team’s work.

      “As we’ve matured as a company, we’ve solidified our commitment to planet, profit, and performance. For us, right now, the planet is rooted in CO2 technologies,” says Berrie. “When we talk about performance, we talk about not only the performance of our machines but also about the safety aspect of what we do.”

      This safety aspect leads to what Berrie says would be a fourth “P” in the equation—people. The company is heavily involved in safety-related matters and, at the end of 2022, was featured in a WorkSafe BC health and safety profile piece for its work in the cannabis industry.     

      “People are at the heart of our performance,” says Berrie. “[One of our founders] James is pretty  passionate about bringing highly skilled jobs to the Central Okanagan. Contributing to the clean tech industry in BC, in the Central Okanagan specifically, is really exciting for us and we are proud that our  work aligns with the CleanBC 2030 roadmap.”

      Okanagan College

      Post Secondary

      Okanagan College

      Experiential learning, hands-on training, and apprenticeship are foundational elements of many of the programs offered at Okanagan College. On campus, the needs of students and industry intersect, resulting in a synergistic partnership.

      For more than 60 years, Okanagan College has been offering students a wide range of post-secondary education opportunities, all in the pursuit of its mission to transform lives and communities. Today, the college boasts more than 60,000 alumni from its multiple campuses, including Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon and Salmon Arm.

      “Whether it is through hybrid and online course delivery, workplace integrated learning—where the “classroom” is actually the workplace—or experiences in labs and classrooms, people who choose to live here have an incredible amount of opportunities,” says Okanagan College President, Dr. Neil Fassina.

      The institution’s impact in the community is undeniable, with Okanagan College students and graduates successfully contributing to a wide array of local industries including tourism and hospitality, health care, construction, business, technology and much more. The college is constantly innovating and expanding its programs, too.

      Earlier this year, Okanagan College received $44.8 million in funding from the provincial government for its new Centre for Food, Wine and Tourism, which is set to open in 2026 and will include modern teaching spaces, food labs, research and development facilities, and more. The centre will allow Okanagan College to significantly expand enrollment in its culinary and hospitality and tourism programs.

      In 2023, thanks to funding from the Royal Bank of Canada and Accelerate Okanagan, the School of Business plans to launch its new Experiential Entrepreneurship program pending ministry approval, allowing students to not only imagine their business but set it up as well. 

      The college champions sustainability, too, incorporating green practices through its day-to-day operations, award-winning campus facilities, and wide range of programs. The Kelowna trades complex, for example, was constructed to meet LEED Platinum standards, while the state-of-the-art Health Sciences Centre is one of 16 projects in the Canada Green Building Council’s Zero Carbon Pilot Program. The College’s programs include environmental studies, water engineering technology, and sustainable building technology, all of which contribute positively to local, regional, and national green initiatives.

      Okanagan College is also a collaborative partner with the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus (UBCO), joining forces to provide faculty and students of both institutions with innovative research and learning opportunities.

      “Together, we help build and sustain local opportunities for learning, training, education, and research,” notes Dr. Fassina. “Our collaboration fuels innovation, entrepreneurship, our very social infrastructure—to be able to learn close to home means graduates will stay close to home.”

      The Wilden Living Lab is just one example of the shared success between Okanagan College and UBCO have had—students participated in building an attainable net-zero home alongside trades professionals, contractors, and homeowners. As research continues in Wilden, the results are shared across the country, furthering nationwide progress and growth in this important sector. “The future is bright for both institutions, and as pillars of social and economic development in the Central Okanagan, that translates to a bright future for the region,” adds Dr. Fassina.

      “Okanagan College is a community of learning, rich with cultural diversity and academic support,” notes Dr. Fassina. “With smaller class sizes, industry-experienced professors, hands-on learning with co-op and practicum opportunities, and affordable tuition, we put learner success at the heart of everything we do.”

      Sector Stories

      • OKGo Magazine – OC Volume 2

        Experiential learning, hands-on training, and apprenticeship are foundational elements of many of the programs offered at Okanagan College. On campus, the needs of students and industry intersect, resulting in a synergistic partnership.

        Download PDF
      • Okanagan College

        With campuses and centres located throughout the Okanagan and Shuswap/ Revelstoke, Okanagan College is a community of learning made stronger by its connections to industry and local businesses.

        Download PDF