Bellator MMA President Scott Coker: Transforming the American sports landscape

Founded in 2008, Bellator MMA has been a staple of the combat sport world for over a decade, and is the second largest combat sport promotion in the United States. In 2014, Mr Rebney was replaced by the founder of MMA and Kickboxing organization Strikeforce, Scott Coker, who was bought in to make the promotion less tournament focused. Born in Seoul, Korea, Mr Coker relocated to the US as a child, settling in San Jose, CA. Executive America spoke with Mr Coker to discuss his love for martial arts and the future of Bellator.

Martial arts

“It’s been an interesting journey,” Mr Coker says of his career so far. “It really goes back to martial arts. I was a student of [American martial artist] Ernie Reyes Sr., and I just fell in love with martial arts. I had a school, I used to teach children, teach adults. I dedicated my whole life to helping grow martial arts and helping educate people about martial arts.”

For Mr Coker, the eventual move into the growing sport of MMA was a natural extension of this love for the discipline. Since MMA has become more accessible, with shows airing on prime-time television, its reputation and appeal has grown rapidly. Mr Coker has certainly been a driving force behind that growth.

“Mixed Martial Arts is an eclectic style of different disciplines, combined into one discipline, which is becoming its own discipline. That’s what the future of martial arts is. It’s proven in the cage every Friday and Saturday night somewhere on the planet.”

As a taekwondo student in the San Jose region, Mr Coker began his journey into promoting by starting to organize kickboxing events. The first show he promoted was at the San Jose Civic Auditorium, the largest venue in San Jose at the time despite holding just 3,200 people.

“[It was] in 1985, at the Civic Auditorium. No TV, no sponsorship, just a live event where you sell tickets. We had a big support group in the martial arts community in the Bay Area, which at that time had probably about 80-100 [martial arts] schools, just in the San Francisco Bay Area. We would go out and get the community to support us.”

This first fight attracted around 2,800 spectators, nearly 80% of which came from local martial arts schools. Mr Coker made around $5k that night, and immediately realized the potential of promoting fights again in the future.

“That was my start, and within a year I started doing fights for an organization called PKA [Professional Karate Association], which had fighters like Ray McCallum and Dan Anderson. It was on ESPN, and the ratings did very well.”

After the collapse of PKA, one of Mr Coker’s team contacted ESPN to see if the network was still interested in kickboxing. The answer was ‘yes’, and the result was a new show called Strikeforce, which began in 1993. This was the beginning of the brand that Mr Coker would go on to establish several years later.

“It was strictly kickboxing,” he says. “We did Muay Thai, we did fights all over the world. It was 22 shows a year, all kickboxing. Then I got an opportunity from that to meet [karate master Kazuyoshi] Ishii from K-1. The greatest fighters in the heavyweight division at that time were fighting in Japan, and they asked me to run their North American operations.”

After considering his options, Mr Coker agreed to work for K-1 for a while, gaining huge experience from his time there. In 2006, MMA was made legal in California and he wasted no time founding Strikeforce MMA, which opened with a fight between Frank Shamrock and Cesar Gracie at the SAP Arena in San Jose.

“Working for Mr Ishii in Japan was like going to get your Graduate Degree. I felt like I had a Master’s Degree already. What he taught me was the international side of the business. Coming from martial arts, we just spoke the same language, and he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes, which I’m forever grateful for. He was a great mentor.”

Free form fighting

The evolution of MMA as a discipline over the last few decades has introduced many martial arts fans to newer, more free form fighting. For Mr Coker, the evolution was no surprise, as he had grown up with an eclectic Filipino master as an instructor, gaining experience in styles other than just traditional taekwondo. 

For the fighters, the evolution was slower. After different styles of fighter joined the discipline over the years, they had to adapt their styles to the demands of the sport, and this meant learning techniques from multiple disciplines.

“It took about fifteen years until people understood – I’ve got to do jujitsu, I’ve got to do wrestling, I have to do striking, boxing and Thai boxing. Georges St-Pierre I believe was one of the first fighters who put it all together. Now what you see is a complete fighter.”

It soon became clear that if a fighter wasn’t able to learn all these different styles and successfully combine them, they would be at a disadvantage when facing others that were able to do so. The modern MMA fighter was born out of this need to compete across styles.

After Strikeforce was sold off to Ultimate Fighting Championship owner Zuffa LLC in early 2011, Mr Coker briefly became an employee of the UFC, needing to wait out a non-compete clause before he could invest his time into his next venture.

“I didn’t really know what I was going to do when the non-compete ended,” he admits. “Probably about 3 or 4 months before the non-compete ended, I started getting offers from different people to meet.”

One of his first meetings was with Kevin Kay from Spike TV, which is owned by Viacom, to discuss taking over Bellator MMA. At this point, Mr Coker wasn’t sure that he wanted to build something for someone else, and was determined to branch out on his own.

“I felt like Bellator was not doing that well at that time, it did not have the roster that it has today. Today it has one of the greatest rosters that I’ve ever been associated with; the best roster in the history of this company, that’s for sure.”

The problem was that Kevin Kay came across as a genuinely good guy, with the power of persuasion on his side. Mr Coker pretty quickly liked his vibe, and bought in to the ideas he had about the future of Bellator.

“I thought, I wish I didn’t like this guy this much as far as wanting to work with him. I think I could learn a lot from this guy. I woke up one day and I said: ‘alright, let’s just do it.’ That was probably about five and a half years ago.”

Bellator MMA

By the time Mr Coker had agreed to take over Bellator, previous CEO and Chairman Bjorn Rebney had already been let go. On arrival at the company’s offices, Mr Coker reassured staff that their jobs were safe, and that there was a lot of work to do to get up to speed.

“The very first Bellator fight I went to after taking over, it made me realize that we had a lot of work to do, and a lot of growth to do. It’s taken five years to get there. These fighters, it takes about 4 or 5 years to build them, to get them competitive to where they can fight anybody in the world. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

When Mr Coker came in, the biggest change needed was to invest in talent, to start signing fighters and building them. In addition, Bellator had so many overlapping tournaments running that fans would struggle to follow everything that was going on.

“So I said, we’re going to take a step back. We’re not going to do the tournaments, we’re going to do single fights, start building from the ground up, buying free agents from the top down. We did what we needed to do to survive the first couple of years with the talent base that we had, which was moderate at best.”

Today, Bellator’s strength is in building a roster from the bottom up. Mr Coker has helped to make the company good star identifiers and builders, with a real solid background in finding and recognizing talent.

“We have access to every gym in the country, every manager in the world. When you pluck somebody from a boxing or jujitsu tournament, it’s not going to be a very quick process. Now people are able to see the fruits of our labor for the last five and a half years. It’s the exact same formula I used in Strikeforce, and I think we’re going to have great results.”

Bellator now has 250 athletes signed under contract, having built the best roster it has ever seen. The whole model is relationship-based, and Mr Coker has made it his mission to gain trust in the players and managers in order to recruit the best talent. 

“It’s been quite a ride,” Mr Coker concludes. “Thirty-six years. When I sold Strikeforce, I remember saying to somebody – it only took 24 years to become an overnight success. Now, thirty-six years into it, it’s been a rollercoaster ride, but so many great high points and I just love it. It’s been a lot of fun.”

To find out more about Bellator MMA, visit https://www.bellator.com.

Acerus Pharmaceuticals (TSX:ASP | OTCQB:ASPCF): Building a sustainable, value-driven company

acerus-pharmaceuticals-tsx-asp-otcqb-aspcf-president-ceo-ed-gudaitisin-executive-america

A TSX-listed commercial-stage pharmaceutical company, Acerus Pharmaceuticals has a vision to become a leading specialty pharmaceutical company focused on urology and Men’s Health with its nasal testosterone treatment, Natesto.

Founded in 2009 and listed on the TSX (ASP) and the OTCQB (ASPCF), Acerus Pharmaceuticals is a micro-cap with a market cap of $50m CAD as of August 25th 2020. Company President and CEO Ed Gudaitis has held numerous senior positions in multi-national pharmaceutical companies, working in both Canada and the United States, and has been responsible throughout his career for launching and building billion-dollar pharmaceutical product franchises and country operations. Mr Gudaitis discusses Natesto, the firm’s disruptive technology that can potentially secure significant share in a more than $1 billion USD global market, the unique opportunity available to potential investors in the company, and Acerus’ vision to become a leading specialty pharmaceutical company in urology and Men’s Health.

Nasal testosterone

“Acerus is a commercial-stage specialty pharmaceutical company,” Mr Gudaitis explains. “We have an approved product on the market that we are commercializing, and our focus of effort is on specialists, not primary care physicians.”

Although the company is based in Ontario, Canada, its business is global. The company manufacturers and commercializes its core product, Natesto, in a number of global markets, including the US, Canada, South Korea, and Taiwan, with plans to move into Europe in the next eighteen months.

