Entrepreneur of the Year 2015: Emerging Entrepreneur finalists

Trevor Styan (WINNER)
General manager, Northern Civil Energy, Inc.

Working for his uncle’s excavation business from the age of 12 gave Trevor Styan, now 28, the skills for civil construction, but the family enterprise also taught him the values for leading a successful team. “You need to be a little more humble, a little more personable and understand what motivates people,” he says. “And you have to work 120 per cent over everyone else, or you’ll never have respect.”

Styan, who was also one of this year’s BCBusiness Top 30 Under 30, took the leap to entrepreneurship in 2010 when he won a $1.3-million Yukon Energy contract to build the foundation for an electrical substation. “I’d never been shown how to do that sort of estimating, so I just racked my head and figured it out,” he says.

By 2011, he had formed Northern Civil Energy (NCE), a Nanaimo-based construction and earth-moving company that doubled its revenue in its first two years. NCE has since completed 55 projects, with the average budget being $3.5 million (ranging up to their largest, a $10-million property redevelopment in Winnipeg for Manitoba Hydro).

In an unpredictable industry where costs can run to $30,000 a day, Styan quickly learned to be efficient. He set up mobile “tool cans”—insulated 20-foot shipping containers, each fully equipped for specific project types. “If we have a carpentry job, we’ll send a carp can—or a civil can or an office can,” says Styan. “So when the team lands on site, everything is where it should be, and they aren’t fighting those variables.”

NCE was also among the first civil companies in Canada to adopt data management systems that streamline estimating, team and equipment scheduling, and the extensive reporting required by the utility companies. “Now the guys in the field can look at the calculations and know whether they are making or losing money and can build their job around that knowledge,” he says.

Styan recently expanded into sewer and water and is considering other complementary industries, such as concrete, quality testing or engineering. But any growth, he says, will be driven by the talent on his team. “I’m not going to build a massive enterprise just for the glory of it,” he says. “It has to be because I have people who want to do it.” 

Trevor Dunn (FINALIST)

Managing partner, Sea to Sky Gondola

Trevor Dunn, 41, risked every penny he had to get the approvals for the Sea to Sky Highway’s newest major tourist attraction. “Being an entrepreneur is getting halfway through a train tunnel and not knowing whether it’s safer to turn back or keep running,” he says. But the more the former Intrawest financial analyst and his partners, Michael Hutchinson and David Greenfield, examined the opportunity, the better it looked. In its first month, the Sea to Sky Gondola, located just south of Squamish in Stawamus Chief Provincial Park, broke a profit; in its first year, it beat its goal of 300,000 riders. This year, with more than 50 tour operators on board, Dunn expects to top that by 30 per cent. “Ten million people drive up the Sea to Sky Highway every year, and 70 per cent of them are looking for something to do. So there is huge potential for growth.”

Arnold Leung (FINALIST)
CEO, Appnovation Technologies, Inc.

In 2007, fresh Sauder grad Arnold Leung saw nothing but barriers to starting his own finance business with little to no capital. The technology world, however, was different, and Leung recognized the opportunity to leverage “brain power, as opposed to financial power.” Leung launched Appnovation that same year, and today, the software enterprise has 143 employees in nine offices worldwide, and is using Drupal, Mulesoft and other open-source platforms to create web and mobile applications for clients such as Google, Cisco and Samsung. Revenue has doubled annually since 2009; this year, Leung expects it to reach $20 to $25 million. “When I saw a conservative organization like the U.S. government choosing open-source technology, I realized something was going to happen in that area,” says Leung, 29. “And I wanted to be on top of it.”