Lisa Payne, CGA
CFO and VP of Business Development for the BC Innovation Council
By Trevor Hargreaves and Patrick Schryburt
What is the BC Innovation Council?
BCIC is committed to making B.C. the best place to start and grow technology companies. Through targeted programs and initiatives, BCIC supports the development of entrepreneurs and the commercialization of technology in a variety of key sectors.
Our role is to ensure the creation of healthy start-ups that contribute to a strong and rapidly growing knowledge economy. As such, it’s essential that we grow small companies into larger ones that can provide high-value jobs, educate the talent pool, add credibility to the region, inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and generate tax revenue.
Can you briefly describe your role with the BC Innovation Council
I’m the CFO and VP of Business Development. Admittedly, it makes for a rather diverse mandate. I work with entrepreneurs, industry, universities and government to develop and execute programs in support of tech entrepreneurs. I love helping entrepreneurs vet their ideas, launch new companies and grow.
What are the key factors that can help an economy, a business or any other organization drive innovation?
The key factor is people. Without an excellent team, even the greatest idea or technology can fail to launch. With the right people, anything is possible.
Most people think of technology when they hear the word ‘innovation.’ Is that a good characterization of what innovation means?
Innovation is much broader then technology. It means finding creative new ways of doing things through renewal or changing existing processes. Technology is the practical application of science for physical and social solutions and is just one conduit for innovation.
How competitive is B.C. in today’s global knowledge economy? Are we well positioned for future growth and prosperity?
This province is home to the most start-ups per capita in Canada. We have a strong talent pool, excellent post-secondary institutions and close proximity to the US and emerging markets. Today, B.C. has technology companies in key sectors including biotech, clean energy, wireless telecommunications, gaming, information and communication technologies, and digital media.
The start-up community is actively supported by a network of industry associations that lobby; provide mentoring, training and coaching programs; and host networking events. In addition to all this, the provincial and federal governments provide tax credits and assistance programs to support technology R&D and investment.
Do you feel these measures go far enough to really provide a competitive industry advantage?
We have the opportunity to be well positioned for future growth and prosperity, but we must do more in some key areas. We need to develop programs that attract and encourage the brightest and most talented entrepreneurs on the planet to select B.C. as their new home to help us build the regional economy.
We need to get over our inferiority complex to other technology hotspots, such as the Silicon Valley, and concentrate on being uniquely B.C. For example, our resource sector is one of our strengths and we could do more to help this sector lead the world through collaboration and active support from the technology sector.
Locally, it’s necessary to help foster new investments, support our angel investment community and rebuild our venture capital firms.
We need to get beyond supporting research and development activity and focus more on supporting commercialization. We can help our technology companies grow by supporting their efforts to sell product. For example, we can import talent to help us develop sales expertise. Currently, 98 per cent of B.C. companies have less than 50 employees and 82 per cent of these companies have fewer than five employees. Our challenge is to find new ways to help our companies grow.
Finally, we need to look beyond our borders and view the world as our marketplace and community.
What are some of the more innovative or important marketing and communications initiatives that BCIC has implemented?
BCIC has increased our use of social media to promote greater awareness of not only ourselves, but also the incredible companies and associations that make up the tech industry in B.C. In addition, we recently launched a bi-weekly report “Innovation in BC” in partnership with Techvibes to showcase the province’s successful start-ups and companies. Lastly, we host a series of industry events geared towards entrepreneurs.
Does the Council use Twitter or Facebook?
Yes, we have a Twitter account with 1,000 followers and counting (twitter.com/bcic), and we also have a Facebook page.
How does this help further your business objectives?
Social media tools such as Twitter, our blog and Facebook (in collaboration with traditional media and support to tech events), ensure we reach and have an open forum with our audience. It helps us tell the story of how B.C. is a great place to start and grow technology companies. It’s also extremely helpful in gaining direct insight as to what posts and news our fans are interested in, as well as gauging the effectiveness of our social media efforts.
What are the secrets to getting the most out of talented people?
Push people out of their comfort zone, support them, let them be successful and help them grow.
What are the local/provincial/national/global issues that concern you the most in your business?
Bringing relevance and access to funding. The challenge is to fund the right things in the right amounts at the right time.
What has having a CGA designation meant for your career?
My CGA designation was a key factor in providing a foundation for my career. In the early years, I learned the business fundamentals and tools that helped me become a better decision-maker as I gained experience. Ultimately, my CGA designation helped to open the doors to a variety of new opportunities.
You have a rather interesting career background. Tell us about some of the previous places you’ve worked, industries you’ve been involved with and companies you’ve founded.
Most of my career has been within the technology industry. My first job was with a cable and satellite company called Nexus Engineering who were later acquired by Scientific Atlanta. The most important thing I got from this experience were the relationships I developed with colleagues.
I have worked in several tech companies where my roles have alternated between CFO, COO, Business Development and President. I really enjoy the variety and challenge as well as the exposure to new technologies. I worked for companies in different sectors such as mobile applications, fibre optic networks and telecommunications, software applications, cancer research and biotech services.
A really interesting company I worked for was Wavemakers Inc. At this company, I was surrounded by brilliant neuroscientists and physicists working on software that extracted voice from noise. Ultimately, this technology ended up in vehicles as hands-free technology.
Another interesting experience was working in business development with Saudi Telecom in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where only men typically do business.
My real passion is in launching new companies either myself or for others. My first company was Skana Publishing in the days when desktop publishing was new. My next start-up was a lab that serviced biotech companies and universities across North America. My latest start-up recently developed an iPhone application to help drinkers estimate their blood alcohol content as they drink.
Rumour has it that sailing is one of your hobbies. Have long have you sailed? Do you have your own boat? What are your certifications?
Yes, I have sailed for years with my husband at the helm while I climbed up and down to take care of the kids. He wondered why I didn’t like sailing as much as he did. This November, I completed my pleasure craft and cruising licence, so now I look forward to taking over the helm.
Do you have a personal mantra?
With only one life to live, don’t be a passive passenger: seek new directions, reach high and dare to have it all.
Bad judgment leads to experience and experience leads to good judgment.
What’s the secret to achieving good work/life balance?
Is there a secret? My husband is the cornerstone of my work/life balance – ask him!