“In the US and Canada we commercialize the product directly through our own sales and marketing efforts, while in South Korea and Taiwan, and eventually in Europe, we commercialize through partnerships with local operating companies.”

Unlike some other companies in the specialty pharma space, Acerus is not built on licensing in other people’s assets. Acerus’ focus is on manufacturing and commercializing its core product in-house, making it a unique proposition as a company.

“We’ve been around for a while. Formed in 2009, the company has gone through a couple of iterations of strategy. It was previously called the Trimel Pharmaceuticals company, and it was structured to capitalize on a core technology, our nasal gel technology, which enables us to deliver products in a unique, patient-friendly manner.”

The problem that the company looks to solve is a very unique. Our primary market opportunity is the treatment of low testosterone, otherwise known as male hypogonadism. Around 14 million US males potentially have low testosterone, making a sizeable possible market.

“It’s about a $1bn USD prescription product market opportunity in the United States, with about 7 million prescriptions written per year. There are products that exist today, however there is no truly ideal product in the market place. There are a number of products with challenges in terms of how they’re delivered.”

The main options in the market for low testosterone currently are testosterone injections, deep and painful injections with a large needle, presenting challenges with self-injection. There are also topical gels, which act like a skin lotion that you rub in each day.

“With the topical gels, you have to worry about potentially transferring the product to your spouse or your children,” Mr Gudaitis explains. “After you apply the product to your body, you have to let it dry for twenty minutes, it can absorb differentially and not evenly all the time. As a result, there are several challenges with existing products in this market.”

It is estimated that up to 70% of patients on prescription treatments for low testosterone will switch therapy at least once to look for better options, as patients and their physicians are unsatisfied with the current treatments available.

“Prescription treatment of low testosterone is a very large market that has been well established. Physicians know how to diagnose, treat and prescribe low testosterone treatments. However, there is no single ideal product in the market. We think we can solve a number of problems within this large market, providing a patient-friendly, safer, effective alternative in a very large and growing market opportunity.”

Acerus’ unique technology creates a different product than any other in the market for testosterone treatment, an intra-nasal gel application of testosterone applied with a small dispenser three times a day on the inside of your nostril.

“It’s a little bit like a topical hand lotion that you would put on your hand. It’s a gel, not a spray, applied with our dispenser on the inside of your nasal cavity. The product is rapidly absorbed, highly effective, with low side effects.”

acerus-pharmaceuticals-tsx-asp-otcqb-aspcf-president-ceo-ed-gudaitis-in-executive-america
“With the topical gels, you have to worry about potentially transferring the product to your spouse or your children” - Mr Gudaitis

Unsatisfied market

The uniqueness of this nasal testosterone technology offers investors an exciting opportunity to invest in a company with a highly differentiated, unique product offering.  The technology is an Acerus propriety technology, which was licensed in by Acerus, protected by a strong patent strategy.

“The Intellectual Property in the US, Canada and Europe is very long-ranging. We have a current suite of patents that would take us into the mid-2020s. We have new patent filings and strategies that we’re actively working that would take patent protection into the early and potentially the late-2030s. We have a unique technology and a solid IP platform to work from.”

This means the company has a ten or twelve year run in front of it with a very large, unsatisfied market opportunity to be capitalized on. This opportunity is primarily in the United States, but there is also significant market opportunity in the Canadian and European markets.

“If investors are looking for an opportunity,” Mr Gudaitis says, “we’ve got all the pieces in place, we now need to execute and deliver on the opportunity that’s there. We’ve got a better product, in a large market that’s unsatisfied – let’s go and make it happen.”

The company’s management team is made up of Mr Gudaitis, who has been in the pharmaceutical business for over 25 years, and new additions who bring relevant expertise within the US pharmaceutical market – Chief Medical Officer Dr Chris Sorli and US Commercial Leader Kevin Hickey.

“I spent about eleven years with Gilead Sciences as part of my career journey, some of that here in Canada building the Canadian operation from scratch to about a $1.2bn CAD business, but also in the US, where I was Senior Director for HIV marketing for a number of years, launching several large HIV products in the US.”

Dr Sorli is a board certified US-based endocrinologist and is responsible for the company’s medical affairs and R&D activities. His background is in diabetes, metabolism and Men’s Health.  He has previously organized and set-up a large men’s and women’s health practice in his home state of Montana. 

“[Dr Sorli] has direct clinical experience treating the type of patients we would be treating with Natesto, but he’s also very much been on the forefront of metabolic disease and diabetes, which is an area that we’re interested in looking at with respect to Natesto, and he’ll be actively driving the strategic development of the clinical profile of Natesto.”

Based out of Philadelphia, Mr Hickey brings fifteen years of direct commercial experience in the US and will be responsible for leading the Natesto business in the US as the company moves forward.

“From a management perspective, we’ve got people with direct experience in the U.S. marketplace, and relevant experience to our business, to our therapeutic area and to what we’re trying to achieve onboard at Acerus.”

The company’s board has also seen some recent additions, complimenting a number of long-standing members, including Chairman Ian Ihnatowycz, who has served as a Director since September 2013.

“[Ian] is our leading shareholder; he owns about 84% of the company, and he’s been a long-time board member. He’s a long-time investor and has been a core visionary for the company over that period of time.”

Other long-time board members include entrepreneur Stephen Gregory, and Borys Chabursky who is the founder and Chairman of Shift Health, a healthcare consultancy in Toronto, plugging him in to the start-up, Venture Capital and healthcare consulting spaces.

“We’ve added two new board members recently – a fellow by the name of Scott Leckie, who’s our Audit Committee Chair, he’s a CFA and has significant investment experience. He used to run a private investment company, so he brings that capital markets/investment side to the table.”

“We also recently added Geoff Cotton, a US-based commercial and medical affairs pharmaceutical expert. He is an MD by training, has worked in medical affairs, and he’s also launched products in the US and has run various US businesses, at one point for Gilead, that range up to about $8-9bn USD in sales.”

acerus-pharmaceuticals-tsx-asp-otcqb-aspcf-president-ceo-ed-gudaitis-in-executive-america
Acerus’ patent strategy presents a unique opportunity for success for the company and potential investors

Block and tackle

With this mix of long-standing team members and new faces, Mr Gudaitis is confident that the team has the relevant experience and skills to make the business a success with Natesto, which he identifies as the company’s short-term goal.

“I usually describe our strategy in three phases – phase one is the here and now phase, and really the goal is to get Natesto moving and get it commercialized successfully in the US. That’s the core platform for the company, that’s the foundation for the business, and we will build the company around that success, and that’s really what we’re focused on right now.”

The second phase is to leverage the commercial infrastructure the company has built in the US by adding more products to its portfolio through business development opportunities that will complement and leverage the investment already made.

“The third phase of the growth strategy for us would be to circle back to our pipeline and bring in some additional products, whether they are something that we can build into the nasal gel technology, or even something that complements our focus on urology and endocrinology from an R&D perspective.”

The end goal is to have a growing and maturing business with Natesto that becomes the engine of the company, with a couple of complimentary assets added around the product in order to leverage the commercial infrastructure and investment, and then something in the pipeline to give the company continuity into the future.

“So that we have a late-stage mature product, we have a growth product, and we have some new products,” Mr Gudaitis says. “That would be the ultimate goal in what we’re trying to achieve in terms of the short, medium and long-term to build a sustainable, value-driving company for investors.”

Over his 25 years in the business, Mr Gudaitis believes he has learned some important lessons, many of which came during his time working at Gilead Sciences, a company that was run on the premise of being lean, hands-on and focused on outcomes.

“For a small company like Acerus, I look through that lens every day. We have undergone some significant reorganization and streamlining of the operations. The biggest lessons for me have been – focus on what you can control, keep the business lean, and keep focused on the result and the outcome. That’s one of my key takeaways from my Gilead experience.”

Another key lesson learned has been to embrace good old fashioned blocking and tackling, a strategy that the management and board are well set-up to execute in the case of Natesto to make the business a success.

“If you go in and do the basic executional elements well – build good key opinion leader support, make people aware of the product, have reimbursement in place, have the support systems for physicians and practices to get product to people when they need it, and have patients activated to ask for the product – you will be successful in this category.”

With a full product life cycle in front of it, Acerus’ patent strategy presents a unique opportunity for success for the company and potential investors. Find out more about Acerus Pharmaceuticals Corporation by visiting www.aceruspharma.com.

Openspace Architecture: A window to nature

openspace-architecture-owner-don-gurney-a-window-to-nature-in-The-Executive-America

Based on Vancouver’s North Shore, Openspace Architecture is a boutique architectural and interior design practice specializing in single family and resort residential projects, with a broad range of experience in master planning and infrastructure projects.

