From manufacturing to mining and metals, these are the runners-up for 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year
Of course there’s no secret recipe for success in business, but the stories behind the 20th annual EY (Ernst & Young) Entrepreneur of the Year awards offer tantalizing glimpses of those elusive qualities that set the true trailblazers apart from the rest.
Every entrepreneur starts out with a big idea and even bigger dreams, but these awards celebrate those who pull together all the intangible qualities it takes to not only get a successful business off the ground, but to build empires, create new industries or redefine old ways of doing business.
Andrew Bamber, CEO, Minesense Technologies Ltd.
A few years ago, Andrew Bamber, 42, was on track to make partner in a large mining consultancy, but the industry’s environmental track record didn’t sit right with him. Instead, the University of Cape Town graduate enrolled in a PhD in mining engineering at UBC and developed a technology for better sensing and sorting of low-grade ore. In 2008, he founded MineSense to bring that technology to market and today the 20-person North Vancouver company is headed toward commercialization with the help of a multimillion-dollar boost from Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital this past March. “My future was kind of mapped out for me,” reflects Bamber, “but I realized there were other futures possible.” –J.W.
James Dean, CEO, dPoint Technologies Inc.
Back in 2007, James Dean, 47, found himself steering a fuel-cell company just as the wind went out of the sails of the industry. One night, in desperation, he Googled “heat humidity exchange” and realized he just needed to change course. Turns out new building codes require good ventilation alongside insulation; dPoint’s fuel-cell membranes, which allow heat and humidity to transfer across air streams, were just what the HVAC sector needed. With a renewed sense of purpose, the company has more than doubled revenues in each of the past three years, filling orders in North America, Europe and Asia. “Sometimes I think, ‘I can’t believe we spent three years wasting our time on fuel cells,’” says Dean, with a laugh. –J.W.
Business-to-Consumer Products and Services Runners-up
Jeff Booth + Robert Banks, president and CEO + executive vice-president; co-founders, BuildDirect.com Technologies Inc.
Hammering out issues in asymmetrical home-building supplies channels has been a 14-year challenge for BuildDirect co-founders (and long-time hockey buddies) Jeff Booth and Robert Banks. “The problem was immense,” recalls Booth. To simply put a website on the front end of existing supply channels, “you’d just bake in all the bad costs in the business,” says Booth, “so we had to create a brand new channel.” The pair did that with phenomenal results, despite getting off the ground during the dot-com crash and then the U.S. housing crisis. The company shipped 25,000 loads to 60 countries in 2009 and has seen nearly 50 per cent annual sales growth every year since. “You’re either that visionary or that crazy person, and for a long time you have no idea which one,” Booth says. –K.M.
Charles Chang, president and founder, Sequel Naturals Ltd. (dba Vega)
A marketing gig in the corrugated-box industry seems an unlikely launch pad for a plant-based whole foods business, but that’s where Charles Chang was working when he conceived of the idea for Vega. “In the box business I saw all kinds of manufacturing, and the natural-health industry was the second-fastest-growing segment after tech,” he says. Vega was born in 2001, in Chang’s basement, from a self-funded shoestring budget. Today its product is in more than 10,000 stores across North America and the company tallied some $70 million in sales last year. Vega’s biggest challenge and its most sustainable advantage, says Chang, is people. “Product will eventually all be knocked off and everyone will have the same stuff, but you can’t easily duplicate culture or the skills and passion of the team we built.” –K.M.
Emerging Entrepreneur Runners-up
John Skinner, proprietor, Painted Rock Estate Winery Ltd.
For 25 years, John Skinner lived in the fast-paced, minute-by-minute world of stockbrokers–then he traded it in for a life on the other extreme. In 2004 he bought a 60-acre plot of Okanagan land, with a vision of creating the kind of high-quality wines that take years to mature. “If I had a board of directors they would have fired me years ago, because I’ve done things that I intuitively know are necessary but are hard to defend,” says Skinner, 55. But the gamble is paying off. Today, Painted Rock Estate Winery’s five wines, priced from $30 to $55 a bottle, are racking up awards and earning rave reviews. And Skinner’s got one more reason to pop a cork: 18 months ago the company began turning a profit. –J.W.
Jamie Garratt, president, Idea Rebel Interactive Inc.
Don’t even think about entering the offices of Idea Rebel with a to-go coffee. The digital marketing agency’s strict ban on paper includes everything from faxes and printouts to, yes, disposable coffee cups. “We tell clients, ‘Please don’t bring that cup in here,’” asserts president Jamie Garratt, 35, who left an eight-year stint as senior director of Blast Radius to start Idea Rebel in 2008. His greener-than-Kermit policy has not turned off clients including Lululemon Athletica, FOX Broadcasting Co. and the Virgin group of companies. And if a potential client requests a fax or printed documents? “We tell them we’re probably not the right fit,” says Garratt. Having doubled staff, revenue and profits every year, he can afford to be choosy. –J.W.
Jan Stimpson, owner and designer, White House Design Co. Inc.
