Derrick Emsley, Kalen Emsley, Stephen Emsley, Arthur Kononuk + David Luba, CEO, VP Content, VP Digital, Creative Director + VP sales
Ten Tree International
(Winners)

Ten TreeAdam Blasberg

Ten trees planted for every item of apparel sold. That’s the promise of Ten Tree International, dedicated to helping each customer play a role in the company’s mission to make a big impact. “What we say internally is, ‘The world won’t be changed by 100 perfect environmentalists, it’ll get changed by a million imperfect ones,’” says CEO Derrick Emsley [in photo above with David Luba].

Founded in 2011, Ten Tree makes its clothing and goods—sold in North America, Europe and online—from Earth-friendly and ethically produced fibres. The brand has a strong social media following of more than three million people and holds the record for the fourth-most-liked Instagram photo of all time, with 15.6 million interactions.

Stewarding its social following paid off: in 2018, Ten Tree launched a Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising $35,000 to help the company develop what it calls the world’s most sustainable backpack, made of recycled plastic bottles and a unique algae-based foam. The crowdfunding effort surpassed its goal by 670 percent, gathering more than $270,000 in one month. The finished backpack was featured in Forbes on Earth Day 2019.

The retail side of Ten Tree, which has about 50 staff at its Vancouver head office, exists to allow more tree-planting, Emsley says: “We’re tree-planters, and we’re planting trees through selling clothes.”

The company’s roots run deep, right back to Emsley’s high-school days in Regina. Emsley and his brother Kalen, Ten Tree’s VP content, launched a tree-planting business in 2007 that sold carbon offsets. Besides spending four summers planting some 150,000 trees in Saskatchewan, they developed relationships with people around the world who believed in reforestation as a way to reduce the impact of climate change. Though the youths’ business model failed, they applied the lessons learned. So far, Ten Tree has planted more than 30 million trees. The goal is to plant one billion by 2030.

Derrick Emsley

What was your first summer job?
Grocery-store clerk. Not long after, my brother and I started a tree-planting company (summer after Grade 11) where we planted trees and sold carbon offsets.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?
There is definitely a certain group of people that are born with the genes that make an entrepreneur successful—risk appetite, confidence, boldness, ability to ignore the naysayers. That said, I really believe entrepreneurship comes down to being incredibly passionate about solving a problem. As long as you have a huge passion for solving that problem, you can learn the rest.

What is your definition of success?

Making a positive impact on the world and the lives of the people around me.

What other career might you have had?

Doctor. I always wanted to be a surgeon.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I started a tree-planting company with my brother when I was 16. We partnered with a number of large organizations and managed to plant over 150,000 trees.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”

Space. The best entrepreneurs find the space to make sure they are solving the big problems for their company.

What businessperson do you most admire?

I really look up to Reed Hastings and what he has been able to create at Netflix. For one, they have a very defined and high-performance culture that understands what it takes to be successful. As well, he was able to guide his company through a complete pivot from DVD rental to digital platform. In some ways, I see us going through this same transition as we work to redefine what it means to be a purpose-driven, sustainable company.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

Hike and get out in nature. It doesn’t have to be a big, weekend-long hike; a local one is great.

How would you describe your leadership style?

People first. I believe in creating an organization that is focused on our purpose first and our team’s belief in that purpose. Then it’s about getting the right people in the roles and creating the structure for them to be successful so I can get out of the way.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

A rain jacket. Surprisingly enough, coming from Vancouver, it never makes it into my bag, and I have the uncanny ability to always find rain.

Taylor Gemmel
President, Anita’s Organic Grain & Flour Mill
(Runner-up)

Taylor GemmelMedia One

Until two years ago, Taylor Gemmel never owned a business or thought of himself as an entrepreneur. Today, he’s the owner and president of Anita’s Organic Grain & Flour Mill and a first-time EOY finalist.

Gemmel, raised in Calgary, joined Anita’s in 2010 as general manager and grew so passionate about the company that he bought it in 2017. Now he’s exploring the potential for moving into Europe as well as consolidating three locations in Chilliwack into one larger facility to reduce inefficiencies, gain space and position the business for expansion. The new location will have a bakery “where we can work with our whole grains and put them on display and let people taste the difference,” says Gemmel, who holds a business administration degree from Michigan State University.

Providing wholesome ingredients for good, nourishing food is Anita’s raison d’être. Gemmel describes families breaking bread together, bread baked with Anita’s products. It’s an image that inspires him and his 25 employees: “Being an organic raw food supplier, anyone who is buying our product is going to be making something with that product,” he says. “They’re going to be using their hands. They’re probably going to be feeding it to their families or people they care about, whether it’s at home or business. What’s more important than that?”

What was your first summer job?

Pro-shop lackey at a golf course in Calgary.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

Born. We all have a path.

What is your definition of success?

Having the confidence and ability to treat yourself and others with kindness

What other career might you have had?

Something athletic.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I like electronic music.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”

Time.

What businessperson do you most admire?

My father.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

Ride my road bike.

How would you describe your leadership style?

Inspired empowerment.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

Plug for my cellphone. I probably have 10 of them now.

Peter van Stolk
CEO, SPUD.ca
(Runner-up)

SPUDAdam Blasberg

Since 1997, Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery (SPUD) has been refining its proprietary technologies to curtail food waste. The result? The Burnaby-based online grocer, known for fresh, organic food delivery, reduced its waste to 0.5 percent, versus around 6 percent for most grocers across Canada.

When CEO Peter van Stolk, founder of Jones Soda Co., joined SPUD in 2010, the direction of its growth shifted: “The conversation wasn’t about how do we get a new customer,” the Edmonton native says; the question became “How can we teach these really massive retailers to reduce their food waste?”

Last year SPUD launched subsidiary Food-X, which licenses technologies to retailers. Food-X configures a client’s warehouse, then customizes SPUD’s inventory management system for the space. “The real challenge is maintaining the inventory accuracy at a super high level,” says van Stolk, who leads a team of 700. “If you get that right, you eliminate food waste.

What was your first summer job?

Going door-to-door cleaning windows. The challenge was I was seven years old, so I wasn’t tall, but I had this cool briefcase that I put the Windex and cloths in.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?

That’s an opinion. I cannot answer that question.

What is your definition of success?

When the team learns, grows and wins as one group.

What other career might you have had?

Maybe a chef.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?

I love to learn.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”

Resilience.

What businessperson do you most admire?

Steve Jobs.

What do you do to relax/unwind?

Read and meditate.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I use design leadership, which is based on asking lots of questions and using project management strategy as well as supply chain techniques to support a culture of creativity and build a strong team.

Name an item you typically forget to pack on business trips and regret not bringing.

Headphones.