A visionary who truly cares for others and deeply respects the land, Openspace Owner Don Gurney produces work that is contemporary in expression, with a deep understanding of the long tradition of architecture and design. Mr Gurney’s hands-on methodology is driven by his great reverence for the relationships between people, nature, and the built environment. The Openspace team strives to elevate the field of Architecture, creating a legacy through design excellence. Mr Gurney speaks to us about his experience of open space planning, the company’s focus on introducing its building system to countries around the world, and the commitment to creating buildings that provide a window to nature.

Open space planning

The practice began life in 1998 as Don Gurney Architects, founded by Mr Gurney alongside current Associate and Senior Technologist Eric Pettit. In 2008 the name of the company was changed to Openspace Architecture.

“That name comes from my planning experience,” Mr Gurney says. “I was with an international planning firm for many years, where we worked on projects internationally, but primarily in the downtown waterfront area [of Vancouver].”

Open space planning became a large component of those mega developments, during which Mr Gurney gained experience working for clients such as Marathon, Concord Pacific and Vancouver Port Authority. Realizing and working with open space planning became very important to him, and that’s how the name originated.

In his current work, Mr Gurney aims to find balance in the relationship between objects and spaces to create an effortless sense of harmony. He approaches projects with both restraint and an eye for detail, using natural materials to harness minimalist expression.

openspace-architecture-owner-don-gurney-in-executive-america
Based on Vancouver’s North Shore, Openspace Architecture is a boutique architectural and interior design practice specializing in single family and resort residential projects, with a broad range of experience in master planning and infrastructure projects

“My whole background has been in the construction industry. I started out very early, from my early teens, working construction. That led to a technical diploma in architectural design and drawing. From that I was a technician for five years with an architectural firm, then in 1983 I decided to go back to university and study architecture at Carleton University.”

Mr Gurney brings a humanist approach to his comprehensive understanding of planning requirements, honoring site context and working hard to enhance the way buildings are experienced, with the ultimate aim of creating harmony between indoors and outdoors.

Local and international projects

The projects Openspace has been involved in over the years have spread across Vancouver, from West Van to North Van and the Olympic training facility. Locally, the practice’s most notable work is in West Vancouver and the Whistler area.

openspace-architecture-owner-don-gurney-in-executive-america
With a commitment to creating buildings that provide a window to nature, and the capabilities to introduce its successful building system around the globe, Openspace Architecture has navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully

Known across the globe as a world class ski resort, Whistler has seen a lot of work over the last ten years, and it has become established as an all-seasons resort, bringing many more people to the area over the course of a year.

“It’s now for mountain bikers, and everything else from fly fishing to hiking, and everything else that goes along with that resort. As far as our clients are concerned [at Whistler], I would say that probably 95% of them are international clients, from all over the place – the UK, Australia, South Africa and Malaysia.”

In terms of its work in British Columbia, the practice’s footprint is far reaching, having done work on the interior of BC, as well as on Vancouver Island, in Tofino, Saanich Peninsula and Cowichan Lake. 

“Most of the projects we do,” Mr Gurney explains, “with the exception of West Vancouver, are secondary projects or second residential resort type homes. So this has been our primary focus for the last fifteen years.”

openspace-architecture-owner-don-gurney-in-executive-america
Open space planning became a large component of those mega developments, during which Mr Gurney gained experience working for clients such as Marathon, Concord Pacific and Vancouver Port Authority

The company’s history has seen much of its work done in this space, making impressive second homes for high net worth individuals. Recently it has been moving into other architectural areas, such as hotels and restoration.

“We’re doing some restorative work that has been happening in California, most particularly in Sonoma County, where the fires have had a devastating effect on the wineries. We’re rebuilding a winery and a number of support buildings that were devastated by the Kincade fire in 2019.”

In addition to its work in California, the company has been involved in several other projects in the United States, including four successful resort homes at Noi’Ulu Estates, Hualalai, on the Big Island of Hawaii, and ongoing work at another resort in Hawaii building family homes for private clients.

The practice is also beginning a large and an exciting off-the-grid planning and architectural design project for residential homes, which will be located midway between Carmel and Monterey on the California coast.

In addition to local success, the passion for architecture in the company has led to projects in a number of countries, with a focus on taking local experience and adapting to the work and design styles of different cultures. 

“We started out doing simple timber frame homes, and evolved that over the years into doing these lovely projects which are a mix of timber frame and hybrid steel buildings. We’ve developed a nice system, and we want to introduce other countries – such as India, Japan, Mongolia – to these systems, to bring them a new type of housing.”

openspace-architecture-owner-don-gurney-in-executive-america
The company’s history has seen much of its work done in this space, making impressive second homes for high net worth individuals

Creative outlook

Architecture has always been a competitive sector, but in recent years it has seen the rise of new technologies, particularly in terms of highly integrated 3D modelling known as building information modelling (BIM), which have changed the face of the industry.

“[BIM] is taking over much of the industry, but where it hasn’t really reached is the residential market. These homes are every bit as expensive as some of the smaller hospitals and schools, but for some reason the digital information modelling has not got into the market. Given the level of sophistication of these homes, it certainly should be.”

This is an area that Mr Gurney feels Openspace Architecture has an advantage over competitors. With BIM, the company is able to resolve the buildings, relative to the site, in 3D computer modelling with integrated structural, mechanical, electrical and smart home systems, before even beginning construction.

With its focus on a highly creative process, Openspace offers a playful yet rigorous approach to design, bringing projects to life through the pollination of key ideas and a strongly integrated design process.

Openspace offers a playful yet rigorous approach to design, bringing projects to life through the pollination of key ideas and a strongly integrated design process

The open space nature of its designs is integral to the company’s ethos. Buildings with lots of glass, and the large spans created by timber and steel, offer its inhabitants a huge window on nature, like a lens through which to view the natural world.

“It’s quite an experience to live in these homes. When you look at a particular site, whether it’s a mountain site, or a desert site, or a lakefront site, you find the best part of the site, and then put the building on the worst part of the site, so that you can view onto the best part. This is essentially what we mean by open space planning.”

Teamwork is integral to the company’s ongoing success. Clients and consultants are made to feel welcome and appreciated in Openspace’s creative studio, which provides the space for an invaluable exchange of cutting edge ideas and constructive critiques.

The company’s current focus is on taking the technologies it has developed to other countries, sharing with the rest of the world Canada’s excellence in the space. So far the reception in these countries has been very positive.

“Something that we think is important in the work that we do, whether it’s commercial work or residential work, is just keeping people in contact with real materials. We’re using materials like stone, timber, some metals, that once you walk in the building you don’t need a period of adjustment, your body is settled and at one with it.”

Coupled with the need for low energy consumption and sustainable design, the mixture of real materials and a feeling of communion with nature is the nexus of Openspace’s business, creating a blend of mind and spirit that remains critical to its success.

With a commitment to creating buildings that provide a window to nature, and the capabilities to introduce its successful building system around the globe, Openspace Architecture has navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully. Find out more about Openspace Architecture by visiting www.openspacearchitecture.com.

Kidoodle.TV: Safe streaming for kids

Featured image -kidoodle-tv-cofounder-neil-gruninger-in-executive-america

A family-focused kid’s streaming company, Kidoodle.TV is committed to encouraging safe streaming and viewing habits, hand-picking every show to ensure content is age-appropriate and represents the best in educational, entertaining, and inspiring stories.

Co-founder, President and Chief Product Officer Neil Gruninger co-created Alberta-based streaming service Kidoodle.TV from the ground up. For the past decade, Mr Gruninger has focused on web development, online user experience, and e-marketing, and is keenly passionate about creating better digital experiences for young people. The parental presence, along with the ability to control the experience through monitoring systems and time limitations, have allowed Kidoodle.TV to make a significant impact in 140 countries around the world. Mr Gruninger discusses the inspiration behind Kidoodle.TV’s inception, the global mindset that has aided the company’s growth, and the continuing commitment to providing kids and families with a safe streaming platform.

Safe Streaming™

“Kidoodle.TV was really built upon the thesis of families and video distribution being connected through the internet,” Mr Gruninger says. “I started getting into video distribution as part of a technology corporation that basically built out an algorithm for video distribution. [Kidoodle.TV] co-founder Mike Lowe and I actually met through that process.”

The two co-founders came up with the product after Mr Lowe discovered his youngest son had accessed inappropriate content through other popular streaming services. They realized that there was both a business opportunity and a problem that needed solving.

“Immediately, he and I just decided that this was something that we were going to move forward with, took some employees with us, and ultimately created Kidoodle.TV in 2012, so it’s been almost nine years.”

The process since that moment has been interesting, involving plenty of problem solving in working out the different ways in which families and children can access Kidoodle.TV online, with mobile apps, connected TVs and smart TVs all becoming popular choices.

