Entrepreneur of the Year 2014: Business-to-consumer finalists

Charles Chang | BCBusiness

Charles Chang (WINNER)
President and founder, Sequel Naturals Ltd. (DBA Vega)

Like many startup stories before his, Charles Chang’s tale begins in a basement with a shoestring budget of his own savings and an idea that could disrupt an industry. Chang launched Sequel Naturals in 2001, first selling health supplements, and then plant-based nutritional shakes. The second—and business-defining—chapter for his company came in 2003 after meeting vegan endurance athlete Brendan Brazier, with whom he collaborated to launch Brazier’s formula for a whole-food nutritional shake, which became the foundation of the Vega brand. “If you think about what Vega stands for today—being plant-based, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free—12 years ago, no one even talked about those things,” says Chang. “It’s actually quite visionary.”

Over the course of 13 years, drawing on the skills he developed in his previous role as vice-president of sales and marketing for Great Little Box Company, Chang has grown his company from a single-product distributor to a formulator and marketer of health and sport performance products sold in more than 5,000 retail locations throughout North America. In 2013, Vega saw annual revenues of $33 million in the U.S. and $39.2 million in Canada, and international expansion plans mean the bottom line is only poised to grow. “We want Vega to be an iconic brand,” says Chang.

Impressive sales numbers and growth opportunities aside, Chang says he measures Vega’s success based on a triple bottom line: people, performance and planet. Having expanded Vega’s distribution to include mainstream mass retailers such as London Drugs, Loblaws and Overwaitea, Chang has now shifted his focus to building a team that can run the company without him. “I went from always wanting to be the best at everything to wanting to make sure that I had the best people for everything,” he says.

Natacha Beim (FINALIST)

Founder and CEO, CEFA Early Learning

When teacher Natacha Beim couldn’t find any early childhood education schools in Canada that were on par with the ones she had taught at in Europe, Asia and South America, she decided to develop her own curriculum and open a school in West Vancouver in 1998. After the success and popularity of her first school, Beim jokes that she was “coerced” by parents and CEFA teachers into expanding, explaining that going from one location to a 15-school franchise bringing in $15 million in annual revenue was never part of the plan. “I never saw myself as a business person. I even resisted the term,” she says, adding that her biggest challenge has been developing her financial acumen. But her ambitious plans for the future—establishing 100 more schools across B.C., Alberta and Ontario in the next five years—suggest that she’s warmed up to the entrepreneurial side of education.

Brad, Mike + Mitch Trotman (FINALISTS)
Vice-president; president and CEO; vice-president, Trotman Automotive Group

After taking over his father’s Langley Chrysler dealership in 1996, Mike Trotman—aged 24 and fresh out of a UBC commerce degree—quickly realized that the reigning paradigm in the car business was broken and set out to change it. “We met up with a lot of pushback, a lot of turbulence and learned very early that people didn’t like change,” says the eldest of the three Trotman sons, each with a part in the business, about investing in culture, team building and focusing on the process rather than the results. Brothers Mitch and Brad joined the business in the mid- and late-’90s, respectively, after completing their degrees, and together the trio has weathered economic storms and auto industry crises to grow their operation to seven dealerships across B.C., with an eighth acquisition coming aboard this fall.