Young entrepreneurs are continuing to make big waves across Canada.
Three years ago, a new Vancouver software company wasn't on many people's radar's screens - today Elastic Path competes with companies such as IBM and Microsoft.
Five years ago, Mississauga-based high-tech security firm UCIT Online, which specializes in video surveillance and remote-monitoring technology, was just in its infancy. Now, it's a multimillion-dollar operation that's setting records in the security industry.
Both of these startups are now sharing a national spotlight with 10 other provincial and territorial businesses.
|Photo courtesy of BDC|
| UCIT Online president Sidney Sommer sees national recognition on the horizon after his BDC award.|
The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), which promotes entrepreneurship by providing financing, venture capital and consulting services to entrepreneurs, recently unveiled the group as its Young Entrepreneur Awards winners of 2008.
Part of Small Business Week, the awards recognize up-and-coming business people between the ages of 19 and 35.
"We want to celebrate the success of our younger entrepreneurs and showcase their success to inspire young Canadians," says Michel Bergeron, BDC's vice-president of corporate relations, noting that the awards are also designed to motivate others to become entrepreneurs or to start their own businesses.
"What's interesting when you look at all of these winners is that even though they come from different regions and different industries, they all have a strong vision what they want to do with their business.
"They are leaders and they have the resilience or the drive to make this successful - it's not easy to start a business."
At least two of this year's provincial winners would not argue with that statement.
Back in 2000, as the tech bubble was bursting, Harry Chemko, 29, and Jason Billingsley, 28, were starting a consulting business in B.C. for companies wanting to get online.
Despite the odds, they pursued limited outside equity financing - a $15,000 startup loan - and transformed their consulting firm into Elastic Path.
Today, they provide software services that power the online retail sites of some of the world's largest brands, including Aeroplan, Garmin, Samsonite and Telus, as well as handling the retailer role in select e-commerce outsourcing partnerships, such as the online store for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
Elastic Path also snagged BDC's Export Excellence Award, presented to the winner with the most outstanding export objectives, strategies and results. More than 85 per cent of the company's business is in the U.S. and Europe.
Ontario's Sidney Sommer, 33, the man behind UCIT Online (pronounced You-See-It-Online), found himself grounded from his aviation job designing a video system for airplane black boxes after 9/11.
When he started his new company, he had to pick up a few part-time jobs as well, just to pay the bills. "For the first two years, I was working on my business after hours and on the weekend," says Sommer.
UCIT Online has since grown into a multimillion-dollar business, installing security camera equipment on construction sites and feeding the video to a monitoring centre. The company monitors hundreds of sites around southern Ontario, and working in conjunction with local police departments, averages two arrests a week.
UCIT has also branched into the condominium sector with its Remote Concierge offering. This replaces building concierges with a round-the-clock service that can control resident and visitor access to buildings, accept deliveries and even make emergency calls - all from its monitoring centre.
"I was extremely honoured to be chosen from such a large field of talented entrepreneurs," says Sommer, whose accountant nominated him for the award.
"Winning will mean national recognition, which is huge for us because we are interested in expanding."
Other provincial and territorial winners, all selected from a total of more than 200 submissions, include:
* Alberta: Ted Kouri and Jared Smith, both 33, with Incite Solutions Inc. of Edmonton, which specializes in marketing services for small and medium-sized businesses.
* Manitoba: Robb Denomme, 31, Genuwine Cellars of Winnipeg, which caters to hotels, business figures and celebrities.
* Saskatchewan: Doug Elder, 33, and Danny Elder, 27, of Off Axis Boardshop Ltd. in Regina, which caters to wakeboarders, snowboarders and skateboarders.
* Northwest Territories: Lina Ball, 29, of Bella Dance Academy, the only studio of its kind in Yellowknife offering ballet, tap, jazz, modern and hip-hop classes as well as dancercise and classes for parents and tots.
* Yukon: Rebecca Brauen, 33, of Lilli Pie Lotions Natural Spa in Whitehorse, which makes natural skin-care and specialty products.
The Corporate Social Responsibility Award - which recognizes practices and policies promoting environmental protection, sound human-resources management or community well-being - went to the New Brunswick provincial winner Spheric Technologies. The company provides a number of web-based services and Facebook-type tools.
"Without the BDC award, I don't think my company would be where it is today," says previous winner Melody Dover, president and creative director of Charlottetown-based Fresh Media Inc., an advertising, marketing and design firm that took home a provincial Young Entrepreneur Award in 2005.
"I believe we would still be on course for growth, but I don't think it would be as rapid. If you're brave enough to work with the marketing exposure they provide - and the momentum - it will really help your business."
(Laura Severs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)