“The media landscape has shifted at an exponential rate,” Mr Gruninger explains. “We wake up and we have to keep up, every day, and really it’s paved the way for what we’re trying to do to make sure that kids are safe online. We trademarked Safe Streaming™, and it’s our core of what we’ve built and what our mission is online.”

The rise of content services such as YouTube has meant that there is now a proliferation of online content for kids, and this in turn has increased demand, with the internet now becoming the dominant method of content consumption.

“We own all of our technology, we’ve built it in-house. That was one of our main objectives from day one, to own and not lease, because at the end of the day it didn’t give us the agile momentum to shift and be a part of this forever-shifting video space.”

By joining the wave of internet video distribution, Kidoodle.TV has seen some real growth over its almost nine years of existence. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has created even more demand for such content to be readily available.

“Families are home, they need safe entertainment and educational content, so it’s been great to have built this for the last 8-9 years and finally really understand that families and the industry have caught up to what our vision was.”

There are a lot of kids streaming services out there, giving Kidoodle.TV plenty of competition, but Mr Gruninger feels it is differentiated from that competition by the company’s image and core family-focused values.

“Ultimately we built the service from a product of our own needs, and that’s key. You have Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, Disney. These are companies that are paying billions of dollars for content – we don’t have those costs. It allows us to have a wider audience.”

kidoodle-tv-cofounder-neil-gruninger-in-executive-america
“Kidoodle.TV was really built upon the thesis of families and video distribution being connected through the internet”

The variation of content across these bigger names has become key for kids and families. By getting access to top content, focusing on families and championing Safe Streaming™, Kidoodle.TV is able to positively differentiate from other platforms. The rise in gaming content has definitely been a factor in getting top content.

“Gaming content is this crazy new-age, modern day entertainment,” Mr Gruninger says. “It’s become the majority of what kids today are looking for. It’s been great to be a part of that process and understanding that.”

The connectivity of the internet has revolutionized gaming and built upon the industry. Having safe streaming gaming content integrated into Kidoodle.TV has been a huge value add for the company’s customers.

“A lot of times parents are expecting some older, recognizable, traditional content that they may have grown up on, and we have that as well. We have such good industry credibility when it comes to all the content providers who want Kidoodle.TV, because we have millions of families that are currently using our service every day.”

In terms of producing content, the company has started to make its own originals, which has been an extremely fun and creative undertaking, with a focus on what new things it can do in the kids streaming space.

“We’ve been working with YouTube stars that have created an incredible amount of usership and now they can’t monetize their kids content on YouTube. They’re looking for a place to house their content to actually be able to make money with, and we’re that alternative to a lot of these content providers today.”

Built for today

Based in Alberta, Kidoodle.TV has had to adjust to some particular measures to fit into the technology sector in the province, and Mr Gruninger admits that it hasn’t always been the easiest of adjustments.

“It’s been challenging in Alberta over the years,” he explains. “I would say now more than ever we’re seeing some recognition, we’re getting some street cred. That comes from just sticking to our guns and moving forward and building upon the vision of keeping kids safe online. But we had to go outside of Canada to really build the momentum.”

Both co-founders grew up in Alberta, and still have family in the province, but a lot of the financing they needed to make the company viable had to come from elsewhere. It has been a slow process feeling a part of the tech community in the area.

“We’re proud Albertans, and we get what we offer as a whole, and what the community can do for us. We’ve hired now 40 people during COVID, all very passionate about what we’re doing and excited to work with us.”

Ultimately, the tech sector in Alberta is young and growing, and Mr Gruninger admits that the company is more than happy to do what it can to help with that growth and to build upon the technology and media industry to help Alberta as a whole grow and diversify.

kidoodle-tv-cofounder-neil-gruninger-in-executive-america
Having safe streaming gaming content integrated into Kidoodle.TV has been a huge value add for the company’s customers

Although the company is Canadian, it operates in 140 countries across the world, meaning it always has a global mindset. It’s partnership with mass media and entertainment conglomerate Corus Entertainment has helped it reach this point.

“We’re an ad supported video service, so AVOD is the acronym there. Corus is the one that represents our specific inventory here, and they go out and sell our ads. But, the majority of all our usage is in the United States.”

The company has excellent representation in Canada, as its core distribution partners like Roku, Samsung and LG have supported the platform in the country. However, Canada itself is only a small part of the company’s market.

The company’s current focus is on making Kidoodle.TV feature-rich and enhancing the user experience. The technology is really the core focus, making sure that it can offer the very best streaming service.

“We’ve hired a bunch of grandparents to go through all of our content before it gets on the service. A real key focus of ours is growing that employment base and really getting them involved, because they are so key to keeping kids safe online. They watch every single frame of that content before it goes out. So that’s been great.”

The service has been built for today, so in that respect the future is now. There is so much still ahead of the company, including launching on the huge US telecommunications company, Comcast, in the near future.

“Comcast is a big company, and they want Kidoodle.TV, and it’s pretty cool. This has taken years and years, but we’re finally hitting these benchmarks of distribution platforms that just recognize us as one of the top services out there, and they can’t deny the growth and what families are looking for. That’s been very exciting for us.”

The truth is that where the company used to be calling the big distributors, asking to be put onto a platform, the big distributors are now calling Kidoodle.TV because of its reputation and previous success.

“We’ve got Paw Patrol. It’s a big, big brand. We’re one of only a small amount of streaming services that even work with Spin Master, which owns the IP for Paw Patrol. We’re getting some other big brands – in two weeks from now, we have a major launch campaign with the top brand in the world, and that’s what families are looking for.”

The journey has been fun and exciting, and has it has come to the point where the company is outperforming itself every day, with a great trajectory for success, and growing impressively from an employment standpoint.

“Our future is just continuing on and keeping kids safe,” Mr Gruninger concludes, “and making sure that families have an alternative outside of YouTube, because that’s really where they’re finding their content today.”

Operating in a rapidly growing market, and differentiating itself from the competition with a commitment to offering a safe streaming space for kids, it certainly appears that the future for Kidoodle.TV will be glowing. Find out more about Kidoodle.TV by visiting kidoodle.tv.

Envirosuite (ASX:EVS): A market leader in environmental intelligence

envirosuite-asx-evs-ceo-jason-cooper-in-executive-america

An innovative tech company with roots in science, engineering, and consulting, Envirosuite is a global leader in environmental intelligence, utilising proprietary technology and real-time localised data to help industries grow and communities thrive.

Envirosuite is an ASX-listed company (ASX:EVS) with its origins starting as far back as 1990. The company uses science and technology to deliver software as a service (SaaS) solutions relating to air quality, water quality, noise, and vibration, with a varied list of clients including airports, water, mining and industrial, waste and wastewater. Jason Cooper has 20 years’ experience in the technology sector, and recently took on the role of CEO, replacing Peter White. Mr Cooper speaks to us about the value of environmental intelligence, the market-leading outlook he brings to his role, and the huge avenues of growth that offer a significant return on investments now and into the future.

Helping businesses thrive

“Environmental intelligence first started to make the scene a couple of years ago,” Mr Cooper explains. “It’s how you derive insights from environmental parameters that exist. There has been a considerable emphasis put on how businesses and society interact with the environment.”

This has moved beyond a stage of simple data collection and into the realm of analysis and insights, with many companies now turning that information into goals that can be acted upon for the good of the environment, the communities that surround them and their own operations.

“We look at environmental parameters such as noise, vibration, water quality, dust and air quality, and we take those parameters and then we start to understand how that impacts the society or the asset in which the company is operating.”

For example, a mine site needs to operate within vicinity of a community, and by doing that it understands that there are certain environmental parameters that affect how that community lives and how the site can be safely operated.

“As you can imagine, excess dust coming out of a mine site would have a negative impact on communities. Certain conditions in that environmental intelligence will contribute to how that mine site operates. It’s about giving our customers actionable insights based on those parameters.”

Envirosuite’s SaaS solutions assesses factors such as weather, the existing location, and trajectories, in order to provide the mine operator with predictive insights to ascertain when the company should time certain operations and at which part of the mine.

“We have a fairly large spectrum of customers that we are focusing on. Whilst mining is certainly a strong focus for us – we have some of the largest organisations in the world as our customers – we also have a very strong footing within the waste and wastewater communities. These are companies like Veolia and Suez, who are both our customers.”

Within the wastewater industry, Envirosuite generally helps solve odour problems. Odours at treatment plants originate from the receival of waste and as a by-product of the treatment process. Local weather conditions can intensify the impacts of odours and how far they travel, which impacts the community. The company helps those customers detect the specific type of odour and how it is affecting the community.

