Ethan Sun: An en­tre­pre­neur of in­no­va­tion

CEO of Van­cou­ver com­pany over­came many ob­sta­cles

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS CANADA - By LOUISA YOU in Van­cou­ver For China Daily

Some­times reach­ing a goal is just the be­gin­ning.

Ethan Sun may now be the pres­i­dent and CEO of his own com­pany — Istuary In­no­va­tion Labs Inc — but his road to suc­cess has been an up­hill jour­ney.

Hav­ing re­ceived a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in com­puter science at Pek­ing Univer­sity in 1996, Sun worked for China Tele­com in Bei­jing for the next four years, first as a soft­ware de­signer, then as a pro­ject man­ager.

In 2000, Sun moved to On­tario and worked for com­pa­nies such as Nor­tel Net­works and In­no­vance Net­works be­fore re­lo­cat­ing to San Fran­cisco, and even­tu­ally Los An­ge­les, where he served for seven years at Ixia in soft­ware de­vel­op­ment.

Sun talked about his ex­pe­ri­ences start­ing up his first com­pany at the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Busi­ness In­cu­ba­tion Lead­er­ship Sum­mit in March 2015. He was 26, he said, and it ended in bank­ruptcy. Luck­ily, his next ven­ture, Istuary In­no­va­tion Group, has been vastly more suc­cess­ful.

“When I was 36, this aching in my heart con­tin­ued to grow, but it was not easy for me to take the risk again, be­cause I had a fam­ily, a house and all these things I had to sup­port,” Sun told China Daily.

“This pain ac­tu­ally tor­tured me for more than four years, un­til one day I re­al­ized that many peo­ple have the en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit and the de­sire, but there are so many bar­ri­ers. So, I thought, why not cre­ate an or­ga­ni­za­tion or process or some kind of a mech­a­nism to help them over­come those bar­ri­ers?” he said.

Sun had abun­dant man­age­ment ex­pe­ri­ence, tech­ni­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, in­sight into the cre­ation of tech­nol­ogy, as well as how the mar­ket works. “So that’s the ini­tia­tive of Istuary. I started by build­ing an or­ga­ni­za­tion, a part­ner­ship for peo­ple like me,” he said.

As he looked around at the dif­fer­ent mod­els and types of in­cu­ba­tors and busi­ness ac­cel­er­a­tors in op­er­a­tion, one draw­back he found was that while the cur­rent mod­els pro­vided steady ser­vice, they were not prof­itable or even sus­tain­able busi­nesses them­selves.

“So that’s been our model from day one,” he said. “We tried to com­bine the in­cu­ba­tion, ac­cel­er­a­tion, and ven­ture cap­i­tal it­self to­gether as an en­ter­prise. We’re try­ing to be sus­tain­able, prof­itable and grow­ing our­selves. It was a bold move, ac­tu­ally. A lot of my friends told me, ‘Don’t do it, it’s too risky’, but we were lucky.”

Istuary of­fi­cially launched in June 2013, but the model had been in the works for quite some time. Sun ex­plained its three-part sys­tem:

The first is an in­sti­tute of in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy and tal­ent called Istuary In­no­va­tion Labs. Sec­ond is Istuary Ven­ture Cap­i­tal, a cap­i­tal ac­cu­mu­la­tion and in­vest­ment ad­vi­sory firm. And lastly, is a so­cial re­source man­age­ment con­sul­tancy, Istuary Con­sult­ing.

“We built In­no­va­tion Labs first,” he said. “It’s a gath­er­ing of tech­nol­ogy pro­fes­sion­als in the busi­ness part­ner­ship.”

“At first we had fewer than ten peo­ple based in Burn­aby, BC. We didn’t have our first full-time em­ployee un­til Oc­to­ber 2013,” he added.

The mech­a­nism got a warm welcome from the sci­en­tific and tech­ni­cal com­mu­nity. Istuary In­no­va­tion Labs now has more than 200 global part­ners with 70 em­ploy­ees at its head­quar­ters in Van­cou­ver, 10 in the US, and plans to open a sec­ond Cana­dian in­cu­ba­tion hub in Toronto. The com­pany is look­ing to ex­pand to more than 150 part­ners in North Amer­ica.

In ad­di­tion they have six of­fices in China with 150 em­ploy­ees in Bei­jing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Nan­jing, Ningbo, Shang­hai and Shen­zhen, with plans to add another five. As an over­seas en­tre­pre­neur him­self, Sun sees the po­ten­tial of the Chi­nese mar­ket.

