(Vancouver Sun) Centre4Growth’s CEOs-in-Residence help tech companies avoid common mistakes

Program matches entrepreneurs with mentors who have led successful start-ups

As published on VancouverSun.com

Katryn Harris jokes that her company is the eHarmony of holistic health.

While she laughs as she says it, she is serious about her company’s mission: helping people who are in pain find holistic practitioners to help them.

It’s a field of burgeoning demand as aging baby boomers and even succeeding generations fall victim to chronic pain that can come from anything from accidents to arthritis to simply the risk inherent in hunching over a computer day in and day out.

The idea, VitalityLink.com, grew out of a project at Open Box Inc., a software development company Harris co-founded that develops applications for various purposes including software for yoga studios.

“We are looking to transform how people in pain find alternative wellness and healing practitioners,” said Harris. “Vitality Link started as a project and it has become our focus.”

Central to developing that focus was Harris’ participation in the British Columbia Technology Industry Association’s Centre4Growth’s CEO-in-Resident program. It supports tech entrepreneurs by matching them with mentors who have successfully navigated the problems that can kill even the most inspired start-up.

Harris was looking to raise investment money when she made a pitch to be accepted into the CEO-in-Residence program.

“They gave me amazing feedback,” she said. “They asked lots of questions, they pinpointed issues and they gave advice.”

Harris was accepted into the program and was matched up with CEO-in-Residence Sandra Wear, who was involved in the start-up and development of the DocSpace Company, which sold for $568 million. Wear is currently a director of Hummingbird Hydrogen.

“One of the huge things is having people at the Centre4Growth who see the big picture for business and who have done stuff across North America and globally,” said Harris. “As entrepreneurs, we have so many ideas we want to go after. The folks there are amazing at asking the right questions and keeping us focused.

“There is the constant reminder if you want to get where you want to go you’ve got to stay laser-focused.”

Through her participation with the Centre4Growth, Harris learned of a Canadian technology accelerator program in the Silicon Valley, which has seen her dividing between here and California, developing Vitality Link and making connections in the investment community there. Harris said she has been through a number of programs that, like the Centre4Growth’s mentorship program, don’t require participants to pay.

“The quality has been mixed,” she said. “But at the Centre4Growth the quality is amazing, they have really valuable advisers.

“To get companies to grow you need access to that kind of expertise and to those connections. I think it is a phenomenal program for companies here in B.C.

“It really is oriented to companies that want to grow.”

It was just that sort of help that Babak Sardary, co-founder and CEO of Trusterra Technologies, a mobile application developer, needed.

“We thought the timing was right,” said Sardary.

However, communicating the idea wasn’t easy.

The CEO-in-Residence program has helped the company translate ideas into reality.

“We felt we could trust their advice because these are people who have been there, done that. They have done this themselves so they get it,” said Sardary.

Sardary said the Centre4Growth helped his company flesh out its initial concept.

“Our mentor was able to help us with the negotiations we had to do,” Sardary said of his first contracts with customers. “When you’re starting to deal with a Fortune 500 company and you’re a tiny little thing in Vancouver, they can crush you.”

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