“We’re also number one globally within commercial airports, doing noise monitoring. When a plane comes into land, certain planes you don’t really hear, but others may come in too fast, too much of a pitch, so there’s excessive noise created. Our customers are from Los Angeles to Beijing to Heathrow, and certainly very strong in Australia.”

The global shift in corporate mindset around environmental issues means companies around the world are now recognising the importance not only of being seen to be doing good, but also actually doing it. Envirosuite’s vision is to allow businesses to thrive in parallel with growing communities.

“For most companies around the world now, it’s about how they can build a growing and profitable business without having a negative impact on the environment that they live in. There are simple, basic fundamentals for our customers. They know and they recognise that there is a long-term engagement.”

envirosuite-asx-evs-ceo-jason-cooper-in-executive-america
Envirosuite (ASX:EVS) offers three products including 1). noise monitoring in commercial airports, 2). dust, water quality, and odour monitoring, and 3). water and wastewater treatment infrastructure

The mine sites Envirosuite works with are situated in mineral-rich locations, where communities are also built. Similarly, some of the company’s customers are ports, which know that the city’s viability depends on ships coming in, to unload containers, and to leave. It’s a part of the city’s economic growth.

The result has been a shift in how these issues are approached. Businesses now come to Envirosuite proactively, with prior knowledge of a problem, and the desire to be able to keep growing and engage with the community. Envirosuite’s solutions help industries to optimise operations, while strengthening their social licence to operate by building trust with communities and satisfying regulators.

“A big part of our solution here is how our technology enables a business to recognise how it’s performing, how they then communicate that to the community, and how the community then feels engaged in jointly solving this problem.”

There have already been several new executive orders signed by US President Joe Biden around these issues, one of which is designed to secure environmental justice and spur economic growth. This is to encourage businesses working in a particular area not to have a negative impact on lower economic societies.

“If you look at the water situation globally, we know that it is a very scarce resource. By 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will reside in water-stressed areas. There are certain reports that estimate by 2030, around $1.9 trillion needs to be spent to address global water infrastructure. What we’re doing is playing a pivotal role in enabling this transition.”

Market-leading outlook

Having recently taken over as CEO of Envirosuite, Mr Cooper is looking to make positive change. He reminds us that he is first and foremost an engineer, having spent many years working for Siemens. He calls Siemens one of the world’s greatest engineering firms, and says this experience taught him to take pride in market leadership.

“Siemens had a perspective that they wanted to be number one or two in any of the markets they operated in,” he says. “I really am taking that same approach here, which has helped us narrow our focus into the markets that we want to pursue. We want to be one or two in any of the markets we play in.”

Mr Cooper has recently returned from three years immersing himself in the machinations of California’s Silicon Valley, where he worked in high growth companies and gained an understanding of what corporate greatness really looks like.

“We operate now in very much a globalised world, and competition comes from every corner of the planet. You have to have the right strategy; you have to have the right product-market fit; you have to have the right team around you to achieve that. I think it’s having that big global picture about what does breed success – invest into those parts.”

A big part of his focus recently has been on product strategy. The company already has a strong product-market fit, but the aim is to invest further into building world-class software platforms based on scientific fundamentals, which the company has been built on.

envirosuite-asx-evs-ceo-jason-cooper-in-executive-america
An innovative tech company with roots in science, engineering, and consulting, Envirosuite (ASX:EVS) is a global leader in environmental intelligence

“A key part of our challenge is to take incredibly complex scientific models and to distil that into easy-to-understand information. [The key is] to simplify that message into something you can translate, and take meaningful action.”

Customer engagement is a fundamentally important area in building out the company, and Mr Cooper is putting a renewed focus on that. The company already has a strong global reach, but the aim is to build a truly world-class customer acquisition team, as well as closer relationships with customers.

The company currently offers three products; first is noise monitoring in commercial airports; second, the industrial platform focusing on dust and water quality monitoring, as well as odour monitoring; and its new product, EVS Water, helps design, optimise and improve biological, industrial, water and wastewater treatment infrastructure. 

“With our airport product, we’re already number one in that market. What we will see there is continued growth. We are starting to see an increase in air traffic, and that will continue. The world post-COVID will be very different for airports, but a large amount of that will be around that community engagement piece. We do see a strong airport growth.”

There is also some strong new product innovation coming through in the airport market, with continued investment into technology driving deeper into operations within the world’s leading commercial airports.

“Within the industrial platform, we are going to be focusing on mining, and waste and wastewater. We have a strong global footprint here; we have some of the world’s biggest customers. Our focus now is to broaden our penetration for some of these global accounts, to drive greater market adoption. What we’re looking to do now is to build a market, not just chase revenue.”

The final product, EVS water, is very new, having only been brought to market in the last three months. This targets water treatment facilities and other utilities. It combines artificial intelligence and digital twin technology to predict and avoid water quality incidents, while identifying process improvements and cost savings for facilities in real-time.

“This is around providing a return on investment,” Mr Cooper says. “We’ve seen within a short space of time absolute market validation. I see this as a huge growth potential for Envirosuite. We’ve got product-market for it, and we know where we’re going to be accelerating. It’s now just working out what is the best go-to-market strategy to actually get the shareholder return. In the short term, I see growth above 20%, and then beyond that there will be significant upside in the coming years.”

Mr Cooper is a big believer in purpose-driven companies, and in this respect Envirosuite is a great company to get behind. What is most noteworthy is that this is Australian technology being taken across the world.

“To be number one globally, based out of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, is a fantastic example of true R&D, true ideation, and executing on it. We will be growing significantly over the next couple of years. We want to be on people’s radar, so for those people who believe in helping the environment and investing in technology, we’d love for people to come and talk to us about joining us on this journey.”

With a focus on helping businesses do the right things for the right reasons, and continued impressive growth, Envirosuite (ASX:EVS) is certainly one to watch out for in 2021 and beyond. Find out more about Envirosuite by visiting envirosuite.com. 

Bill Identity (ASX:BID): A leading global provider of utility bill management technology

bill-identity-asx-bid-md-managing-director-guy-maine-in-executive-america

Trusted by businesses around the world, Bill Identity’s cloud-based technology leverages Robotic Process Automation, removing the need for human intervention and giving organisations control over their energy spend.

Founded in 2012 and listed on the ASX (ASX:BID), Bill Identity operates across Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe. The company’s innovative technology serves its clients by improving data visibility, integrity and control. Managing Director Guy Maine has 20 years’ experience in senior executive roles across major Australian companies, and talks to us about the benefits of using Robotic Process Automation, the acquisitions that have helped the company grow, and plans to continue its growth by playing a role in the global automation of utility bills.

The fourth revolution

“The way I explain who we are and what we do is to bring this back to [the consumer],” Mr Maine says. “You would receive an electricity bill for your household, and when that bill arrives you would probably look at the cost, but you then probably don’t do much about that bill until you actually put it in your diary to pay it.”

Bill Identity (ASX:BID) deals with an expanded version of this process, relating to large multi-site enterprises that would expect to receive thousands or tens of thousands of bills that need to be paid every month.

“They wouldn’t have dissimilar practices to [the consumer]. They would receive those bills; they would enter those into their Accounts Payable system. They may check a few of them, make sure that the rate’s right potentially, and then approve them for payment.”

Bill Identity’s job is to manage electricity, gas, water and other commodities for these businesses. It runs the bills through a robotic workforce, digitising the data and exploring every item to make sure it’s correct, following up on any exceptions on the clients’ behalf and even paying bills for some clients.

“RPA, or Robotic Process Automation, is being talked about as the Fourth [Industrial] Revolution. RPA simply takes processes that have previously been done manually, and utilises a robotic workforce to do that same process. We’re talking about code and algorithms being built for us in the Amazon Cloud.”

For example, a certain robotic worker for Bill Identity would be programmed specifically to read every item on a particular bill, told where to find them in order for it to be digitised and put onto the company’s platform for other robotic workers to validate.

“It’s doing something through automation that previously you probably would have got on an Excel spread sheet, or you would have had someone manually entering that data into it’s own Accounts Payable system. So that’s what Robotic Process Automation is.”

bill-identity-asx-bid-md-managing-director-guy-maine-in-executive-america
Bill Identity (ASX:BID) assists in the area of invoice management for companies expecting to receive thousands or tens of thousands of bills needing to be paid monthly

The company is unique in the world for utilising RPA in the niche of utility bills; no competitor in the sector is using robotic workers as a complete end-to-end process to collect, digitise, analyse, validate and pay a bill as Bill Identity does.

“We launched this business in Australia over 5 years ago, and we’ve been prosecuting our strategy here in Australia since then. We have since progressed, and our geographies are under management, so we’ve now been operating in the UK for around 18 months, and more recently in the USA.”

The company sees that it has a role to play in the global automation of the utility bills niche, using its propriety tech to help businesses across the world manage their bill stream more effectively and with deeper and richer data than they have before.

