June 24, 2016

New ‘rec tech’ sector thriving in Squamish

— Discover Squamish
7Mesh production developer Cindy Neilson sews a set of prototype bike shorts. — David Buzzard

Spend any amount of time sipping java at a Squamish coffee shop or relaxing at any local watering hole and chances are, someone will mention the booming “rec tech” industry in the Sea to Sky Corridor. 

The term, which isn’t in any Canadian dictionaries yet, refers to companies that produce technologically advanced products for recreation.

Here in the recreation capital of the world, there is a forest of such companies.

Squamish-based OneUp Components is a seedling in the forest of rec tech.

The company’s motto epitomizes the roots of many successful Squamish startups.

“At the heart of the company are outdoor enthusiasts who had a dream to spend more time outside and less time working.”

OneUp’s founders Jonathan Staples, Chris Heynen and Sam Richards are engineers who launched their first product, a mountain bike sprocket and cassette that extends a bike’s gear-ratio range, about 18 months ago. The product was a project that allowed them to live in Squamish and create for their shared passion, mountain biking.

“Being able to move to Squamish was a big catalyst to us being able to step out on our own,” says Staples. 

The men had a combined 25 years in the biking industry and wanted to continue in it, creating a business in the place where they rode. 

Products are manufactured overseas. Warehousing, shipping and some assembly are completed in Squamish.

Their venture has been more successful than they expected – they now ship to 72 countries and counting – so their next goal is to move out of their living rooms and into an affordable shared space in Squamish that will allow their company to grow. The location will be close to the trails. 

Another local company, 7Mesh, is nestled in a funky open concept workspace on “rec-tech corner,” near Queens Way and Commercial Way. The outdoor cycling-apparel company has made a name for itself in Squamish and around the world. The 7Mesh items are sold in eight countries. A full new apparel line hit shops in March. 

Products are designed and prototypes are made in Squamish, and manufacturing is done in Asia. The company employs seven people locally. 

The brains behind the company stay true to their roots by carving out time to get out and hit the trails found just outside their door. 

“For us, it is about getting out and testing new product,” says 7Mesh’s Brian Goldstone.

Jeff Cooke, president of the mountain biking lobby group Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association, said rec-tech companies give validity to the sport of mountain biking.

“These guys love biking and they recognize how important our biking infrastructure is,” Cooke said. “In the long run, it makes Squamish not only a tourist destination for mountain biking, but it is creating kind of an epicentre for mountain biking and other rec-tech industries.” 

Like a forest, the rec tech industry is an ecosystem – each layer dependent on, or feeding, the next layer, the entrepreneurs explain. There are the elite athletes who train in Squamish, and then trail builders (Dream Wizards) who advance the trail system, which in turn further attracts athletes. There are the designers and gear manufacturers, such as 7Mesh and OneUp, that use Squamish as a base for research and development, because of the access to the athletes and the trails. 

Then there’s a layer of photographers and filmmakers who capture the athletes in action (Anthill Films), and industry media that reflect athletes’ images and knowledge (Pinkbike and Mountain Life magazine). 

Squamish’s world champion bike racer Sean Verret has a role in many aspects of the rec tech forest. 

As an elite athlete he trains on Squamish trails and is an ambassador for a variety of brands, most notably Norco Bicycles. 

“I get the privilege to test out new technology and play with leading edge equipment in our back yard. With the variety of trails and terrain, Squamish is the ultimate playground for someone like myself to truly put rec tech equipment to the test,” he says.

Verret also owns a business, which could be described as another branch or offshoot of the rec tech sector. His company, Enduro Performance Consultants Ltd., helps rec tech businesses get tax breaks.

“If a rec tech company is producing new materials, pushing the limits of existing technology or even creating new technology, I help my clients get money back from the government for taking these research risks in order to create the best technology the industry has seen,” he explains.

Verret also founded Fascinating Expedition and Adventure Talks (FEAT) Canada, a speakers series of athletes and adventurers. “I am lucky enough to see rec tech from three different perspectives,” he says.

Rec tech may be a term used in dictionaries soon. In Squamish, it’s becoming part of the local lexicon. 

© Copyright 2019 Discover Squamish

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