Entrepreneur of the Year 2014: Mining finalists

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Mark O'Dea | BCBusiness
Image by: Peter Holst

Mark O’Dea (WINNER)
Founder and chair, Oxygen Capital Corp.

Mark O’Dea wasn’t going to let a little thing like a prolonged slump in the mining sector stop him from doing what he loves every day: making money from undervalued assets. The mining entrepreneur, who since 2001 has built six junior mining companies and created more than $3 billion in shareholder value, treats the current industry downturn as an opportunity to take depressed assets and turn them into profitable ventures. First he grew two companies, Fronteer Gold and Aurora Energy Resources, from startup to their ultimate sale in 2011. His latest venture is Oxygen Capital Corp., formed to “breathe life” into a new set of ventures that today include True Gold Mining, Pilot Gold and Pure Gold Mining. (A fourth company, True North Nickel, was recently sold to Royal Nickel.) O’Dea’s companies have raised more than $800 million in capital, including $130 million in the past year, despite the continued downturn in the sector. A dramatic drop in commodity prices from record or near-record highs set in 2011 lowered the valuation of mining companies and their projects; that, in turn, has made it difficult for the mining industry to raise money, especially junior companies that are seen as more risky.

Still, O’Dea and his team have managed to lure some top-tier mining companies and investors as key shareholders in their projects, including Vancouver-based Teck Resources Ltd. and Goldcorp Inc., as well as international players such as Newmont Mining Corp. and AngloGold Ashanti. O’Dea says it’s all about finding the right project and proving its potential. “Our sweet spot is taking projects that are valued at very little in the market and, through modest amounts of time and capital, turning them into spectacular shareholder returns,” he says. “That’s what gets me up in the morning.” It’s a high-risk, high-reward business and failure is inevitable, O’Dea says. “Not everything you do is going to be a success,” he says. “My advice? If you fail, fail quickly and move on.”



Bradford Cooke (FINALIST)
CEO, Endeavour Silver Corp.

It was after he made his mark in the gold industry in the 1990s that mining entrepreneur Bradford Cooke decided it was time to turn his attention to another shiny precious metal. Cooke and an associate started Endeavour Silver Corp. in 2003, with a focus on silver properties in mineral-rich Mexico. “We envisioned going to Mexico and looking for high-grade silver and gold veins, just like the Spaniards did 450 years ago,” says Cooke, who in 1988 also founded gold company Canarc Resource Corp., where he remains chair. More than a decade after starting Endeavour, and through a number of market ups and downs, the company has three producing mines and a half-dozen exploration projects in Mexico, as well as an exploration project in Chile, making Endeavour one of the fastest-growing silver mining companies in the world.



Devinder Randhawa + Ross McElroy (FINALISTS)
CEO; president, COO and chief geologist, Fission Uranium Corp.

Anyone following the uranium industry knows it’s been the worst of times for the metal used to fuel nuclear power generation. The 2011 Fukushima disaster caused a steep drop in the price of uranium, and that price has yet to fully recover. Despite a challenging market, Devinder Randhawa, CEO of Kelowna-based Fission Uranium Corp., and president and chief geologist Ross McElroy, managed to grow their company exponentially through acquisitions, asset sales and two major high-grade uranium discoveries. Randhawa says Fission has done well by hiring the right people, taking calculated risks and thinking differently than its competitors, who are also exploring in Saskatchewan’s Athabasca basin. “If you do what everyone else is doing, you get the same results,” he says. “You have to go where nobody’s looking.”



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