Though keen to grow organically, Bill Identity also recognises the strength of growing through acquisition. This was evidenced in 2020, when it acquired a UK-based management software business call Optima Energy Management.

“What we saw in Optima was a proprietary software platform, the owner had been managing that business for 30 years, built a good reputation up. His software purely managed validation of bills, and it was very good at doing its job, but it didn’t do the remainder of what we do: the collection of bills utilising robotic workers.”

The company recognised Optima’s existing software as something it could replace and upgrade, as well as benefitting from Optima’s expertise and market credibility, which bought with it a number of long-serving, important clients.

“For us, it was an acquisition that gave us scale and market share in a market that we certainly want to grow into and had already started that process. It was an opportunistic acquisition; it had a great database of clients; it was well-considered software; and simply we want to take those clients to the next level in terms of RPA and our platform.”

bill-identity-asx-bid-md-managing-director-guy-maine-in-executive-america
Founded in 2012 and listed on the ASX (ASX:BID), Bill Identity operates across Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe

When it comes to a tree of development that will further the technologies that Bill Identity deals with, RPA is the beginning of a journey that will move through machine learning on a pathway towards the ultimate goal of Artificial Intelligence.

“You have desktop RPA – which is utilising robotic workers to do simple tasks. Our RPA is more cognitive. We can have robotic workers that determine whether a bill is accurate or not without our intervention. With machine learning you go to the next step. There is an allowance in the code of robotic workers that they can start to see patterns in data.”

As the company signs more and more clients, machine learning would allow it to gain an understanding and analysis of trends, with robotic workers being able to interact with the data in more complex ways.

“You might have one particular main street, where a number of our clients operate from, and our robotic workers will be able to pick up where one particular side is utilising more energy than another in a similar environment. That’s where machine learning can start to help, and it can be utilised to be a benefit to individual clients.”

Progressing down the pathway through machine learning will help the company do more analytics around consumption, goals and net zero targeting, amongst other things, purely based on the robotic workers’ findings.

“We’re a relatively young company,” Mr Maine concludes, “with proprietary Australian technology. We are unique in the world in terms of utilising a robotic platform in the cloud for utility bills. We now operate in over 40 countries. We are expanding globally. Our customer base spend is in excess of $5.8bn in utility spend per annum. We’re very keen on propagating our story in the US specifically this year, and investing behind that opportunity.”

With its Robotic Process Automation technology offering global businesses a service unlike any other in the world, and a pathway towards even greater technologies, Bill Identity (ASX:BID) is forging a path through the fourth industrial revolution. Find out more about Bill Identity by visiting billidentity.com.

Epscan Industries: Four decades of exceptional service

Featured image - Epscan industries CEO Shane Stirling in Executive America

British Columbia-based oil and energy provider Epscan Industries is a family company with a unique structure that allows it to offer expertise and resources like a major industrial contactor, while maintaining a small business, personal level of service.

Epscan’s Director of Business Development and Co-Owner Shane Stirling holds Canadian Red Seal certification in four trades, is active in the development of skilled trades training locally, provincially and federally, and is a previous Director of the Industry Training Authority in British Columbia. Mr Stirling lives in Fort St. John, BC, with his wife and son and is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for downhill skiing, personal growth, and developing people and businesses. Here Mr Stirling discusses the range of services offered by the company, the oil and energy industry’s need to train new skilled tradespeople, and Epscan’s long term plans for growth and development.

Oil & Energy

“Epscan is a contract service provider,” Mr Stirling says. “We provide a range of Electrical & Instrumentation [E&I] services, various pumps and material supply from of our large in-house inventory; and we’ve been doing it for over 40 years.”

The company services a number of industries, including upstream and midstream natural gas production, municipality services, commercial construction, potable and waste water, as well as offering pump-related services such as chemical injection solutions.

“In E&I, we’re a service provider. We do new construction of greenfield projects and any additional brownfield expansions clients want to do. For the oil and gas sector that’s building well sites and adding equipment into existing compressor and processing stations; from the municipality side, it’s building and maintaining water plants and municipal facilities.”

The company also has a communications division, which provides both mobile & stationary radio communication and fiber optic services. We also offer programming of Programmable Logic Controllers and other Automation devices.

“It’s a second-generation family business,” Mr Stirling explains. “My father started it in 1978 and I worked as a kid after school cleaning trucks, cleaning the shop, sweeping the floors – after I graduated High School I moved into the Trades Training program and a couple of decades later, here I am, running the company alongside my brother, Dustin.”

Epscan Industries - in Executive America
The biggest lesson the company has learned in recent times is the importance of finding the appropriate partners to implement significant changes in the company

Being a family-owned business, Epscan Industries is committed to quality and customer service. The service it offers customers is considered one of the company’s key differentiating qualities, setting it apart from its competitors.

“If someone calls us and they need us to go and pick up a part for them on a Sunday, we’re going to go and deal with that, and make sure that client is taken care of. Whereas if you’re part of a larger organization, you don’t quite have that personal level of care.”

Additionally, the company strongly promotes the Trades Training programs, both provincially and federally, to make sure that the labor pool of skilled trade is available to them for the future.

“The fact is that we have an aging population in skilled trades. The baby boomers have been slowly moving into retirement, but as different events happen within the world, they’ve been extending their retirement dates. All that does is compound the issue, and later on we are going to have a massive amount of people leaving the workforce.”

Epscan Industries - in Executive America
Epscan Industries is set to keep growing across Western Canada

This means there are gaps in the industry that need to be filled with skilled, trained individuals. Looking at current demographics, however, there just aren’t the numbers in Canada to replace those that have left.

“Even if all of the young people that are coming out of High School moved into the Trades Training programs, we don’t have enough to backfill that space and to supply the growth. So somehow, we need to develop solutions for this labor shortage.”

With the energy industry in western Canada getting busier– in the form of natural gas as a green energy solution, and particularly with the growth of alternative energies such as solar and wind – those new people will have to be found in order to push the country forward.

“We’re currently branching out,” Mr Stirling says of the company’s growth plans. “We’ve just opened a brand new branch in Grand Prairie Alberta, so we’re interested in Alberta and their markets there.”

Epscan Industries - in Executive America
“We provide a range of Electrical & Instrumentation [E&I] services, various pumps and material supply from of our large in-house inventory; and we’ve been doing it for over 40 years.”

The company is also watching some longer term oil pipeline projects, such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from Alberta to the coast of BC, which should have a significant effect on oil production in the region.

“We are also watching what’s happening on the coast of British Columbia, with the building of the LNG Canada terminal, which is going to drive growth. It’s looking like we’re going to see an upswing in the energy industry in general, and we’ll grow with that swing.”

The biggest lesson the company has learned in recent times is the importance of finding the appropriate partners to implement significant changes in the company. This was made apparent during the recent decision to upgrade internal software independently, which proved a difficult process without an appropriate partnership. 

“For anyone out there that’s looking at bringing anything new or switching anything in their company, they should really look at finding an implementation partner that they can work with to make sure that they’re getting what they want, and that when they do the transition, the connections and training are made properly.”

With a wide range of services and a commitment to a personal level of customer service, Epscan Industries is set to keep growing across Western Canada. Find out more about Epscan Industries by visiting www.epscan.com.

Eva’s Original Chimneys: Bringing delicious Hungarian pastries to Canada

Featured image - Eva's Original Chimneys CEO Kristin Butler_in the Executive America

Eva’s Original Chimneys have 3 locations in the Greater Toronto area, two food trucks and location at the CNE and Toronto christmas market. Specializes in a freshly-baked Hungarian pastry known as Kürtőskalács, or Chimney Cakes, using a vegan base dough made daily from scratch with seven all-natural and mostly organic ingredients.

CEO and co-founder Kristin Butler started her career in social work, before becoming a talent manager in the TV and Film industry. The concept for Eva’s Original Chimneys originated in 2014, when Mrs Butler sold her home and everything she owned to spend a year travelling the world with her husband. Here she discusses falling in love with Chimney Cakes during a visit to Budapest, the key lessons she has learned from five years of entrepreneurship, and Eva’s plans to expand across the world by becoming a franchisor.

Love at first bite

“It was back in 2015,” Mrs Butler says, “when my husband and I were on our yearlong backpacking trip around the world. We were coming to an end and we were visiting his family in Hungary, and they took us to a street market in Budapest, and we tried these Chimney Cakes, which are called Kürtőskalács, and honestly it was love at first bite.”

After trying food from around the world for the previous eleven months, nothing captured the couple’s heart in the way the Chimney Cakes did, and it became a daily ritual for them to enjoy the treat before they returned home.

