Entrepreneur of the year 2005 – Health sciences

Losing interest in general practice, he became enthralled by their passionate descriptions of advances in biochemistry, biotechnology and cell biology. “Michael Smith, in particular, was a real character,” recalls Rix. “He captured my imagination when he talked about DNA and how it would revolutionize science. I was planning to go back to school to become a surgeon but he motivated me to go into pathology [laboratory sciences].” At UBC, Levy was busy researching the use of light-activated drugs to treat disease. “I knew instinctively that this was groundbreaking stuff and never doubted for a moment that she would succeed. In the 1970s, when she asked me to invest $25,000 in QLT, I had no hesitation. At the time I didn’t tell my wife because we still had a mortgage to pay off, but of course it turned out very well.” A legend in Canadian scientific and business circles today, Rix is one of B.C.’s leading entrepreneurs in the field of life sciences. Over the past 40 years he has nurtured the growth of two private lab operations, financed the work of dozens of fellow scientists and ploughed untold millions of his wealth back into the community. He is also living proof that great things can follow on the heels of enormous disappointment. In the early 1980s, while working at Vancouver General Hospital, he approached the B.C. government for $50,000 to fund a provincial mammography service. “It was a seminal moment for me,” says Rix. “We met with the deputy minister of health, made our case and asked for the money. He turned us down flat. He didn’t care about saving lives, all he cared about was saving money. At that moment, I decided to take control of my own destiny.” Rix left the provincial health care system and co-founded a small testing laboratory, Metro-McNair labs, which he developed into B.C.’s leading health-care testing facility before he sold it to MDS in the 1980s. When he acquired his second company, Cantest, in 1974, it was a small 10-employee operation focused on drug testing for the horse-racing industry. While Cantest still performs some 40,000 equine doping tests each year, today it accounts for only 10 per cent of the company’s business. Under Rix’s leadership, Cantest continually embraced new business opportunities accompanying social change. As society became more environmentally conscious, Rix invested in technology to perform air, water and soil testing for governments and the private sector. As consumers turned to organic and imported foods, he expanded the business into food safety testing, ensuring that products sold in our stores and markets were pesticide-and contaminant-free. Along the way he added mobile lab services and installed a complex computer system designed to maintain quality control and improve service by shipping test results directly to clients. At 72, Rix has no plans to slow down. In addition to spending half of his week at Cantest, he is also chairman of MDS Metro, sits on the board of more than a dozen life science companies and devotes at least one day a week to his considerable philanthropic and angel investing commitments. He remains an ardent supporter and advocate for local companies expanding the boundaries of science and medicine, especially those developing life-saving drugs and medical devices. While he still mentors young entrepreneurs and invests in new ventures, he has high standards and pulls no punches. “I tell young scientists the harsh truth. Today, if they don’t have a world-class product, they aren’t going to make it.” Runners-up Anthony Holler Under Holler’s guidance, ID Biomedical Corp. is upgrading its Quebec operations to position the company as one of the world’s largest flu vaccine manufacturers. This year it will provide Canada with 75 per cent of its flu vaccine requirements and is gearing up to begin supplying the U.S. market in 2006. In September, European drug giant GlaxoSmithKline agreed to buy the company – which is developing nasal spray vaccines against strep throat, bird flu and the plague – for $1.7 billion. Paolo Kalaw With 15 labs in six U.S. states and three Canadian provinces, Kalaw is successfully exploiting the growing demand by baby boomers for high-quality cosmetic and restorative dentistry. His focus on acquiring small ‘mom and pop’ labs, guided by a corporate philosophy emphasizing craftsmanship and employee participation, is designed to position DTI Dental Technologies as a major player in the competitive North American dental lab industry, with a market share of more than 10 per cent. Related stories: Entrepreneur of the year 2005 Entrepreneur of the year 2005 – Natural resources Entrepreneur of the year 2005 – Manufacturing Entrepreneur of the year 2005 – Business-to-consumer products and services Entrepreneur of the year 2005 – Information technology Entrepreneur of the year 2005 – Business-to-business products and services Entrepreneur of the year 2005 – Emerging entrepreneur