“This year, we’re start­ing a new branch, which is ed­u­ca­tion for en­trepreneurs and in­vestors,” Sun said, “and with great sup­port from Canada, the gov­ern­ment, and the peo­ple around us, we’re grow­ing re­ally fast.”

“It’s a lit­tle bit nerve-rack­ing for me,” he con­tin­ued. “We are kind of be­ing pushed by a lot of things, but be­cause we are be­ing so care­ful, we cre­ate a good re­turn for the in­vestor. The first two projects we did had an 18-to-20-fold re­turn in the first year.”

Since then, Istuary has formed a num­ber of spe­cial­ized lab­o­ra­to­ries. There is cur­rently about 1.5 bil­lion Chi­nese yuan (C$313 mil­lion) of funds un­der its man­age­ment, and Sun is build­ing a 10 bil­lion yuan (C$2 bil­lion) in­dus­trial fund in his Chi­nese of­fices.

“We have en­coun­tered a lot of dif­fi­cul­ties and set­backs,” Sun said. “With our first pro­ject there were some prob­lems with in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty pro­tec­tion is­sues. We are still ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dif­fi­cul­ties in many R&D projects. It’s very dif­fi­cult if part­ners are not in the same city, let alone in a dif­fer­ent coun­try or re­gion. Dis­tance is a big ob­sta­cle. We are still learn­ing and ad­just­ing.”

“Another dif­fi­culty that is now more or less fully over­come is that in the early days, we had to fo­cus a lot on team build­ing and pro­ject man­age­ment, as well as en­sur­ing a steady source of funds. We mainly want to build a plat­form for en­tre­pre­neur­ial teams so that they don’t need to worry about those things.”

In the early days of a startup, fi­nanc­ing takes a large amount of the man­age­ment team’s time, so the Istuary Group model was de­signed to help en­trepreneurs avoid this, but Sun said that “in the process of es­tab­lish­ing this fund we en­coun­tered a lot of

43 re­sis­tance from many in­vestors who thought: ‘ Why don’t we just in­vest di­rectly into this pro­ject, rather than go­ing through this fund?’ Many did not un­der­stand, and it made it more dif­fi­cult.”

Sun men­tioned that Istuary’s big­gest chal­lenge now is their search for tal­ent, as the per­son­nel re­quire­ments for their unique process and model are rel­a­tively high.

“Through con­tin­u­ous ex­pla­na­tion and prac­tice of our method, we now have not only our own ef­fec­tive in­vest­ment group, but we have also es­tab­lished a wide range of fi­nanc­ing part­ners,” Sun said.

With Istuary’s plans to ex­pand big­ger than ever in the com­ing years, Canada’s largest tech­nol­ogy in­cu­ba­tion plat­form aims to bring en­trepreneurs an ever wider global ac­cess to tal­ent, fund­ing and mar­kets.

It’s a gath­er­ing of tech­nol­ogy pro­fes­sion­als in the busi­ness part­ner­ship.”

LOUISA YOU / FOR CHINA DAILY

Ethan Sun, pres­i­dent and CEO of Istuary In­no­va­tion Labs, Inc, speaks with a re­porter at the com­pany’s down­town Van­cou­ver of­fice. Pres­i­dent and CEO, Istuary In­no­va­tion Labs Inc. (2013-present)

Age:

Ed­u­ca­tion: Bach­e­lor of Com­puter Science, Pek­ing Univer­sity (1991-1996)

Ca­reer: • Vice-pres­i­dent en­gi­neer­ing, Wurldtech Se­cu­rity Tech­nolo­gies (2012-2013) • Soft­ware de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor, Ixia (2008-2012) • Soft­ware de­vel­op­ment man­ager, Ixia (2006-2008) • De­vel­op­ment lead, Ixia (2005-2006) • Soft­ware engi­neer, Cisco Sys­tems (2004-2005) • Soft­ware de­signer, BTI Sys­tems (2003-2004) • Soft­ware de­signer, In­no­vance Net­works (20012003) • Soft­ware de­signer, Nor­tel Net­works (2000-2001) • Soft­ware engi­neer, Syn­de­sis Lim­ited (2000) • Pro­ject/soft­ware man­ager, China Tele­com (1996-2000)

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