Beedie celebrates 15 years of the Management of Technology MBA programMay 26, 2016
The Beedie School of Business has for many years positioned itself as a pioneer in its field, with innovative research and programs. One such pioneering program is the Management of Technology MBA (MOT MBA), the first program of its kind in Canada, which this year celebrates its fifteenth anniversary.
Alumni and distinguished faculty from the past and present gathered at the Segal Graduate School on May 24 to celebrate fifteen years of success of the MOT MBA program, and listen to a panel of experts discuss how to build national champions within the tech industry in Vancouver.
Moderated by Ian McCarthy, associate dean of graduate programs at the Beedie School of Business, the panel welcomed Elicia Maine, academic director of Beedie’s Graduate Certificate in Science and Technology Commercialization; MOT MBA alumnus Ben Sparrow, CEO and co-founder of desalination technologies organization Saltworks; Greg Caws, President & CEO of BC Innovation Council (BCIC); and Michel Laberge, founder and chief scientist of General Fusion.
Sparrow met his co-founder Joshua Zoshi while they were studying in the 2005 MOT MBA cohort. The company began with Sparrow building a desalination machine in his apartment in East Vancouver – a breach of the rental agreement for which he was subsequently evicted – and after winning $100,000 in seed funding at the New Ventures BC competition, has since gone from strength to strength. Today, they count numerous Fortune 500 companies as clients, as well as the Navy, and NASA.
“Financially we are doing well, we bounce in and out of being cash flow positive, but I believe it is negative to be cash flow positive – it means you are not investing in growth,” said Sparrow. “We are very R&D driven. We have been fortunate with our shareholder base, where our customers are our shareholders.”
Their goal now is simple: to become the world’s most valuable water technology company. It is a target that would place them firmly within the national champions category – and one that he hopes will become a reality thanks to the company’s membrane technology, which he has earmarked as the key to turning them into a billion dollar company.
Unlike the other panel speakers, Laberge is a physicist, not a businessman. Through his pioneering work on fusion energy – a technology that produces no greenhouse gases and that could solve the world’s energy problems – he has been required to negotiate the business world. He has so far raised in the region of $100 million in funding, but notes that the chances of Canada providing the billion dollars in funding that it would require to build a functioning power plant are slim.
Maine said that both Sparrow and Laberge’s presentations had made her case a lot easier to make: that building national champions in Canada is most effectively done by creating an environment for and supporting science based ventures.
“We can achieve this to a certain degree through the MOT MBA,” she said. “We need to train scientists to commercialize their innovations – create people who can take their ideas for large economic and social value creation, who are facing complex and social commercialization, and can manage skillsets – and give themselves and Canada a better value. We’ve had some success already, but we want more Saltworks here in ten years time.”
Outlining BCIC’s remit, Caws explained that the organization exists to make BC a better place for tech entrepreneurs. They offer 17 different programs in addition to the New Ventures competition, which this year had some 167 applications, of which 40 individuals will be selected to attend a boot camp.
He noted that the tech industry is sizeable in BC, with some 87,000 jobs within the industry – more than mining, oil, gas, and forestry combined – and almost 19,000 tech businesses which generate 6.5 percent of the province’s GDP.
During an intriguing Q&A session, the panel answered several questions, including whether Canadian investors are different to other investors; what their recipe is to attract and retain key talent; and which one factor on Canada’s failing innovation report card they would change to have the biggest impact on growth.
“I believe Canadians should measure returns on our investments in innovation – but the returns aren’t that great,” said Sparrow in response to the final question. “Part of the challenge is that we have a tremendous amount of funding for science projects but none for industrialization. That’s where the Americans are better: growing companies. If you invest in industrialization, the jobs stay.”
For more information on the Management of Technology MBA, visit beedie.sfu.ca/mot/