Five Ws with the TIAs Finalists: Person of the Year

Catherine Dahl, Jack Newton, Josh Nilson and Ryan Peterson at the 2020 Technology Impact Awards Finalist Announcement on April 28th, 2020.

In the lead-up to the 2020 Technology Impact Awards, BC Tech is profiling all 38 finalists in 11 award categories. Today, we look at four acknowledged leaders who have demonstrated business success in multiple settings, are mentors and role models to others, and who actively engage with the community to build a stronger future for tech in B.C. The “Person of the Year” award is presented in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC).

Catherine Dahl

Who: When told of her TIAs nomination over Slack, the CEO of Beanworks Solutions responded with a resounding “Wow!” and then “went straight into competitive mode by asking her colleague, ‘Who am I up against?’” 

Catherine is also a board member and treasurer for the ACETECH BC training and peer mentoring non-profit, and a member of her local Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia chapter.

What: The company Catherine leads, Beanworks, delivers a cloud-based, accounts payable automation solution that helps organizations streamline their invoice-to-payment strategies by eliminating paperwork and reducing invoice processing costs. A finalist for “Company of the Year – Growth Success” at the 2019 TIAs, Beanworks recently landed $10.1-million in funding and was named ranked as the 12th fastest-growing company in B.C. by BIV magazine in 2017.

“I boldly say that we’re here to stay,” Catherine says. “I call our company the Little Engine That Could. We’ve gone from ‘we think we can we think we can’ to ‘we know we can we know we can.’”

When: Catherine has come a long way from the Olive Garden. After completing a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Toronto’s Ryerson University, she worked in management for the restaurant chain, specializing in streamlining and upgrading food cost and quality control, before relocating to Vancouver in 1996.

Catherine’s passion for business management process improvement only grew from there. She obtained my Certified Management Accounting designation in 2003 and went on to hold a string of management positions before co-founding Beanworks in 2012. Eight years later, “watching my company go through COVID has made me very proud because of the way my team has responded by helping each other out,” she says. “People who needed office equipment at home, one of our managers just decided to deliver it in her pickup truck.”

Where: B.C.’s tech community is “absolutely more vibrant now than it’s ever been,” Catherine says. “There’s still not enough labour that has experience with growth companies like us, but it’s definitely getting better. We have been able to hire locally for our product team, and we found some great talent.”

Why: Catherine has been instrumental in bringing a good-spirited, lighthearted tone to her goal of designing and delivering disruptive SaaS solutions to the world of finance. “We try to have a fun online persona in order to make a boring topic interesting,” she explains. “Our culture of creativity and our fun user interface is what really stands out in our market space.”

Jack Newton

Who: As Co-Founder and CEO of Clio, Jack was instrumental in helping the provider of cloud-based legal technology raise $250 million (U.S.) in funding from TCV and JMI Equity, the largest growth equity investment in Canadian history, and one of the largest ever in legal technology. This historic investment has drawn the investment community’s attention to both BC’s tech sector and the legaltech space.  

“I am most proud of the way our culture has evolved, changed, and thrived over the course of the last 12 years,” Jack says. “Ultimately, that is what has enabled us to achieve so many great things, and to set us up to realize our long-term mission of fundamentally transforming the practice of law, for good.”

What: Clio’s suite of cloud-based solutions includes legal practice management, client intake and legal CRM software. Its 150,000 customers span 100 countries, and have been approved by more than 65 bar associations and law societies globally. Clio has been recognized as one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies, a Deloitte Fast 50 and Fast 500 company. No wonder it claimed the “Company of the Year – Anchor Success” award at the 2019 TIAs.

When: Jack began his career with a snow-shoveling business and a foray into the life sciences industry. The last two years of his tech career have been especially illustrious, with his undertaking of Clio’s first acquisition, transformation of Clio into a multi-product company, and publication of a bestselling book, The Client-Centered Law Firm. In March of this year, as the pandemic escalated, Clio launched a COVID-19 Legal Relief Initiative and committed $1 million to help law firms navigate periods of uncertainty. While much of what lies ahead is uncharted territory, this remains clear: Clio is committed to champion a swift and massive transformation of the legal industry.

Where: “If you look at all the great stuff that’s happening in Vancouver, it doesn’t get recognized and it doesn’t get talked about as much as it should be,” Jack says. “I think part of that is because we’ve got a bunch of very humble and hardworking founders, companies and employees that are building incredible stuff.” 

