Ethan O’Brien . Founder of Living Garden Foods. Surrey Board of Trade’s Top 25 Under 25. Opportunity Fest 2015 grand prize winner. Athlete turned Sustainable Entrepreneur.

Ethan O’Brien
Concentration: Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Recent BBA graduate Ethan O’Brien had an entrepreneurial streak from a young age, but opted to put his desire to be a business owner aside to focus on sport. Now thanks to a combination of his Beedie education and his sporting talent, Ethan is the owner of a promising agricultural venture – and a strong proponent of sustainable farming.

Ethan is the founder of Living Garden Foods, which assembles vertical farming systems for farmers and hobbyists alike. The vertical planters are assembled into a sort of living wall that can grow vegetables outdoors or indoors year-round using hydroponics. The system uses 90 percent less water, less space, and far less waste than traditional farms, and has the potential to alter common farming practice.

Ethan grew up on a hay farm in Aldergrove, where he focused on high-level hockey over farming, which taught him the importance of good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. It wasn’t until he paired his Beedie business education with a certificate in Sustainable Community Development, however, that he began investigating Canadian food security issues. He was stunned to learn the degree to which Canada depends on food imports.

“I was blown away when I learned about the ecological challenges facing our food system,” says Ethan. “I started studying food systems and I felt like business was the best way to transform our economy to a more sustainable way of living.

Using his entrepreneurial training, Ethan started investigating sustainable growing practices. He built a greenhouse on his parents’ property and began experimenting with aquaponics – a system that combines fish, microbial bacteria, and plants in a self-sustaining ecosystem – and growing herbs in vertical towers.

Ethan presented his sustainable agri-business at Opportunity Fest 2015, the Beedie School’s annual showcase of student entrepreneurship, creativity, and innovation.

Living Garden Foods took home the Vancity Grand Prize in Triple Bottom Line Innovation, awarded to the venture that best demonstrates a dedication to economic, social, and environmental impact.

“When I originally saw that there was a student entrepreneur competition in first year, I knew I wanted to have a business to present before I was finished my education,” says Ethan. “It became a major goal.”

Ethan sought out an American company called Bright Agrotech, which designs and manufactures a vertical planters system called the ZipGrow. He negotiated for the ZipGrow manufacturing rights in Canada, but ultimately lost out to a more established company, Modular Farms.

Not to be deterred, Ethan struck a deal with Modular Farms for distribution rights in British Columbia, granting him the sole right to distribute and package ZipGrow in the province.

“I’ve always had a real desire to be the best I can possibly be and I think that comes through playing sports,” says Ethan. “Not making a team one year gives me inspiration to work hard for the next year. It’s the same with business. If your plan doesn’t work out, you have to find the fire to come up with an alternative solution.”

Ethan’s entrepreneurial efforts are starting to garner him accolades, including a spot on the 2016 Surrey Board of Trade Top 25 Under 25 list.

For Ethan, not only did his Beedie education help him realize a life goal of owning a company at a young age, but it has given him the skills to be an innovator in agriculture.

“Beedie taught me that I needed to work a whole lot harder than I thought I could, and how to talk to business professionals confidently and competently,” he says. “It gave me a whole world of knowledge that I can fall back on.”