The words “tech park” might conjure images of lab coats and pocket protectors, but forget all of that. When tenants of the Vancouver Island Technology Park aren’t searching for a cure for a disease or developing a hyper-efficient fuel cell, they might be busy racing soapbox cars to raise funds for cancer research. The University of Victoria-owned park is a high octane cluster of knowledge and innovation, but it’s also a home to vibrant workplaces and community-minded bosses who really know how to pamper their employees.
“This one soapbox car got going so fast it crashed through the hay bales at the bottom of the hill and just blew apart,” says a laughing Troy Griffiths, CEO of Vigil Health Solutions, remembering a highlight-reel wipeout that occurred during the tech park’s first annual Canary Derby last June. The competition drew a dozen companies who raised $47,000 for the BC Cancer Agency.
As a provider of sophisticated healthcare systems for seniors, Griffiths, BComm ’95, knows a culture of care when he sees one. “The caring element is obviously a part of what we do here at Vigil but you see it all over the park.” In January, park tenants rallied to give blood to Canadian Blood Services.
You’ll still find people who “like to play video games and eat too much pizza,” says John Chabun, a marketing coordinator at Etraffic Solutions, but the stereotype of the techie can’t be crammed into a test tube any longer. “In our office alone, 20 of the 45 employees play musical instruments and when we have staff parties they turn into big jam sessions.”
As Chabun shares his thoughts, a roaring game of foosball is going on just a few feet away. The tech park’s games room is abuzz with activity at lunch and legions of workers come in to challenge each other at the leisure sport-de-jour. Rivalries can last a year. “I come here to get to know my co-workers and cream them at the same time,” says consultant Adil Chagani. “There’s no pecking order here,” he adds as he checks his Blackberry, “and it adds a layer of congeniality to the business relationship.”
Doug Tolson, PhD ’92, vice-president of the university’s Innovation and Development Corporation, is passionate about the synergies between UVic and the park. “Professors aren’t typically trained to transfer technologies to market,” says Tolson, “but with IDC’s help we can evaluate the technology and help pave a pathway to commercialization.” The park is a natural receptor site for new technologies, says Tolson, and in turn companies at the park have access to bright graduates and co-op students.
It so happens one of the poster children for tech on Vancouver Island, park tenant Advanced Economic Research Systems, was founded by UVic undergrads Andrew and Anthony Sukow. With IDC’s help, the Sukow brothers were able to obtain a data licence from eBay and, with input from their professors, developed industry leading statistical software called Terapeak. It’s considered the leading analytic software of eBay data, providing custom analysis and reports for Fortune 500 companies and eBay power sellers. “IDC helped guide and structure our business for future expansion,” says Anthony Sukow, CEO and president of AERS. “Their advisers gave us the right advice at the right time."
“More than 2.4 billion transactions occur on eBay every year which amounts to $52 billion worth of goods. If you can help people make sense of those transactions, explains the 31-year-old whiz, you are a power player indeed. “The data we mine is like a piece of real estate—it’s basically ours to develop.”
One of the more seasoned entrepreneurs at the tech park, at 51, Robert Beecroft, CEO and founder of ImmunoPrecise Antibodies, represents the heart of the workplace environment that can be found there.
Beecroft, BSc ’84, speaks fondly of the UVic co-op students he has hired—17 in the past decade. “Students are fighting to come here,” he says, drawing attention to the fact that working for a premier biomedical company like Immuno-Precise is a hot career opportunity for young scientists.
But Beecroft also knows how to treat his staff. A massage therapist comes twice a month and all employees get 20 minutes each (all that hunching over microscopes takes its toll after all). The image of scientists in lab coats getting shiatsu treatments before inventing industry-defining technologies couldn’t be more apropos.
Tech In The Park
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