The following article was published by the Province on January 17, 2013


Saltworks Technologies co-founders Ben Sparrow, left, and Joshua Zoshi are making waste water usable.

Firm’s desalination process making a splash

A unique contest for tech startups in B.C. is getting credit for fostering innovation and catalyzing some major success stories.

The BCIC New Ventures Competition runs annually from April to September, giving entrants a chance to move through stages to meet a final jury that somewhat resembles the panel of venture capitalists in CBC’s popular Dragon’s Den series.

Entrants attend a nine-week seminar series and, as they advance through a four-round contest, receive coaching and mentorship.

Since starting in 2001, the contest has helped create 3,170 jobs and about $200 million in revenue from successful entrants, according to a new report from SFU’s Beedie School of Business.

Compared to Dragon’s Den’s glammed-up version of a high-pressure pitch to powerful venture capitalists, the BCIC contest judges are far more “nice and constructive,” BCIC program manager Angie Schick said with a laugh, in an interview.

Every year about 170 hopefuls enter the contest, and finalists get chances to tap B.C.’s venture-capital community. Schick points to successful finalists like the founders of Saltworks Technologies — which won the contest in 2008 — and top-10 finisher Jason Richards of Vineyard Networks, who just inked a $28-million deal to sell his “real time” network analytics technology to Procera Networks in San Diego.

In an interview, Saltworks Techologies CEO and co-founder Ben Sparrow said his company’s desalination process offers a low-cost method to make waste water and salt water usable, which will be a big benefit for oil and natural-gas companies, among other applications.

The Vancouver-based company is already profitable, has about 30 employees, and is looking for a big share of the rapidly growing waste-water remediation market, he said. Revenue figures are private, but exceed “seven figures” he said.

“Saltworks is positioned to capture a considerable portion of a $100-billion global desalination market, all with made-in-B.C. technology,” Sparrow said.

Sparrow and co-founder Joshua Zoshi were working full-time in project management jobs when Sparrow built his desalination machine in his living room. The BCIC contest process lit a spark under the pair, helped them hone their products, raise cash and incorporate their business, which now counts the Canadian Navy and NASA as clients, Sparrow said.

“If it were not for New Ventures B.C. providing the stimulus to kick us in the butts, we wouldn’t have incorporated Saltworks,” he said.

In an interview from San Diego, where he was meeting the Procera team, Jason Richards told a similar story.

“BCIC was a great experience for us, even though we didn’t take direct investment through the process,” Richards said.

“We got a really good understanding of what investors are looking for as we developed our business plan.”

Now, Procera will invest in Richards’s Kelowna-based business and increase hiring, he said.

“We weren’t looking for an exit, we were looking for an opportunity to grow,” he said.

“This is a great story for the whole B.C. tech sector.”

Click here to read the article in its entirety at The Province.