At the BC Cham­ber of Com­merce's first #Tradetalks fo­rum, three young en­trepreneurs will pitch their ex­port plans. Still in their teens, th­ese go-get­ters are al­ready vet­er­ans of YELL, a crash course in prov­ing busi­ness ideas

BC Business Magazine - - Front Page - >> by NICK ROCK EL >> por­trait by POOYA NABEI

Ge­orgiy Sekre­taryuk works in the jew­elry busi­ness, but not in the way you might think. The 18-year- old Co­quit­lam res­i­dent, who speaks Rus­sian and Man­darin in ad­di­tion to English and his na­tive Ukrainian, also has Asian mar­kets in his sights.

Sekre­taryuk is co­founder of Cer­ing, a wear­able-tech­nol­ogy startup that seeks to make women's lives safer by let­ting them dis­creetly sig­nal for help. At the Bcbusi­ness of­fices, he shows off the first ver­sion of his com­pany's prod­uct: a small white gem with a touch­screen on top. In­side are a bat­tery, a Blue­tooth chip, an LED light and an ac­celerom­e­ter.

Cer­ing will prob­a­bly sell its of­fer­ing as a bracelet and a pen­dant, says the self- as­sured Sekre­taryuk, the com­pany's chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer, who re­cently fin­ished his first year of com­puter science and math­e­mat­ics at SFU. “If you're a woman walk­ing down the street and you feel in dan­ger, you can press the but­ton three times,” he says. “Through an app in your phone, it will send your GPS lo­ca­tion and an emer­gency call for help to the lo­cal author­i­ties and your key emer­gency con­tacts.”

The gad­get— con­ceived by Vic­to­ria Teo, who has since left Cer­ing—is aimed at fe­male univer­sity stu­dents on cam­pus, where they face a rel­a­tively high risk of sex­ual as­sault. Why jew­ellery? Un­like, say, a key­chain tag, it's an at­trac­tive item that peo­ple wear pas­sively, ex­plains Sekre­taryuk, who ex­pects Cer­ing's bling to re­tail for be­tween US$100 and US$149. “You want to wear it ev­ery day but not have to call for help,” he says. “But in the worst-case scenario, if you do, it's right there on you.”

On June 29 at the Van­cou­ver Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, Sekre­taryuk will be one of three teenage con­tes­tants in the Youth Ex­port Pitch Chal­lenge, part of the in­au­gu­ral # TradeTalks fo­rum pre­sented by the BC Cham­ber of Com­merce. Join­ing him to make a case to po­ten­tial in­vestors are Emily Naing, co- founder of Swave, which is de­vel­op­ing an elec­tronic de­vice to help peo­ple sleep bet­ter; and an­other con­tender whose name hadn't been an­nounced at press time.

All have par­tic­i­pated in Young En­tre­pre­neur Lead­er­ship Launch­pad ( YELL), an ed­u­ca­tional pro­gram for high-school stu­dents, where their teams were the past three win­ners of its an­nual spring Ven­ture Chal­lenge. “The way I usu­ally de­scribe it is it's en­trepreneur­ship class on steroids,” Sekre­taryuk says of YELL. (See page 42 for more.)

The BC Cham­ber of Com­merce is ex­pect­ing up­ward of 300 at­ten­dees at #Tradetalks, which fea­tures four panel dis­cus­sions on the theme of ex­ports and trade, with guests such as Lower Main­land MP Pam Gold­smith-jones, par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary to the min­is­ter of In­ter­na­tional Trade, and Lynne Platt, U.S. con­sul gen­eral Van­cou­ver. Also on the agenda: a Vir­tual Global Mar­ket­place where en­trepreneurs can meet the lo­cal con­suls gen­eral of at least 15 na­tions.

“The ma­jor­ity of the en­trepreneurs you talk to, they ended up there by ac­ci­dent or serendip­ity, not by de­sign,” says BC Cham­ber pres­i­dent and CEO Val Litwin. “The whole point of # TradeTalks is to get our B.C. busi­ness com­mu­nity think­ing about trade as part of their strate­gic op­por­tu­nity mov­ing for- ward, as op­posed to a happy ac­ci­dent along the way that pro­duced awe­some re­sults.”

B.C. of­fers a wealth of re­sources for com­pa­nies that want to pre­pare to ex­port or grow their in­ter­na­tional busi­ness, Litwin notes. One ex­am­ple is Ex­port Nav­i­ga­tor, a pilot pro­gram by gov­ern­ment-backed agency Small Busi­ness BC that con­nects small- and medium-sized com­pa­nies with ex­port spe­cial­ists. “Part of what we're hop­ing to achieve with #Tradetalks is to sim­plify the con­ver­sa­tion a lit­tle bit and make it more ac­ces­si­ble to all busi­nesses around the prov­ince,” Litwin says. “This will be an in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence—get your ques­tions an­swered in the mo­ment, and get the tools you need to get trade-ready.”