White House Design owner Jan Stimpson speaks with candour and humility when reflecting on her foray into design and retail in 1977, after leaving her job as a paralegal. “At that time I was young and stupid,” she says, with a laugh. But with no formal training, Stimpson has gone from opening her own fabric store to running a design company that manufactures and distributes its Sympli clothing line to more than 800 retail stores across North America, while keeping all of the operations within Canada. “I always wanted to do a line catered to women that was a little simpler,” says Stimpson. “We just kind of took a leap of faith and dove into doing just that.” –K.H.
Elana Rosenfeld, CEO, Kicking Horse Coffee Co. Ltd.
“We’re the No. 1 organic Fair Trade coffee in Canada, which is pretty darn cool,” boasts Kicking Horse CEO Elana Rosenfeld. Seventeen years ago she was roasting beans in her garage, but today that task requires a 60,000-square-foot production facility in Invermere, B.C., where Rosenfeld helms the company. She says the operation has had a tendency to grow faster than she had anticipated, which has made her hone in on better planning and working “on the business” rather than getting caught up “working in the business.” The company recently finished an expansion of its facility and opened a prototype café, but Rosenfeld says she measures success by different parameters. “If people are happy and motivated and inspired and creative and energized, that’s success to me.” –K.H.
Mining and Metals Runners-up
Robert Quartermain, president and CEO, Pretium Resources Inc.
Bob Quartermain retired once. It lasted a few months. After 25 years as CEO of Silver Standard Resources, taking it from nothing to a multinational mine operator with a market capitalization of $2.1 billion, he stepped aside in 2010. But after a few months of R&R he couldn’t resist the startup bug: before the year was out, he would oversee a $265- million IPO of his next company, Pretium Resources Inc. “I got back in the field and things panned out better than I thought,” he says, referring to the news in July this year of a major discovery at the company’s exploration site in northern B.C. –D.J.
Jeffrey Stibbard, chair and CEO, JDS Energy & Mining Inc.
After 20 years helping build mines around the world as an engineer, Jeffrey Stibbard didn’t like the direction the industry was headed as decision-making increasingly fell to accountants and lawyers, so he gathered a bunch of colleagues and in 1994 started his own company. Today he is the sole owner of JDS Energy & Mining, which he describes as “a de-facto owners team; we rent ourselves out to evaluate, design, build and operate mines around the world.” It’s a unique model in mining, all the more distinctive because JDS invests in its clients, tying its success to theirs. The Kelowna-based company has grown from four employees to more than 200; it recently bought two airplanes and has offices in Vancouver, Whitehorse, Mexico, Idaho and New York. –D.J.
Business-to-Business Products and Services Runners-up
Barbara Ross-Denrocheco-founder, president and CHAIR, The Refinery Leadership Partners Inc.
While working as an executive at a high-profile multinational company, Barbara Ross-Denroche became disappointed by the state of the leadership-development industry. So she decided to step away from the corporate world in 2001 and a couple of years later founded The Refinery, which provides management, leadership and organizational development services. “We know those organizations which invest in the development of their leaders are better performers,” says Ross-Denroche. Having instilled into The Refinery the same values and vision the company preaches to its clients, Ross-Denroche has built the company into a staff of 60 in four countries. –O.L.
Randy Bartsch, president and CEO, Ecotex Healthcare Linen Service
Randy Bartsch became president of his family’s commercial laundry business at age 26. The former World Cup skier credits his forward thinking for keeping the company standing on its own when consolidation swept the uniform side of the laundry business in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “My view has always been to be adaptive, so we sold our industrial business in ’97 and managed to take a lot of the capital we got through the sale to invest it into the hospitality sector. But when that sector came under a lot of pressure after 9/11, we exited all of that and made a decision to focus on health care.” Today, Ecotex remains a family-owned and -operated business, has offices in the northwest and southwest regions of the U.S., and with 400 employees generates between $35 million and $40 million in revenue annually. –O.L.
Information Technology Runners-up
Andrew Reid, founder, president and chief product officer, Vision Critical Communications Inc.
At the tender age of 23, the son of famed pollster Angus Reid had just finished up at the Vancouver Film School and thought he’d escaped his father’s world of public opinion research. But Andrew Reid was inevitably drawn back in once he saw a chance to turn the industry on its ear with interactive technology. Cut to 13 years later, and Reid’s company, Vision Critical, has grown to 700 employees and counts major brands such as NASCAR, Banana Republic and Discovery among its clients. Vision Critical’s insight communities and products offer brands direct access to customers, all without those annoying polling calls disturbing families at dinnertime. “Bringing that voice of the customer not just into the boardroom, but leveraging them across the company is very powerful,” says Reid. –L.P.
Igor Faletski CEO, Mobify Research and Development Inc.
From his humble start as a Russian immigrant learning English from software manuals, to co-founding a successful web startup, Igor Faletski has proven that focusing on what he refers to as “practical solutions to real problems” can bring success. Faletski and his Mobify co-founders developed their first product while still in university, before founding the company: a tool allowing transit riders to send a text message to find out the bus schedule. TransLink bought the app and it’s still in use today.
Six years later Mobify has grown to a staff of 60 and creates a platform for developers to adapt websites to mobile devices. “If we can continue to create good technology that developers like using and businesses want to purchase, we will continue to grow at a really good pace,” Faletski says. –L.P.