Published Thursday April 7, 2011 in the Telegraph Journal Photo: David Smith/For the Telegraph-Journal
Dave Veale interviews John Bowles, President, Inversa Systems Ltd. as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.
This is a guy who means business.
John has a focus and intensity about him that are clearly strengths that he has been leveraging as he, along with business partner Jake Arsenault, has taken Inversa’s patented Backscatter Computed Tomography (BCT) technology from a PhD thesis to a product tailored to client needs in a variety of markets.
For technology neophytes, John describes Inversa’s BTC product as ‘a device that looks through walls and tells you what’s on the other side’. It is a particularly useful technology for oil and gas companies, chemical process facilities and aerospace researchers. BTC is also extremely helpful in the management of civil infrastructure and can, for example, give engineers diagnostic information that allows for more precise culvert repair/replacement decisions to be made – thus saving government 75 per cent of the cost of replacing a culvert. Inversa appears to be well positioned for growth.
The firm has been getting some great press lately with positive news coming from the results of testing its technology with the New Brunswick Department of Transportation and securing a $2.1-million investment from the Government of Canada’s Atlantic Innovation Fund (AIF). It seems that a lot of great things are happening for this Fredericton-based company.
I started my conversation with John by asking him where this all started and how Inversa came into being.
A: My business partner, Jake, and I were sharing grad offices at UNB. We were doing our masters underneath the same professor. It became obvious to us that we have two very different skill sets that complemented each other.
At one point, Jake said ‘maybe you are the extrovert that I need to pair with my big thinking’. Our partnership has me on the more external facing business focus. My job has been to drum up the interest on the financial side, raise the capital, meet the clients, crawl around through the oil refineries and Jake does the important inwardly facing things. We take different and complementary leadership roles within the company.
Q: Collaboration is really important in your world, correct?
A: Hugely – we can’t do it without collaboration.
Q: What have you learned about the concept of collaboration within business?
A: For me, the first thing is the importance of being honest and having integrity. Early on, we were a small company and we knew that if we over-promised and under-delivered on even one item, then it would hurt the company.
[Tweet “The first thing is the importance of being honest and having integrity. – John Bowles”]
Q: How do you break down the idea of honesty and integrity in your business dealings?
A: There are three things – one is to reinforce honesty. We get thoughts, discussions and ideas on paper very early. Number 2 is to create realistic expectations and number 3 is to create incentives for both parties to win. We can’t be greedy but, at the same time, we need to make a living. We have to make sure that our partners have a very healthy return that makes them want to continue to use our technology.
Q: Tell me about the importance of creating realistic expectations?
A: Inversa is a slow play. An integral thing for us early on was making sure our shareholders, because this is an expensive process, understand that this isn’t necessarily a quick flip, but it does have huge value.
[Tweet “Inversa is a slow play. – John Bowles”]
Q: As a New Brunswick-based business, what did you find to be the most challenging about developing technology and then bringing it to market?
A: I believe there are some barriers in New Brunswick, but I also think things are getting better. The challenge starts with early-stage funding. When we started, we had a very long-term plan that needed a significant amount of capital. So raising early-stage money was initially a hurdle, which is what made us turn to the academic route at the start and then to the grant process and eventually to angel investors before looking for the more formal venture capital style investment. I think the province has done a phenomenal job of making that process easier over the last five years. For example, entrepreneurs now have support from the New Brunswick Innovation Fund (NBIF).
Q: Do you think it is easier to launch a technology company in New Brunswick in 2011 than it was when you incorporated Inversa in 2005?
A: I think everybody, as they grow older, feels that it’s easier now than what it was for them originally. I’m not sure if it’s all necessarily true but I do think there are more enabling facilities in place today. For example, UNB now has an excellent process for taking technology in and moving it through the office of research services and out into industry and giving companies a chance to launch.
Q: What is the No. 1 issue that you need to address at this point to continue to support Inversa’s growth?
A: In the early stage, money was an issue. Staffing is our No. 1 issue right now. We found phenomenal resources at UNB and other universities in Atlantic Canada to hire from, but we’ve also had to go outside the country and have brought people back from Australia. We bring researchers in from Israel and from the U.S. – Duke University. There is not a big enough talent pool to go around.
[Tweet ” There is not a big enough talent pool to go around. – John Bowles”]
Q: What is your philosophy on developing as a leader?
A: Fundamentally, I believe that in life you have to try really hard and that you should always be striving to improve – wherever you are at. It is important that you do not compare yourself to someone else – you can only compare yourself to a point in time. So I look at myself today and I say “where do I want to be one year from now?” and then I ask myself “What do I need to do to achieve that? What do I need to do to improve myself?” Whether that is work, your personal life, family or health, I think you have to look at it as a holistic approach.
Q: Can you finish the following sentence for me? A leader’s job is to …
A: Motivate and inspire those around them.
Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. Email Dave at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or follow him on twitter @dave_veale. Don’t miss any of Dave’s interviews with leaders…get blog updates in your inbox by signing up over here, at the top of the right column ==>