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COVID-proof: The Okanagan high-tech sector

This is not your usual COVID story.

Kelowna-based high-tech firm Bananatag is growing and hiring while many other companies are fighting for survival as the pandemic rages on.

"When COVID hit, we quickly found out we had a mission-critical product," said Bananatag head of product Partho Ghosh.

"We've had to add 25 employees and we're hiring 10 more."

</who>Kelowna-based Bananatag discovered it had mission-critical software when COVID hit, according to head of product Partho Ghosh.

Bananatag is not just a catchy name, it's the maker and seller of an incredible software employee communication tool that more and more companies can't do without.

Technology tends not to just be recession-proof, but pandemic-proof.

After all, no one is giving up their computers, instantaneous communication and digital entertainment because of a virus.

Plus, tech is essential to work from home and keep the economy rolling.

Basically, Bananatag's software allows companies to design, send and measure internal company emails and communications via other message platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Workplace and text message.

It's the kind of software that reports back to the company if the email was opened and read and if links and attachments were open.

"When COVID was new, companies were using Bananatag for crisis communication, making sure messages about the pandemic and how to handle it were getting to employees," said Ghosh.

"Now, like pre-COVID, companies are using it for day-to-day communication. But, of course, day-to-day has new meaning now that companies are largely managing a remote workforce."

At head office in Kelowna's Innovation Centre, Bananatag has 60 employees and at its Vancouver office there are 45 workers.

But, with the pandemic, all those employees are now working from home.

And yes, Bananatag uses its own software to help manage the sprawling workforce.

Brea Lake knows of many success stories like Bananatag's.

She's the CEO of Accelerate Okanagan, which also has its offices in the Innovation Centre, and supports tech companies, whether they are start-ups or well-established.

"Generally, tech companies have weathered this COVID storm quite well," said Lake.

"At the beginning there may have been some companies that instituted a hiring freeze, but typically now they are at full staff and evening hiring. Tech companies are known for reacting quickly and adjusted quickly to deliver the niche products customers want and create an environment in which employees could work remotely."

</who>Tech is the Okanagan's largest economic engine with $1.7 billion annual impact, according to Accelerate Okanagan CEO Brea Lake.

Additionally, Kelowna has seen an influx of tech workers from Vancouver who have decided they might as well live the Okanagan lifestyle if they are working from home.

The tech industry is also helping traditional businesses adapt to the new normal.

Accelerate Okanagan is running a Digital Economy Rapid Response program to show companies how to do more online, including e-commerce, and manage remote workforces.

Technology is the Okanagan's biggest economic engine with $1.7 billion a year impact and 710 firms that employ 12,500 well-paid workers.

Even when there's a COVID vaccine and life is allowed to return to normal, it won't go back to the way it was before.

"Everyone has become accustomed to even more flexibility," said Ghosh.

"There will be people who continue to work completely remotely and others might do only one or two or three days a week at the office."

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