Steve Curtis

Founder and CEO, Zag Global

A ninth-grade dropout, Steve Curtis has never let a lack of formal education hamper his entrepreneurial zeal. Over the past two decades, the 33-year-old founder of Zag Group has built a web of businesses that’s included everything from selling used vehicles to providing SEO marketing solutions. Today his product is an energy drink called Zen-d, which is sold in more than 50 countries online. But as his company has grown (to projected revenues of $50 million in 2014), Curtis remains focused on the people he employs. “The day I walked into the office and realized the people I work with are smarter, more driven, more committed and more capable than I am, I realized my business was successful,” he says. —Jacob Parry


Dan Eisenhardt + Hamid Abdollahi

CEO; CTO, Recon Instruments Inc.

Acompetitive swimmer since childhood, Dan Eisenhardt knew well the difficulty of measuring performance in the pool. “There’s nothing you can do,” says Eisenhardt. “At the end of the pool you can look up at the clock—but by that time it’s too late.” A UBC class project with his co-founder Hamid Abdollahi laid the groundwork—and eventually the patent—for an Android-compatible digital display wired into performance eyewear and ski goggles. After building digital interfaces for eyewear giants such as Oakley, Eisenhardt and Abdollahi decided last year to build their own brand of high-tech sunglasses: the Recon Jet, which will be available to consumers for $599 this fall. Think Google glass, but with a purpose. —J.P.

I knew my business was a success when…

Fry: It was either: (a) when we had orders for 30 homes, even before we could officially make laneway homes in Vancouver; or (b) when my dad was impressed.

I get my best ideas when…

Curtis: About 3.5 seconds after waking up!

People tell me the phrase I most overuse is…

Curtis: “LOVE IT!!!”

The most underrated trait of an entrepreneur is…

Fry: Stubbornness. 

If I weren’t doing this I’d be…

Eisenhardt: Involved in another startup or travelling the world.

The people I learned the most from were…

Fry: The people who love us a lot—or the people who take umbrage.

Jake Fry

Founder and president Smallworks

In a city of multimillion-dollar teardowns and living-room sublets, Jake Fry found one solution to Vancouver’s most stubborn problem: housing affordability. His answer? The laneway house: mini craftsmans—from 700 to 1,500 square feet—that back onto alleyways or side streets and require a one-stop permit from the city. Eight years later Fry turned this passion for urbanism into a thriving construction business.

In the early 2000s the central Ontario transplant scaled his knack for one-off renovations into a part-time business, underwriting his work in the film industry. Coach houses and backyard studios intrigued Fry: he drew the link between single-family zoning and its outsized footprint. Fry’s one-off projects began courting attention in the media as an answer to affordability.

But it wasn’t until a new city bylaw came into place in 2009 that his business took off. According to Fry’s estimates, that one change opened up between 50,000 and 70,000 plots for infill development. Pent-up demand led to 200 applications for infill lots in the first year—and led to a boom in requests for his product. Smallworks has since completed 86 homes, with an average price tag of $300,000, and has 26 more orders on the books.

Thanks to Fry’s early advocacy work and media exposure, Smallworks became associated with the laneway house movement, giving it early-mover advantage. “We’re different from other builders in that we really specialize in homes that are 1,500 square feet or under,” says Fry. “It’s all we do.” Smallworks’ six-person team now has its production process down pat, with homes manufactured almost entirely in two former Celtics Shipyards buildings, in a factory line that allows 40-odd contractors to work on multiple projects at once.

Fry’s goal is to increase production to 36 homes a year. “We’ve done a very good job branding our product, but we’ve a ways to go,” he says. “We want to become the North American leader in small home production.” —J.P.