From God’s Pocket to YVR, how a BC program is giving startups a major testbed for scale

Innovate BC’s Integrated Marketplace pairs local companies with major customers in key transportation hubs.

In 2020, cleantech startup Moment Energy was a team of four working out of a garage in Port Coquitlam, BC. 

The company had created an innovative energy storage solution using repurposed retired electric vehicle batteries. Their early customers were a handful of remote, off-grid sites including a cold water dive resort called God’s Pocket, off the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

Today, the company is working with an international airport that sees millions of passengers each year.

“It’s often hard for a business to actually adopt a new technology if they aren’t clear on what the return on investment is going to be.”

Nathan Nankivell, Innovate BC

Moment Energy is helping Vancouver International Airport (YVR) electrify its airfield vehicle fleet as part of the airport’s push to reach net-zero emissions by 2030. 

For young companies, validating solutions in complex environments like this is a critical step towards export sales and scale. But finding those early partners isn’t always easy.

That’s where Innovate BC’s Integrated Marketplace initiative comes in.

The program connects local innovators with major strategic buyers at designated tested sites throughout the province.

The Integrated Marketplace was created by the Government of British Columbia’s Ministry of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation and Crown agency Innovate BC, with funding from PacifiCan, to increase the adoption of world-class technology being created by startups throughout the province.

“One of the big problems was there were barriers to procurement and adoption, especially in cleantech,” said Nathan Nankivell, Vice President of Integrated Markets at Innovate BC. “It’s often hard for a business to actually adopt a new technology if they aren’t clear on what the return on investment is going to be.”

The Integrated Marketplace is designed to accelerate and de-risk the adoption of BC tech in three key areas: decarbonization, competitiveness, and health and safety.

Its testbeds currently include YVR, the Port of Vancouver and the Port of Prince Rupert – major hubs that serve as the physical locations where innovation needs can be identified and connected to domestic innovation suppliers who have commercially-ready technologies. 

BC Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation of British Columbia Brenda Bailey (Image courtesy of Innovate BC)

As part of this program, the Port of Prince Rupert recently announced that it would deploy low-emission, heavy-duty trucks to its port operations. Those trucks will be powered in part by Delta-based Hydra Energy, which will generate hydrogen fuel for the participating trucks. 

“The federal government and the province of BC have made it a priority to think about hydrogen in more detail,” Nankivell added.

“We also have some great companies that are playing in that space really effectively within BC, so that particular testbed offers a really unique opportunity to test a number of different solutions.”

The project will see four new trucks, including two hydrogen powered, one battery electric and one hydrogen-diesel co-combustion, utilized on existing operational routes. Other partners supporting the project include Toronto-based hardware tech firm NuPort Robotics, Prince Rupert-based trucking company Gat Leedm Logistics, and Vancouver-based dealership Velocity Truck Centres.

Nankivell said that the Integrated Marketplace often co-funds eligible projects, allowing large buyers to accelerate their innovation initiatives and increasing early adoption for the province’s tech sector.

BC is home to more than 400 cleantech companies, but Nankivell said there has been a major lag in widespread provincial adoption. 

“The minute you’re at that commercially ready stage, when you need to get your product into an operational use case or make sales, the level of government support isn’t necessarily as strong there,” Nankivell added.

Startups also need reference customers and performance data to sell their product internationally, he pointed out. To address this, the Integrated Marketplace makes its performance data available to participants, helping BC companies translate their success at these testbeds into greater scale-up and export capacity.

“Historically there hasn’t been as much government funding to create markets and support operational use cases,” he said. “The Integrated Marketplace is part of the provincial and federal governments’ approach to create programming to address that part of the continuum.”

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Innovate BC works to foster innovation across the province so that all British Columbians can benefit from a thriving, sustainable and inclusive innovation economy.

Learn more about how the Integrated Marketplace initiative is working to accelerate and de-risk the adoption of cutting-edge innovations throughout BC.

Images courtesy of Innovate BC

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle Kirkwood

Isabelle is a Vancouver-based writer with 5+ years of experience in communications and journalism and a lifelong passion for telling stories. For over two years, she has reported on all sides of the Canadian startup ecosystem, from landmark venture deals to public policy, telling the stories of the founders putting Canadian tech on the map.

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