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GROW Conference could turn Whistler into testing ground for new tech

Annual event brings the 'internet of things' to Whistler



I'm standing in a church.

There are people all around, and directly in front of me is a great, stone column. I turn my head to the left and see a streak of multi-coloured light pouring through a stained glass window.

I don't think I've ever been here before.

With the push of a button, I'm transported to a suburban street in Toronto.

It's nighttime. The view is much less captivating than the church I was just visiting, and suddenly I'm slightly on edge.

Luckily for me, what I'm seeing technically isn't real — it's a product of the 360-degree camera technology, the Bublcam.

By strapping on a pair of virtual reality glasses, the wearer is able to view images captured by the Bublcam. Thanks to its 360-degree scope, the images follow the wearer's gaze in any direction.

When I take off the glasses, I'm relieved to find my feet still planted to the floor of the Fairmont, where more than 1,000 entrepreneurs of technology were gathered for the GROW Conference last week.

According to executive producer, Deb Landa, GROW is "one of the leading technology innovation conferences in the world."

In moving the conference to Whistler from Vancouver for the first time, Landa hopes to transform the resort into a "living lab for the internet of things."

The typical Whistler clientele — health conscious, active and tech-savvy — provide the perfect test subjects for the next generation of wearable technology, Bublcams and all.

The GROW Conference is expected to be back in Whistler annually for the foreseeable future.

"I think, if realized, it could dramatically impact this resort," said Councillor Jack Crompton, of Landa's vision.

Turning Whistler into a beta-testing ground for new tech would give it an edge over other resorts, Crompton said.

"I think that could really positively impact the visitor experience in Whistler," he said.

"I think it's a great idea."

Crompton was attending GROW as both a Whistler councillor and as director of

From a Ridebooker perspective, GROW offered Crompton the chance to network with some of the industry's best.

"It gave our team an opportunity to learn from some of the best that Silicon Valley has to offer, and we had a chance to get to know some of the leading minds in our field which is pretty inspiring," he said.

The conference also featured a community meeting with Crompton and other Whistler stakeholders discussing the concept of turning Whistler into the world's most connected resort.

"The conversation was really around, 'Is this a vision that we want to move towards as a community?'" Crompton said.

"No decisions have been made yet, but we've definitely had some productive conversation around it."

According to Mark Edmondson, director of technology with Whistler-based tech company Guestfolio, there's nothing stopping Landa's vision from becoming a reality.

"The people here are intelligent, (and) the employees are already here to be picked up," Edmondson said.

"It would be great to get more of the grassroots tech startups happening. There's no blockade as far as I see aside from people just going at it."

Guestfolio — a hotel/guest relationship management tool — currently employs 16 people out of its office in Function Junction.

Edmondson said he could see Function becoming something of a tech startup hotspot in the coming years, and Whistler itself offers the perfect backdrop for the young, active, tech-savvy entrepreneurs of the world.

"They want to be able to go outside, bike, ski... Whistler is a great location for that," he said.

"We love it here, and that's our draw: That you can live the lifestyle and you can run a tech company, and those things go hand in hand."

At GROW, a team representing Guestfolio took second place in the conference's annual Hackathon competition — a 33-hour event in which teams compete to come up with a tech-based solution to a Whistler-specific problem.

"Ours was an addition or extension to the Spirit program, enabling tourists to interact with local ambassadors who could quickly share their list of local favourites," Edmondson said.

The Hackathon competition represents just the beginnings of what tech innovation could do for Whistler in the future.

"It's amazing that all of these great minds could come together in Whistler. To be able to leverage that for something more for Whistler in the future would be immense," Edmondson said.

"The opportunity is huge and the potential is huge, and it would be great for the local economy as well."