Jake Fry (Winner, manufacturing)
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.”
Ho Kim (Winner, Information technology)
President and CEO, CAMACC Systems Inc.
If you filled up your tank recently, chances are Ho Kim’s cameras were watching you. Founded in 1998, at the height of the tech boom, CAMACC Systems Inc. (CAMera ACCess) is one of North America’s largest installers of video recorders and access control systems, with more than 200,000 cameras and 100,000 remote door locks in gas stations, grocery stores and across Canada. CAMACC—which specializes in full-service, national rollouts of security equipment—designs, builds and installs both its software and hardware for the likes of Suncor, Gateway Casino Corp. and London Drugs. “We’re very unique,” says Kim, a 47-year-old college dropout from Victoria who moved to Vancouver Island from South Korea at the age of two. “We’re one of the very few in our industry to have everything under one roof.”
CAMACC’s headquarters, a 10-minute drive from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, houses Kim’s most valued asset: the company’s 24/7 customer support centre. Nine 50-inch monitors line the walls of CAMACC’s situation room-like facility, where seven full-time tech support employees can check over 300 live feeds from clients’ cameras from coast to coast (with their permission, of course). “In a lot of cases, we can let a client know that there’s a problem on their site before they’re aware of it,” says Kim.
While CAMACC now has a dedicated software engineering team for client requests and revenues that top $17 million a year, in the early years, Kim and his partner devoted their working days to signing clients‚ and evenings to building their product: tinkering with the cameras, fixing bugs, loading and testing software. “When you’re a small company starting out, you wear every single hat,” says Kim. “Manufacturing was one of those hats.”
Dan Eisenhardt + Hamid Abdollahi (Finalists, manufacturing)
CEO; CTO, Recon Instruments Inc.
A competitive 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.
Stephane Bourque (Finalist, information technology)
President and CEO, Incognito Software Inc.
A low-risk, low-growth business strategy may not square with the average trajectory of a successful tech company, but it’s worked out well for Stephane Bourque, founder of Incognito Software, which makes off-the-shelf enterprise software for Internet service providers (including Shaw, Telus and Brazil’s NetServices) to help them manage their subscriber equipment. Back in the early 1990s, Bourque was a recent transplant from Montreal, working as an engineer at Banyan Systems, when he saw a need for companies to connect with their customers online. “What we can do with a phone can now be done over a computer—and the way to do this is through the Internet,” he recalls thinking in those early days, adding: “Most companies did not see the Internet as the future in 1991.” Flash forward two and a half decades, and Incognito has survived—and maintained profitability—through three recessions. But his proudest accomplishment? He’s never let go of an employee for lack of work.
Jack Newton (Finalist, information technology)
Over lunch with a lawyer friend in 2007, Jack Newton thought he might have an answer to the high-cost woes of running a boutique legal practice in an industry notoriously committed to paper: highly secure, cloud-based software that streamlines time tracking, billing and other administrative tasks. A software developer by training, Newton had “caught the startup bug” working at Chemex Inc., a medical diagnostics company spun out of the University of Alberta, in 2000 (“You’re rolling up your sleeves and building something that didn’t previously exist,” he says of that experience). Six years after launching Clio, Newton and co-founder Rian Gauvreau have scaled the company into a 100-person firm, with offices in Vancouver, Toronto and Dublin and a $20-million venture capital investment from Bessemer Venture Partners, an early investor in Yelp and Skype.