Ex­port­ing may not be top of mind for smaller busi­nesses, notes Dan Bax­ter, the Cham­ber's di­rec­tor of pol­icy, gov­ern­ment and stake­holder re­la­tions.

“They might have a great prod­uct, but even if they do have a thought about trad­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally, they just don't know where to start,” says Bax­ter, a one­time pol­icy ad­viser to for­mer In­ter­na­tional Trade min­is­ter Ed Fast.

Many own­ers of small and medi­um­sized com­pa­nies look at in­ter­na­tional trade as much more com­plex than it re­ally is, says Colin Hansen, pres­i­dent and CEO of Ad­van­tagebc In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness Cen­tre Van­cou­ver, a non-profit that pro­motes the prov­ince as a lo­ca­tion for in­ter­na­tional busi­ness. “The mi­nor­ity of small-busi­ness own­ers who do ven­ture out and start to ex­plore ex­port op­por­tu­ni­ties show an amaz­ing suc­cess rate for their ef­forts,” adds the for­mer B.C. min­is­ter of Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment. “So I think the chal­lenge is to over­come a cer­tain amount of in­er­tia that's there, and help­ing small and medium-sized busi­ness own­ers to re­al­ize how they can ex­plore some of the op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Hansen sug­gests that B.C. com­pa­nies fly the Maple Leaf be­cause Canada has a such strong brand. The coun­try is well po­si­tioned for in­ter­na­tional com­merce, he con­tends, cit­ing the pend­ing Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic and Trade Agree­ment ( CETA) with the Euro­pean Union. Canada is the only na­tion to have such a ro­bust EU trade deal, Hansen says, pre­dict­ing that the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment will re­main im­por­tant for it and the U.S. “That gives us the op­por­tu­nity for com­pa­nies to do busi­ness with half the world's econ­omy.”

For young peo­ple think­ing about ex­port­ing, though, there aren't many op­por­tu­ni­ties, says YELL ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor David Cameron. “The beauty of this #Tradetalks and the BC Cham­ber stepping up and tak­ing a lead to say, `We want to part­ner with an or­ga­ni­za­tion to bring youth to the ta­ble,' is this be­comes a won­der­ful men­tal ex­er­cise for all th­ese young peo­ple to imag­ine what it would mean, what it would im­ply, what's at stake, what needs to hap­pen to take a com­pany to that level.”

Emily Naing wants to build a ca­reer as an en­tre­pre­neur. Like Cer­ing's Sekre­taryuk, Naing, 18, is a grad­u­ate of Pine­tree Sec­ondary School in Co­quit­lam. She just com­pleted her first year at the Univer­sity of Toronto, where she plans to study fi­nance or man­age­ment. In YELL, notic­ing that they and their fel­low stu­dents were hav­ing trou­ble sleep­ing, her group hatched Swave. This de­vice, which may end up be­ing a small, flex­i­ble pad that slips be­tween a pil­low and a pil­low­case, uses a 1970s au­dio tech­nol­ogy called bin­au­ral beats to help users reach a deeper state of sleep in the time avail­able to them. “It's restora­tive in­stead of light sleep, where your eyes may be closed but you're not

recharg­ing your body,” Naing says.

The Swave team, which started at six but now has three ac­tive mem­bers, is con­sid­er­ing crowd­fund­ing and hopes to have a prod­uct by next year. When it comes to ex­ports, the com­pany's main fo­cus is Ja­pan. Be­cause Ja­panese work­ers put in such long hours, they take naps through­out the day, Naing says. “So them get­ting that quick, short burst of high restora­tive sleep is very im­por­tant.”

Sekre­taryuk and his four col­leagues— av­er­age age 18—are look­ing at China and In­dia. At #Tradetalks, Cer­ing will launch a Kick­starter cam­paign for its prod­uct. The goal is to raise US$100,000 and ship the first units in Septem­ber or Oc­to­ber, Sekre­taryuk says. He thinks Cer­ing could start dis­tribut­ing in China, where its jew­ellery will be made, by next Jan­uary. To get the word out, the com­pany would have a small team work­ing on Chi­nese cam­puses. Next stop: the neigh­bour­ing In­dian mar­ket.

As Cer­ing pre­pares to go global, don't ex­pect Sekre­taryuk to take no for an an­swer. “When­ever some­one told me, `You can't do it,'” he says, “I've al­ways had the idea that `Oh, yes, I can.'”

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