“As we were on the train ride to our next country, we couldn’t stop thinking about them. We thought, we’re returning back home in April, maybe we’ll just look at seeing if we can learn how to make these Chimney Cakes and sell them back home, and just do that for fun in the summertime before we go back to real world living in the fall.”

The couple decided to fly to Slovenia to train at a Chimney Cake specialist centre for instructions on how to make the treat. After finding out how to do so, the remaining month of their trip was spent working out how to turn that knowledge into a business.

“We flew to Slovenia, we learned how to make them, we purchased the equipment, shipped it home, came home in April of 2015 and purchased a food truck the next day, sat down with a lawyer and incorporated our company, and within eight weeks we were operating at our first festival.”

Both Mr and Mrs Butler come from entrepreneurial families, so it is perhaps little surprise that the drive to start their own business was so strong and that they followed through with it so successfully.

“My mom owns her own business; my sister runs and owns her own business; Justin’s parents have owned and operated their own catering and banquet hall for 30 years; and Justin actually owned his own construction company prior to us travelling, so he was already an entrepreneur, always has been since he left High School.”

The co-founders of Eva’s recognized quickly that their product was an extremely unique one, with nothing like it being sold in Canada. It’s cylindrical shape and hollow middle gives it a striking look that immediately draws attention.

Eva's Original Chimneys - in Executive America
Both Mr and Mrs Butler come from entrepreneurial families, ... the drive to start their own business was so strong and that they followed through with it so successfully

“It’s freshly baked, it’s a pastry, so when it comes off the grill you take the wooden dowel out that the dough was wrapped around, and it kind of steams and smokes out of the top, hence the name ‘chimney’. When we were first looking at it we were mesmerized by the actual baking process and how it looks – there is nothing like this in Canada.”

In 2016, as the business was growing across Canada, Eva’s decided to adapt its offering and start making the cakes into a conical shape, filling them with chocolate, soft serve ice cream and lots of toppings.

“That’s really what we’re known for now, the Chimney Cone,” Mrs Butler says. “People just kind of went crazy for that, because it’s like a donut cone, like ice cream inside of a donut. The extra appeal is, it’s unique and it’s beautiful and its Instagram-able, but the taste is actually amazing.”

The other unique element to the product is the collection of ingredients used. Being extremely passionate about health, Mrs Butler was adamant that the product be as healthy as it could be while still being a sweet, delicious treat.

“We use organic cane sugar and unbleached flour, no chemicals or any artificial ingredients. All of our sauces are house made, there are absolutely no syrups, no fake sugars. It’s baked and not deep fried, so you can have this dessert that you can feel good about, that goes into your body and doesn’t make you feel sick after.”

Having a strong connection to the vegan community, Mrs Butler wanted to make sure that as much of the product was vegan as possible, including the soft serve ice cream, the dough recipe – which uses sunflower oil instead of butter and no milk or eggs – and a number of the sauces and toppings.

“For the vegan community, even people who are just lactose intolerant – which is a large portion of the ice cream lovers out there – they can have this beautiful, decadent dessert that they can actually eat. So that’s huge for our Torontonians. I would imagine if other people in Canada had the chance to have it they would appreciate that too.”

Franchise opportunities

Since its inception in 2015, Eva’s has continued to receive regular requests to become a franchisor, so much so that it has begun to lay out a plan for moving forward in terms of franchising and expansion.

Eva's Original Chimneys - in Executive America
Eva’s Original Chimneys is all set to bring its delicious Hungarian pastry to the world

“When we launched those Chimney Cones, it became super popular across the internet, with millions and millions of views of these videos that were made by BlogTO and Insider. I think that had this widespread reach across the globe, and then all of sudden we started having all these franchise requests coming in, all the way from Saudi Arabia to Florida to South Africa.”

Despite there being a desire to see their product eaten around the world, the co-founders of Eva’s have been cautious in starting a franchise journey, wanting to make sure that the right steps are being taken to make the process worthwhile and authentic.

“If there’s somebody that’s going to franchise our business, and become a franchisee, for me more than anything it’s important that they’re going to succeed. So we’ve really taken our time to build the business, understand our business, know where it works well, know what environment, what location is good, what neighbourhood.”

The company is already operating in a number of different settings and locations, with the original food truck idea working well, as well as being inside malls, street front locations and kiosks, and there is still more to learn about what is the best model for the business.

“[I want to] ensure that when this person is coming to become a franchisee, I’m handing them over something that I trust that they’re going to be able to do well with, and actually it’s going to provide value for their life.”

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has given the company even more time to work out the best way to expand into a franchising model, putting Eva’s in a place where it’s almost ready to start a proper expansion drive.

“We’ve been able to survive [the pandemic],” Mrs Butler says, “which is probably one of the worst things that most businesses have had to try to survive. But we’ve been able to do that and there is only signs of growth, so now we’re feeling a lot more confident about what we’re putting together for these franchisees.”

The best possible experience

Entrepreneurs are used to wearing many different hats in the day-to-day running of a business or businesses, and this teaches a number of important lessons about to how to make a company successful. For Mrs Butler, it means that there are no jobs she doesn’t do.

Eva's Original Chimneys - in Executive America
The key to this is knowing that there are going to be problems every day.... it is about accepting them and seeing them as opportunities to learn more about the business

“There’s nothing that’s above me or below me, in the sense that I will absolutely clean the floors and empty the garbage, and I will also do the payroll and I will also solve a technology issue, and I will also look for marketing ideas. It’s understanding that my responsibility is to be able to operate in every role at any time that’s needed.”

No matter which area of the business she is working in at any one time, Mrs Butler considers all jobs to be as important as each other, each component having a place in the wider running of the business.

“I would say stress management is key, in terms of lessons that I’ve learned running the business. When I started to understand that a big part of my role is to solve problems, or at least look for a solution, that actually helped so much, because then when a problem occurs it’s like – this is what we do, let’s figure it out. I don’t have that stressful feeling behind it.”

The key to this is knowing that there are going to be problems every day – that’s business. Instead of looking at these problems as things that shouldn’t be happening, it is about accepting them and seeing them as opportunities to learn more about the business.

“One thing that I share with my team and that I think is really important is that we don’t just serve ice cream. We have this opportunity to connect with people when they come into our store, and really provide them an experience for those few minutes that can positively impact their life.”

The focus in most of Eva’s team meetings is on the customer and what might be going on in their life that day, on making sure that they are treated well and given the best experience possible when they enter the store.

“That’s really all I care about,” Mrs Butler concludes. “Honestly and truly, that is what I care about. I want them to leave the store feeling a little bit better than they did when they walked in. Every single person who walks in, we have the chance to do that with. It’s not about the ice cream.”

With a unique product in the Canadian market and a commitment to organic ingredients and exceptional customer service, Eva’s Original Chimneys is all set to bring its delicious Hungarian pastry to the world. Find out more about Eva’s Original Chimneys by visiting www.originalchimneys.com

Vermont: A history

Tucked away in the center of New England between New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York and Quebec, tiny Vermont, nicknamed the Green Mountain State, is the second least populated, and the sixth smallest by area of the fifty states that make up the United States, with a rich and varied history stretching back to the late Pleistocene period.

Native history

Vermont’s Native history started 12,900 years ago, when people called the Paleo-Indians first moved onto the land. Since these earliest occupations, Native communities have continually lived in Vermont. Native knowledge, experience, and traditions have deeply influenced many aspects of the state’s rich history.

Researchers estimate that the native population of New England numbered more than 90,000 before European settlers reached the land in the sixteenth century, among which were around 10,000 Abenaki living in what is today known as Vermont and New Hampshire.

Those Abenaki included an estimated 4,200 living in the Champlain Valley, a region around Lake Champlain in Vermont and New York, extending north slightly into Quebec,
and another 3,800 in the upper Connecticut River Valley, which stretches the entire length of New England.

Between 1534 and 1609, the Iroquois Mohawks drove many of the smaller native tribes out of the Champlain Valley region, later using the area as a hunting ground and warring with the remaining Abenaki.

Arrival of the French and British

The Lake Champlain area was named in the mid-17th century, when French explorer Samuel de Champlain found the region. De Champlain also gave the state its name, which originates from the French for Green Mountain (Verd Mont). It wasn’t until over a century later that the area became more formally known as Vermont.

By that time, in the mid-18th century, the state had become a British settlement, after victory in the French and Indian war, which pitted the colonies of British America against those of New France, with each side supported by Native American allies and military units from the parent country.

In 1764, King George III established the boundary between New Hampshire and New York along the west bank of the Connecticut River. This meant that Albany County, New York, as it was then known, gained the land presently known as Vermont. This line became the modern boundary between New Hampshire and Vermont.

Thirteen years later, representatives of the New Hampshire Grants declared their land an independent republic, the Vermont Republic. For the first six months of the republic’s existence, the state was called New Connecticut. Later that year, the Constitution of Vermont was drawn up, the first in North America to provide for the abolition of slavery.