Why: “Over three-quarters of legal problems don’t receive legal assistance, yet lawyers are struggling to find new clients — it’s clear that something in the system is broken,” Jack says. That’s where Clio comes in. “We are committed to building the essential operating system for lawyers, one that focuses relentlessly on unlocking new efficiencies and entry points to legal services. This will allow legal professionals to easily deliver exceptional client experiences, increase their productivity, grow their firms, and make legal services more accessible.” 

Josh Nilson

Who: The fact that East Side Games was a “Tech Culture of the Year” finalist in both 2018 and 2019 speaks volumes about the company’s CEO and co-founder. For one thing, Josh has grown East Side Games (ESG) from 14 to 125-plus team members over the last nine years while maintaining the unique culture that makes the proudly independent game studio “the best place to work and play.” For another, Josh says he is “very proud that we’re a B.C.-bootstrapped and profitable studio. I think that’s a huge accomplishment. Our talented, highly-motivated team believes in constantly improving; we are not afraid to take ownership and meet challenges head-on in order to reach our goals.”

What: Josh says his successes have been defined by hiring the right people, establishing pipelines and streamlining team structure. “Our games fund all our new projects, and everyone who works here has a direct impact on the day-to-day business,” he adds.

The results of this approach speak for themselves. In 2017, ESG launched Trailer Park Boys: Greasy Money, which was a top 100 game in over 100 countries with great player reviews and excellent fan engagement. It’s Always Sunny: The Gang Goes Mobile launched in 2019 and is still growing and delighting its amazing fanbase. 2020 started with great momentum with the early access launch of Dragon Up: Idle Adventure, which was a collaboration between ESG and the brand new Nightgarden Studio. Most recently, East Side Games launched The Goldbergs: Back to the 80s! 

When: Recognition and awards have followed suit. ESG made the Deloitte Technology Top 500 for the fastest-growing startups in North America in 2017, and the Deloitte Technology Top 50 in Canada in 2018. It was also recognized in the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business as one of Canada’s Top Growing Companies of 2019, and was a finalist at the Pocket Gamer Mobile Games Awards 2020 for Best Developer. ESG was also just announced as the winner in the first ever BC Business “Business of Good Awards” in the Indigenous Prosperity category.

Where: Growing up near Prince George, Josh is more than familiar with the potential for tech to broaden career horizons. “The perception there was that all you can do is work in forestry, the railroad, or natural resources. Tech is helping to provide more viable career options, which we need more of not just in Vancouver and Victoria, but also in northern B.C., interior B.C., and the Island. We could have picked anywhere in the world to open a second studio, and we chose Nanaimo. We believe in BC.”

Why: “It’s very important to have grassroots developers with local owners that are here to provide jobs and want to grow up in B.C.,” Josh says. “B.C. is the second-biggest tech cluster in Canada and one of the biggest in the world. We’re known around the world as a place that makes for mobile games. I think we’re the best in Canada and a Top 5 place to make gains out of venture capital. And that starts with local ownership.”

Ryan Peterson

Who: Now the Vice-President of solutions for Unity Technologies following its recent acquisition of Finger Food Advanced Technology Group, the latter’s co-founder and former CEO says being a “Person of the Year” finalist “is not a reflection of myself.” Rather, “it is a reflection of the people I work with and surround myself with, and of the mentors, parents and all the other people who have helped me along the way.”

What: Based in the Tri-Cities area of B.C., Finger Food builds custom technology solutions for clients in industries such as gaming, retail, oil and gas, education, healthcare and mining. Because it is best known for developing enterprise-focused applications for augmented reality headsets, Finger Food’s engineering expertise and technology will help Unity shape its real-time 3D platform, Ryan explains.

When: Founded in 2009, Finger Food saw tremendous growth under Ryan’s leadership, transforming from a small basement startup to a multi-million dollar company with 200+ employees, and with clients and partners including Enbridge, Lululemon, Microsoft, and Softbank. “We were acquired for the right reasons,” Ryan says. “We are really merging with a company that shares our values and is creating more jobs in B.C. and is really making Canada its home.”

Where: “Seeing shops and restaurants spring up around our Port Coquitlam headquarters has been incredible,” Ryan says. “Then building a studio in Calgary, and being a beacon of hope in tough economic times, is something that fills me with pride.”

Why: “I’m proud to have built an inclusive company based upon respect, empathy and an understanding that we have a role to help make the world a better place,” Ryan says. “Our culture is a positive influence on how our team members carry themselves and interact with each other day in and day out.”