Entrepreneur awards recognize young executives

Philip Colton started out teaching physical education to young people at a New Brunswick public school, but soon graduated to teaching IT to adults in corporate offices.

Colton, a partner at Bathurst, N.B-based Canos Consultants, was one of 13 winners of the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) Young Entrepreneur Awards. Recipients, who were honoured in Edmonton yesterday, are aged 18 to 30 and come from each province and territory in Canada. Five of the companies in the list are technology-based.

“I worked with computers as a hobby on the side while I was a teacher,” Colton said, adding that he frequently ended up as the resource person for a lot of the computer problems at the school. “I wasn’t 100 per cent satisfied with the teaching profession and the opportunity arose (to become a partner at Canos) and that’s where I am now. What we do is solve people’s computer and IT-related problems, anything from a small business that has one computer and a desk to a law firm that might have 20 workstations. We become their IT department.”

Operating success, innovation, involvement in the new economy, community work and export performance all factor into the judge’s decision, along with the entrepreneur’s age at the time the company was founded, explained Vilma Glidden, branch manager at the Bathurst BDC.

“The purpose for the bank to have these awards is to recognize small information technology companies and their accomplishments and what they can bring to the economy,” she said. “It’s important to show that entrepreneurship is a viable career option.”

Glidden added that the government-owned BDC also pairs winners with local leaders in their field as part of a mentorship program that comes with winning the award.

“It also gives them an opportunity to get their company recognized in the local and national business community,” she said.

In judging, the BDC also considers any particular hardships or challenges the young entrepreneurs encounter which, Colton said, are anything but rare.

“Everything is relative, and we are in a small business climate that has allowed us to grow relatively,” he said from Edmonton. “But what’s hard is that, initially, people don’t understand the value of what you are trying to provide to them. It’s a very traditional area. What built Bathurst is the primary industry. The people who built those industries, well, trying to do things in new ways is not a priority.”

Jeff Campbell agrees that the life of an entrepreneur is anything but glamorous. The 25-year-old partner at Halifax-based Core Networks, a cable company software generator, said he has spent several tiring days flying in and out of cities around the world to promote his company.

“We help manage the activation, support, monitoring and management of high-speed cable modem networks,” he explained from a trade show in London, England. “This company is three and a half years old, and for the year and a half before that, I had launched and run high-speed Internet at Eastlink in Eastern Canada. And for three years before that, I had started my own Internet provider and ran that. I have been in it for about eight years.”

Campbell said he is scheduled to fly to New York Wednesday, then to Ottawa, then to Toronto, then, if he is lucky, back home to Halifax. Despite the busy schedule, Campbell said he was comforted by the “great group of people I work with that make me look good.”

Another winner, Isabel Rodriguez, 24-year-old president of Hull-based i4Design, said it is exactly the kind of “audacity” that Campbell and Colton display that makes the judges of the BDC awards choose their companies.

Rodriguez runs a multimedia company that creates Web sites, intranets and extranets, with a client roster that includes the National Gallery of Canada, Carleton University and the European Commission.

“We develop Web solutions, but more importantly, we develop systems that let non-technical people maintain their Web sites,” she said from Edmonton. “It automatically converts everything you type in into HTML format and it puts everything in its place. There is no FTPing to do or anything, so it is dummy-proof and clients just love it.”

Rodriguez and her partner started the business seven years ago with just the two partners.

“Now we manage between 20 and 30 employees,” she said. “From what I understand, I think the judges like the audacity of the entrepreneurs and that passion that we have for our business. Starting an Internet business seven years ago, when the Web was thought of as a spider-web and not really anything technical, was a major challenge.”

Other winners and information on the BDC Young Entrepreneur Awards is at http://www.bdc.ca