August 23, 2013 - 11:17 AM
FROM THE OPRAH SHOW TO SILICON VALLEY NORTH
KELOWNA - It's a sign Kelowna's burgeoning tech sector is gaining traction when it pulls in talent like Janice Taylor.
At her new office in the Accelerate Okanagan headquarters on St. Paul Street, with a team of homegrown Kelowna arts and tech professionals, Taylor is gearing up for the September launch of her social media brainchild: Just Be Friends.
Imagine a kind of Linked In for kids, brought to life through Disney-esque cartoon animation. That's how Taylor describes Jbfkids.com, a platform where school-aged children and their families can build their profiles and connect with other families, all while challenging each other to acts of friendship.
It's Taylor's response to the anti-bullying movement, but instead of pointing fingers Just Be Friends is meant to stimulate positive behaviour both online and off.
With a succesful pilot project at two Kelowna schools already under her belt, things are moving fast for Taylor's start-up. It hasn't even been one year since the 38-year-old Regina native arrived in Kelowna after being scouted by Accelerate Okanagan CEO Jeff Keen at a Vancouver conference.
Coming from a tech program in San Francisco's Silicon Valley, Taylor was convinced to take a five-day detour of Kelowna.
“They told me, you're a Canadian, you're a Prairie girl and you should be in Canada,” she says.
It wasn't long before Taylor was shaking hands with the likes of Club Penguin creator Lance Priebe and signing on with a mentorship program that enabled her to raise the $650,000 to build her company.
Thanks to a bit of star power, it was Taylor's familiar face that first caught the attention of the Kelowna company.
On air with the Oprah show in 2011, Taylor was featured as one of the show's ultimate viewers for her entrepreneurial spirit and life history. As a single mother of two young daughters, she's seen her own children bullied in school.
"I felt powerless, I didn't know who the other parents were," she recalls.
Deciding to do something about it, Taylor honed the idea of Just Be Friends to bring families together as a community. It earned her a ticket for Oprah's Trip of Lifetime to Australia where she stood up on behalf of the viewers, making a speech to the legendary talk show host.
Leaving the big city chaos of San Francisco behind her, Taylor is enjoying the cozy environment of Kelowna's tech industry.
“Because I'm from Saskatchewan I respond better in a community that's closer knit... it's what I'm comfortable with,” she says.
Where Silicon Valley sticks to a traditional pedigree of Stanford, Harvard and MIT talent, Kelowna is more dynamic.
"In Kelowna if you've got a great idea and you're an entrepreneur they're going to give you a shot.”
And a welcoming place for female innovators too. Along with Mathtoons creator Kristin Garn and Media Cooler founder Alison Yesilcimen, Taylor says she's the third woman to set up shop at the Accelerate Okanagan building.
"I feel like a snowball, just bumbling down the hill," she says. “When I say the next year will be interesting, I can't tell you in what capacity, but I'm sure it will be.”
Taylor sorts through sticker "badges" kids receive when they complete a friendship challenge like sitting down for lunch with someone they don't know.
(JULIE WHITTET /InfoTel Multimedia)
The Just Be Friends office at Accelerate Okanagan is a creative outlet for the young at heart.
(JULIE WHITTET /InfoTel Multimedia)
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at email@example.com or call (250)718-0428.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013