The first ever B.C.-Canada House was an experiment. Launched to showcase B.C. businesses to the world during the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, no one knew what to expect or how profitable it would be.
According to B.C. Minister of Economic Development Colin Hansen, even the concept of the house was something that had never been done before by a future host Olympic jurisdiction.
The government rounded up 80 businesses to fly to Torino and set up shop inside the log cabin-styled pavilion. The businesses ranged from knitting companies to alternative energy firms, with most companies falling into the biotechnology category.
And the pavilion ended up being much more successful than the government had anticipated. Hansen said over 100,000 visitors came to the house over the two-month period and lines to get inside were sometimes up to three blocks long.
“We wound up with far more people coming through the pavilion and far more exposure for the pavilion than we ever dreamt of,” said Hansen.
His enthusiasm is echoed by the businesses showcased at the pavilion in Italy.
George Ivey, owner of a Campbell River-based biotechnology company, said that he originally rationalized going to Torino only because he could also meet with other business partners in Europe.
“What I said was if I am going to go that far, I am going to leverage that with meeting with a distributor I have in Spain, and some other people trying to do business in Europe,” said Ivey.
“So I kind of rounded it out a bit so I could justify going. I didn’t know what the opportunities were, but in retrospect I am glad I did,” he said.
Since participating in the B.C.-Canada House, Ivey International Inc. has risen to become an international leader in remediation technology.
“Just the shear level of attention that has been coming to our company has been significant over the past years,” said Ivey, CEO of Ivey International Inc.
“Of course I can’t say that has all come from the Canada House, I’d be lying. Just too much has gone on that has fed into those achievements,” he said.
A few of the successes Ivey International has experienced include winning the 2006 GLOBE Award for Technology Innovation & Application, the 2006 North American Frost & Sullivan Technology Innovation Award, and the 2005 Environmental Business Journal Remediation Technology Merit Award.
And while this recognition is not all a direct result from the Olympic pavilion, Ivey said that his experience at the B.C.-Canada House was positive and allowed him to develop important Italian and European business ties.
“I identified that there were regulations in play (in Italy) that would drive the need for the technology, because if there was no regulations that was not going to happen,” said Ivey.
“I also identified that there were good possibilities for pursuing business opportunities in Italy. And I met some small, medium, and large players in the process,” he said, adding that he has continued to work with Italians since then.
Walter Bramsleve, general manger of Sitka Log Homes from 100 Mile House, said that the B.C.-Canada House also was beneficial for his company.
“It has given us a lot of international exposure. And also it has given us a lot of Canadian exposure too, just due to the extensive amount of media coverage that we received there,” said Bramsleve.
He added that his company, which built the log cabin for B.C.-Canada House, has seen lots of visitors since the Games directly because of their work on the pavilion.
“I would always urge any company to get involved if they can do anything for the Olympics, just because the exposure they get before and after the Olympics is definitely worth their efforts, without question,” he said.
Hansen said that based on the feedback from companies that went to Torino, many B.C. businesses are already rallying to get involved in a B.C.-Canada House in Beijing, slated to be open from May 1 to Sept. 18, 2008.
“In the case of Torino, because it was a brand new idea, I think people weren’t really quite sure how it would work or how they could make it work for them,” said Hansen.
“So we were reaching out to companies for Torino, and now it is more of a case of we’ve had companies coming to us saying… they want to be part of it.”
At least three countries have made it known that they would like to have buildings in Whistler during the 2010 Olympics to show off some of their businesses and technology. The buildings, which will be left in Whistler following the Games, may be located in the day-skier parking lots.