Following years of discussions, Innovate Cochrane is now out of the gates.

Nathan Klassen, one of its founders, says for almost four years a handful of Cochranites, in conjunction with the town's business development section, have been discussing how to improve the quality of life in the community through innovation.

Now, the focus is on creating greater awareness of the organization and welcoming others interested in contributing to what the organization will become.

"It's an invitation to start more dialogue, broader dialogue, and invite as many voices as we can get in the community to be talking about what does innovation mean to them, what are the greatest unmet needs for innovation in our community, and foster that broader conversation," explains Klassen.

"It's not a closed-door posture. We would love to see as many voices engaged as we can and see how it evolves from there."

The official launch of Innovate Cochrane will take place in mid-2022 to coincide with the opening of The Station, Cochrane's transit hub and innovation centre that's currently under construction on Railway St.

Klassen says they've started small, much like a tech startup, and will continue to build momentum leading up to the centre's opening.

"We're starting with limited resources and time but with lots of passion and energy. We have a Facebook page and will have a website up shortly. That's one digital way that people can get in touch with us and start to become engaged in the conversation."

Early efforts will target identifying unmet needs for innovation in the community. Structure and programming will then take shape from this work.

"Innovate Cochrane can help clarify the community-level engagement that can happen inside of those four walls, and I think only one of many organizations that can use that space and can generate new and different and capacity building in so many ways for our community."

He says it intends to complement existing efforts in the community.

"I do see that space as a catalyst space that the town has stepped up and said here's our contribution. Now I think it's up to us as a community to get together and dialogue between organizations or within Innovate Cochrane and say what can we do now with this additional tool that is in our tool belt? Innovate Cochrane is, I think, a catalyst to help spark that conversation."

At the root of its creation was the development of the town's Smart Cities Challenge grant application by a handful of people about four years ago.

The town's application focused on addressing the issue of loneliness being experienced in the community at the time and one since amplified by the pandemic. If successful, it aimed to create a technology roadmap on how to eliminate or minimize the negative impact of people feeling isolated or alone.

"For me, innovation isn't a new thing," says Klassen. "Innovation has been happening in our community since its inception. Innovation happens in all kinds of corners."

When people envision an innovation centre, they picture a place for tech startups or a tech hub. Klassen uses a wider lens.

"In my world, my perspective is we need quality of life impact to our community. For some people, that will be helping them get economically stable by starting businesses or enterprises or strengthening what they're doing already.

"Social innovation, for example, is a topic I'm very attuned to. Unless innovation or technology can bring up the quality of life for everyone in the community, then we're missing something."

For now, you can connect with Innovate Cochrane through their Facebook page here.