Chris Guillemet + Davide Xausa + Boris Martin
Co-founder and CEO + Co-founder and president + Co-founder and VP operations, Velofix Group of Companies (Winner)

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Chris Guillemet and Davide Xausa had a similar problem. Both cyclists who had known each other since their early teens, the Metro Vancouver natives felt that bricks-and-mortar bike shops couldn’t cater to their needs. So the pair set out to create a mobile repair service. Guillemet had management expertise from helping run a couple of Vancouver-based companies, while Xausa had financial expertise, thanks to his work as an account manager with the provincial government.

The problem? Guillemet and Xausa didn’t know how to fix bikes. In 2012, they stumbled on Boris Martin, a young mechanic who was, in Xausa’s words, “being harshly underutilized.” The three developed Velofix, a fleet of mobile bike repair shops, using a model that sees franchisees pay a fee to operate a truck with rights over a certain territory and hand over a percentage of the proceeds. Launched in Vancouver, the company now has 140 franchises throughout North America, from Victoria to Jacksonville, Florida.

If there was any doubt about whether the business could be sustainable, the Velofix founders believe they crushed it in the city where they began. “The fact that we started in Vancouver, which has more bike shops per capita than anywhere in North America, proves that the model gives the convenience factor that a bike shop just can’t,” Guillemet says. “I don’t care if you have a great mechanic. You still have to get there, park, leave your bike for a week and pick it up.”

The plan doesn’t stop there. Velofix launched its first mobile ski repair shop in 2015 and is now in 25 communities. “There’s a million things we can do,” Xausa says. “Can we move into more winter activities, like snowmobiling? Is there any reason we can’t hire Red Seal—certified mechanics for that? There are a lot of opportunities still; we’re just scratching the surface.”

Chris Guillemet

What did your summer jobs teach you about business?
That I am far better with my brain than my hands.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?
Made. 
Your environment growing up plays a huge role in development, and who you spend time with early in your career.

What is your definition of success?
Working on/in a business that you have passion for and being in the position to make a difference.

What other career might you have had?
Architect. I love design and how the best architects use space.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?
I am first-generation Canadian. My dad was born in France, and my mom is from Scotland.

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

What businessperson do you most admire?
Jim Treliving, an investor in Velofix, a self-made man who never forgets where he started and has always provided tremendous support and advice.

What do you do to unwind/relax?
Ride my bike! There is no better way to escape and reduce stress. The freedom is beautiful.

How would you describe your leadership style?
Get the right people in the right role and allow them to do their work: provide advice and support, and be a cheerleader for them.

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


Michael Gilbert
Founder and CEO, SemiosBio Technologies
(Runner-up)

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It’s easy to believe Michael Gilbert when he says that he’s “really attracted to tough puzzles.” After all, he built Vancouver-based SemiosBio Technologies while solving one.

The self-described army brat had a mobile upbringing, including stints in Quebec, Ottawa and Germany, before completing his PhD in organic chemistry at UBC. Working as a freelance consultant in Vancouver, he heard of a class of pheromones that could potentially be used in agriculture to replace insecticides but were expensive and hard to deploy. That didn’t sit well with Gilbert, who—surprise, surprise—figured out the puzzle. SemiosBio now operates the world’s most extensive precision farming wireless network, with his system of mating-disrupting pheromones acting as an effective insect repellent.

“We target high-value crops, not the corn, wheat and soy, but the apples, the coffees, the nuts—all those kinds of crops,” Gilbert says of SemiosBio, which employs 69 people and works with clients in eight countries. “Globally, every grower has the same problem, and we get calls every week from growers looking for help.”

What did your summer jobs teach you about business?
Summer jobs are an opportunity to learn new skills. I was fortunate to have supervisors who encouraged my curiosity and created a safe place to fail.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?
Made. [They need to] develop of sense of adventure, break boundaries and increase perseverance.

What is your definition of success?
Leveraging science to improve the sustainability of agriculture.

What other career might you have had?
Wilderness tour guide, which is a bit like being a founder of an ag-tech company. Come with me on this journey where we will play in nature and use knowledge and tools to help us.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?
I spent years as a wild bedbug hunter. My weapon of choice was a Dirt Devil vacuum that would suck them out from between the cushions of couches.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”
Layers of skin.

What businessperson do you most admire?
Elon Musk. He believes that getting to mankind to Mars is more than an opportunity, it’s a responsibility. I feel the same way about the sustainability of agriculture.

What do you do to unwind/relax?
Salmon fishing and hot tubs. In my ideal world, I’d fish from a hot tub!

How would you describe your leadership style?
I’m an ideas guy—always curious, a lifelong learner. I look to instill that will to change the status quo in others.

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


Ian Crosby

Co-founder and CEO, Bench Accounting
(Runner-up)

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Ian Crosby was a freshman at UBC’s Sauder School of Business when he was 16, but that path had been paved several years earlier. “I think I was probably 10 years old, and my dad asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up,” Crosby recalls, chuckling. “I told him that I wanted to be a businessman. He was basically like, ‘What the hell does that mean as a job?’”

The Vancouver native answered that question: in 2008, two years after graduating from university, he quit his job to start Bench Accounting. Still, it took some time before he knew he’d made it as a businessman. “I don’t think it was until we hit $5 million in revenue,” Crosby says of Vancouver-based Bench, now the largest online bookkeeping service for small businesses in the U.S. “When we reached 100 to 150 employees, it was like, OK, I guess this is a thing now.”

What did your summer jobs teach you about business?
My first job was as an administrative assistant for my dad. The No. 1 thing I learned is that I don’t like being bored at work. I love my dad; I don’t love being an admin assistant. From that point, I knew I only wanted to do things where I would not be bored ever again in my career and my life.

Is an entrepreneur born or made?
Made. People become entrepreneurs when they choose that for their life.

What is your definition of success?
Making the people around me happy. I want people’s lives to work for them: I win when the team wins. I want everyone around me to have lives that work and make them happy, whether it’s customers, Benchmates, investors or my family. Creating an organization that does that on a massive scale is what I’ve defined as success for my life.

What other career might you have had?
I always knew I wanted to be in business. If I wasn’t building Bench, I’d be working on another business!

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you?
I have a firearms licence and served for three years in the Canadian Army Reserve.

Finish this sentence for us: “Entrepreneurs need a lot more…”
Long-term perspective.

What businessperson do you most admire?
Jeff Bezos, because he’s built his business with an extreme long-term perspective. He’s built an incredible business out of selling things online for razor-thin margins, and if he can do that, we can build anything. Theoretically he’s breaking every rule of business strategy taught at Harvard Business School, and yet he’s the richest man in the world.

What do you do to unwind/relax?
I watch Star Trek.

How would you describe your leadership style?
Empathetic, unconstrained, and idea meritocratic in the sense that Ray Dalio writes about in his book Principles.

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


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