The Wars

During this period, the American rebels were fighting the American Revolutionary War against the British, with the state of Vermont playing a pivotal role in the fighting. Two of the key battles recognized as the turning point in the war, at Bennington and Saratoga, were fought in Vermont.

These battles represented the first major defeat of a British army, convincing the French that the American rebels were worthy of military aid. They were so important in fact, that August 16th, the anniversary of the battle, has since become known as Bennington Battle Day, and is a legal holiday in Vermont.

In 1791, Vermont joined the federal union as the fourteenth state, becoming the first to enter after the original thirteen colonies. In the early decades of the 19th century, there was an influx of French-Canadian immigration, boosting an already large population in Burlington.

When the American Civil War began in 1861, Vermont continued the military tradition it had established during the Revolutionary War by contributing a significant portion of its eligible men to the war effort. More than 28,100 Vermonters served in Vermont volunteer units, with a total of 1,832 killed or mortally wounded in battle.

Vermont today

During the two decades following the end of the Civil War in 1865, like much of the United States Vermont endured a period of instability, experiencing both economic expansion and contraction, and dramatic social change. Over the next century, the state would develop a reputation for embracing broadly left-wing politics.

Vermont has led the way in many areas of modern life. In 1940, the first monthly Social Security benefit check for the amount of $22.54 was issued to a Vermont resident. In 1978, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first Ben & Jerry’s Homemade ice cream shop in a refurbished gas station in Burlington.

After narrowly supporting Republican George H. W. Bush in 1988, four years later Vermont voted Democratic for the first time since 1964, helping Bill Clinton to the Presidency. Vermont has voted Democratic in every subsequent presidential election, and since 2004 has been one of the party’s most loyal states.

In 2000, Vermont became the first state to introduce civil unions, and in 2009 was the first to legalize same-sex marriage. In 2018, Vermont became the first of the United States to legalize cannabis for recreational use by legislative action, and the ninth state in the United States to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

Today, Vermont is still known for being politically-engaged, but is also recognized for its breathtakingly picturesque landscapes and endless scenic places to explore, exceptional food, safe cities, great schools, and down-to-earth residents.

Vermont: Business and economic development

As the second-least populated U.S. state, with the second-smallest GDP, in terms of business and economic development Vermont will always be David pushing to compete with bigger and more popular Goliaths. For a small state with a big personality, however, Vermont continues to punch above its weight in a number of key areas.

In 2020, Vermont became one of the few states in the nation to undertake a comprehensive economic development strategy (CEDS), which was completed with invaluable assistance and input from stakeholders around the state, and with guidance and funding from the U.S. Economic Development Authority.

The Vermont 2020 CEDS identifies twelve target business sectors with a strong likelihood of growing the state economy and enhancing the quality of life for its residents, suggesting projects and initiatives that can help each action area and sector grow, as well as anticipating future events and identifying tactics to help build resilience.

The Green Mountain State is already holding its own in economic development. Despite having a population below 650k, World Population Review rates Vermont in a first place tie with South Carolina and Utah for highest rate of employment (97.7%). The unemployment numbers in the state rank at #5, making up just 2.9% as of April 2021.

A number of business owners in the state argue that the rate of unemployment is actually too low, as they are lacking qualified skilled workers for their companies, specifically in the manufacturing industry. This has forced employers to cut back on hours and production, unable to find the help they require.

Birthplace of American manufacturing

As the birthplace of manufacturing in the United States, Vermont boasts a highly-skilled labor pool known for a strong work ethic and attention to craftsmanship. The state nurtures that workforce with a variety of specialized training programs aimed at employers.

Key to this approach is the Vermont Training Program (VTP), which partners with employers and training providers to train Vermont’s employees for the jobs of tomorrow, providing performance-based workforce grants for pre-employment training, and training for both new hires and incumbent workers.

Ranked in the top 20 states in the nation for education, businesses have continual access to new young talent from the 40,000 students spread across Vermont’s 25 highly-regarded colleges and universities, including the University of Vermont in Burlington, and renowned liberal arts school Middlebury College.

From famous ice cream making duo Ben & Jerry to all weather performance socks manufacturer Darn Tough, Vermont has a reputation for inspiring innovative products that deliver exceptional quality. These ingenious businesses foster a happy and productive workforce, making Vermont a melting pot of entrepreneurial talent.

Entrepreneurship

In 2012, Vermont was ranked 8th in the U.S. in the Index of Entrepreneurial Activity by the Kaufman Foundation, and is a hotbed of world-class R&D, sitting in first place nationally in patents filed per capita. This innovation can be seen in action at Burton Snowboards’ 3-D Rapid Prototyping facility.

Likewise, Keurig Green Mountain’s Beverage System R&D Campus in Waterbury is an impressive facility. Another home-grown Vermont product, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters made founder Robert Stiller a billionaire after becoming popular nationally when it was used in pods for Keurig coffee-makers.

Much of the state’s entrepreneurship and innovation feeds into its commitment to helping create a sustainable future both for Vermont and for the nation. Clean energy remains the biggest job creator across the U.S. energy sector, employing nearly three times as many workers as work in fossil fuel extraction and generation.

A continued focus on sustainability has seen Vermont rank consistently as the top state for clean energy jobs per capita, with more than 5% of all jobs employed by clean energy businesses, including the most solar jobs per capita since 2012.

The undisputed jewel in Vermont’s crown in terms of production is its renowned Grade A maple syrup. Vermont leads the nation in maple syrup production, with its almost 2 million gallons a year accounting for nearly half of the total U.S. syrup crop.

Agriculture

In 2000, around 3% of Vermont’s working population were involved in agriculture, which contributed 2.2% to the state’s domestic product. The primary source of agricultural income is dairy farming, which was preserved by state government legislation opposing housing development plans on relatively inexpensive land in the second half of the 20th century.

Around 900 farms producing more than $470m worth of milk each year make up roughly two-thirds of all the state’s agricultural produce. It’s little surprise then that Vermont’s most famous export is ice cream. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream was founded in Burlington in 1978, and subsequently sold to Unilever for $326 million in 2000.

In 2019, two-thirds of all milk in New England was produced by Vermont dairies, with a significant portion of that number being shipped into the Boston market, prompting the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to certify that Vermont farms meet Massachusetts sanitary standards.

In 2009, the state boasted 543 organic farms, with 20% of its dairy farms and 23% of its vegetable farms included in that number. By 2016, Vermont’s 134,000 certified organic acres accounted for 11% of its total 1.25 million farm acres.

A growing part of Vermont’s economy is the manufacture and sale of artisan foods and novelty items, trading in part upon the Vermont brand, which the state manages and defends. These specialty exports include Cabot Cheese, the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, Vermont Butter and Cheese Company, as well as several microbreweries and ginseng growers.

Like the other 49 states in the United States, business owners in Vermont can take advantage
of the highly competitive Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, which encourage domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research or R&D with the potential for commercialization.

In addition to national funding, the state of Vermont offers local businesses an economic incentive for business recruitment, growth, and expansion. The Vermont Employment Growth Initiative (VEGI) provides a cash payment to businesses that have been authorized to earn the incentive and go on to meet performance requirements.

Strategic advantage

Boasting a unique combination of high economic growth, an engaged community and a strong education system, Vermont is an ideal place for international companies to do business. Located in the heart of New England, the state offers a strategic advantage to companies doing business with Montreal, Boston, and New York City.

Canada, the United Kingdom, and France are just a few of the countries investing in Vermont. Foreign associates account for over 12,000 jobs in the state, with this number continuing to grow as more companies discover why Vermont is the state to invest in.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses and economies have had a particularly tough year, and Vermont is no exception. However, as of June 14th 2021, there are no longer any restrictions or requirements for businesses to follow. Vermont’s high vaccination rates mean the vast majority are protected from the virus and keep it from spreading to others.

This means that once again, as it has always been, Vermont is a great place to grow a business. Whether it is a business relocating from another state or wishing to build its beginnings in Vermont, there is a plethora of available market opportunities.

The Vermont Department of Economic Development (DED) is staffed with professionals ready and willing to assist new and expanding companies, working in conjunction with Regional Development Corporations (RDCs) and other strategic partners that together can cater for all business relocation and expansion needs.

Part of the DED’s role is to counsel businesses about the various resources that are available to facilitate employee training, workforce, market expansion, facilities growth, and relocation, as well as coordinating various available programs while collecting commentary from business leaders and reporting it to state leadership.

In addition to being consistently rated among the top three states in the nation for quality of life, health, safety, and education, more than anything, Vermont cultivates innovation. From major corporate headquarters to small companies with a global reach, Vermont’s economy is diverse, full of innovation and propelled by a world-class workforce.