Entrepreneur of the Year 2016: Business-to-Consumer Products and Services

This is actually happening in major cities across North America: hundreds of people rise at 5 a.m., dress up in gold-sequined suits, sheep costumes or workout clothes, show up at a designated church or touring boat, and party until 10 a.m. It's a morning rave—and, according to Drew Magary in...

Elana Rosenfeld, CEO, Kicking Horse Coffee


This is actually happening in major cities across North America: hundreds of people rise at 5 a.m., dress up in gold-sequined suits, sheep costumes or workout clothes, show up at a designated church or touring boat, and party until 10 a.m. It’s a morning rave—and, according to Drew Magary in the August 2015 issue of GQ, it’s A Thing: “There really are people who want to dance around sober with a bunch of strangers in order to get energized for the coming day,” writes Magary. “Hedonism repackaged as a health fad.”

Along with vegan almond balls, spoken-word poetry performances and green smoothies, early-rising party animals might also find cups of Kicking Horse Coffee. Since its 1996 launch, the Invermere-based coffee company has spurned traditional advertising in favour of sponsoring local events—generally outdoor sports competitions like mountain biking, trail running, paddle boarding—where it can get its java directly to the taste buds of target customers. Since Kicking Horse’s rapid U.S. expansion in 2014, company reps have also served coffee to morning ravers in San Francisco, New York and Montreal. “It’s fun, it’s goofy, and it’s morning time,” says CEO Elana Rosenfeld. “It’s all about coffee.”

It’s also a good example of how the company has stayed true to its community-minded roots, despite a massive growth trajectory. Rosenfeld started roasting beans in her garage with former partner Leo Johnson (who left Kicking Horse in 2012), committed to Fairtrade-certified and organic whole-bean coffee. Over the past five years, Kicking Horse has doubled in size, expanding its roasting facility to 60,000 square feet and processing over seven million pounds of coffee a year. A brand committed to bucking trends seems a natural fit for an all-ages, drug-free, pretensions-aside, crack-of-dawn dance party.

After achieving cross-country distribution (Kicking Horse is now the highest-selling organic Fairtrade-certified coffee in Canada, according to market research firm Nielsen), Rosenfeld pursued expansion south of the border with the help of a new equity partner. Kicking Horse is now available at American specialty food stores, large grocery chains, e-tailers including Amazon and big box stores like Target. The brand has also started offering ground coffee. “A general view in business is that you can’t grow and be big and maintain your values and integrity,” says Rosenfeld. “But I think we’ve done that.” ­

Ian Walker, Founder and Owner, Left Coast Naturals


Left Coast Naturals

In 1996, Ian Walker was making peanut butter with a friend and selling it at Granville Island. He tried making soy butter, which wasn’t very tasty, but the experiment led him to start packaging soy snacks under the brand Skeet & Ike’s and distributing the snacks across B.C. and in the U.S. for Trader Joe’s. Inspired by the success, Walker continued to develop new products, including organic popcorn, coconut chips and gluten-free granola under the brand Hippie Foods. (His friend and business partner, Jason Dorland, left the company in 1998.) At the same time, Walker began growing a distribution business, trucking health food products including his own Left Coast Bulk Foods, organic pet food and earth-friendly laundry soap to major and specialty grocery stores across Western Canada. In 2012, the company was the first to be certified by B Lab, a nonprofit organization that audits businesses for their practices relating to employees, the environment, the community and corporate transparency. “We’re not in this to be the biggest business ever,” says Walker. “I want to leave a legacy that I’m proud of.”

Ray Russell, Founder and Owner, Fresh Slice


Fresh Slice

Ray Russell started Fresh Slice, a pizza-by-the-slice shop, at Boundary and Commercial in 1999. His original idea was to offer a healthier alternative to fast food, with multi-grain dough, skim-milk mozzarella and local vegetables. He began to sell franchises in 2002, and the business grew. But he was struck by one inefficiency: every day, franchisees would make dough and roll it out on a sheet at the rate of 25 pizza rounds an hour. In 2008, Russell began developing his own machinery at a Burnaby facility, which was able to churn out 800 sheets of pizza dough an hour. He began shipping the dough to his franchises and passing on the cost savings to the owners (who don’t pay the royalties, advertising fees or call centre charges that are typical of many franchise models). The business has since grown from 20 locations to 80 today, with 20 more in the works on Vancouver Island and in Ontario.