Foster Coulson
Credit: Lindsay Siu

Foster Coulson, 28

Co-founder and vice-president

Life Story: Entrepreneurship runs in the family for Foster Coulson. His grandfather, Cliff Coulson, founded Coulson Forest Products (CFP) in 1960. With help from Foster’s father, Wayne, CFP grew into the Port Alberni–based Coulson Group of Companies, whose holdings include an aviation division. The younger Coulson, who didn’t attend university, started out in the forest products division in 2007, bucking and scaling logs. In 2010 he and his dad founded a business that manufactured environmentally friendly Western red cedar siding and soffiting by gluing a thin layer of the increasingly scarce wood to a backing.

In 2012, Coulson Group bought the intellectual property rights to an ice-blasting technology for industrial cleaning developed by a bankrupt Washington State company. With his father as CEO, Coulson co-founded Coulson Ice Blast in 2016, obtaining funding from the National Research Council’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). Recruiting five engineers, he led a complete redesign of the technology and secured Canadian patents. The company released its first product last year, when Coulson Group sold the lumber manufacturing business to Langley-based San Group Inc.

The IceStorm90 uses 95 percent less water than a pressure washer and is 90 percent cheaper to run than a dry-ice blaster, maintains Coulson, who also works in the aviation division with his older brother, Britton, and has two young children. And it’s much safer and cheaper than abrasive blasting, the other major industrial cleaning technology, he says. “Our primary patent claim is blasting with ice through a pressurized hose,” explains Coulson, noting that European and U.S. patents are pending. “That pretty much eliminates any competition we’re going to have in the marketplace, which is pretty special because this is a multibillion-dollar industry.” Last fall, the IceStorm90 was named one of the most innovative new products of 2017 at the R&D 100 Awards in Orlando, Florida.

The Bottom Line: Coulson Ice Blast’s current system, which is assembled in Port Alberni and sells for US$35,000, is for heavy industrial use. Coulson, who expects 2018 revenue to be in the low seven figures, thinks sales will grow significantly when his team releases a new product line this June. The company has a deal with U.S. giant Reddy Ice Holdings Inc. that sees it collect 40 percent of revenue on each pound of ice sold to Ice Blast customers, Coulson says. It’s also talking to corporations such as Ford Motor Co. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC about adopting its technology, he adds. “We really are disrupting an industry that has seen no innovation in 40 years.”

What’s the best advice you ever received?
What my grandfather told my father and my father continually told us: our success is from never outspending our competitors; it’s from outthinking and outworking them.

Your favourite TV show is
Game of Thrones.

My favourite book is…
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

Who is your role model or mentor?
My father. He’s really supported me and given me the flexibility to make my own path.

A little-known fact about you is…
I love listening to books. I probably listen to two a week, mainly focused on business and technology leaders.