“It’s an entrepreneurial organization itself. Part of that is being adaptable and quick, to ask what’s working, and to implement change. It does that. One of my favourite parts of being a board member was getting to meet young entrepreneurs, to hear about their businesses, to see their energy and their passion and their drive. It’s just a great feeling to know that your organization has helped so many people and created some great businesses. To be part of that journey with them has been an honour and we’re fortunate to be able to be a part of all their stories.”
In 2000, while a business student at Royal Roads University in Victoria, B.C., Harry Chemko noticed a poster on campus that offered funding and assistance for young entrepreneurs seeking to start their own businesses.
The poster, for Futurpreneur, offered mentorship and financing services to young entrepreneurs. Harry, together with three friends, had already committed to starting a software business aimed at pioneering what is now known as “headless commerce” that allows companies to sell products and services through the web at the touch of a finger. On the heels of the 2001 market crash, and lacking capital to seed the business, Harry contacted Futurpreneur and met with them to discuss the business plan. As he relates, “It was all really compelling to us…the mentorship, access to capital, and the ease of applying. They liked our idea and our plan. In a very short time, we were off to the races. We got $15,000 in funding…enough to get us going, including getting an office and all those startup things that we needed.”
More than 20 years later, Elastic Path is a thriving enterprise, offering the world’s only microservicebased commerce platform that provides enterprise brands with a raft of easy-to-use business tools that deliver impressive digital agility for business operations. While Harry concedes that, like most new businesses, “the startup years were crazy and up-and-down,” within two years, with Futurpreneur’s backing, he and his partners created “the foundation to build something on.” And build they did. Since its launch in 2000, Elastic Path has carved out a unique and highly successful position within the eCommerce sector. Boasting clients that include T-Mobile, Tesla, Intuit, Pokemon and Herschel, it operates offices in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. with employees, customers and partners that span the globe.
In recalling Elastic Path’s startup stage, he attributes much of the company’s early successes to Futurpreneur’s mentorship program that was, in his view, instrumental in getting the software business off the ground. While Harry recognizes that mentorship has evolved considerably over Futurpreneur’s lifespan, he sees it as “a kind of key bedrock that makes Futurpreneur a successful organization.” As he points out, “The probability of success in businesses is way higher when you have mentors. Futurpreneur gets that. One of the things that has been amazing to watch has been how the mentorship program has developed over the last 20 years into such a great network with thousands of mentors across the country.” And Harry has had a front-row seat from which to observe Futurpreneur’s mentorship innovations. In 2005 – only five years after the launch of Elastic Path – Harry was asked to join the Board of Futurpreneur as a representative of young entrepreneurs. Motivated by what he describes as a desire to assist young startups, he readily agreed. As he says, “I wanted to share some of the stories and things that I had gone through. It’s hard starting a business and to be able to help others to do that feels really good. Being a client and being on the receiving side of Futurpreneur’s product offering, that gave me a perspective. I just thought I could be helpful in that way.” Harry’s tenure on the board lasted almost 15 years, allowing him to contribute to the innovations and evolution of the organization for a large part of its history.
When probed on what has impressed him about Futurpreneur’s growth and change over the years, Harry first points to the enduring commitment of its founder, John Risley. In reflecting on the organization’s longevity, he notes, “Fundamentally, I don’t think Futurpreneur would exist if John wasn’t the driver behind it. He’s just such a powerful entrepreneur and force himself. In some organizations, there are certain people that connect with the mission at such a deep level, that they become the expression of the mission. He’s been a huge force for the organization…everything from the product offerings to making sure that there’s a strong team around the leadership table and the board table.”
In outlining other important achievements, Harry also identifies the long-standing support that the organization has received from governments in Canada. “There has always been a recognition from governments in Canada that entrepreneurship and small businesses drive the economy and are foundational to the economy. Governments’ support of Futurpreneur over many years now is a solid reflection of their understanding of the importance of developing entrepreneurs right across the country.” And, Harry points out, another valuable accomplishment for Futurpreneur is its commitment to all regions of the country, to both small and larger startups, and to ensuring diversity among its clients. “I think Canada has a very entrepreneurial culture at its core. So, for Futurpreneur to build on that and to be available to large and small enterprises, to all regions, to rural and urban entrepreneurs and to those in Indigenous, Black and People of Colour communities is an important achievement and one that, I believe, will be sustained.” Pointing to his own roots in a small community in Northern B.C., Harry stresses the importance of programs that reach all young entrepreneurs who have big ideas. “When I think of Futurpreneur’s development of initiatives like Thrive North, I get very excited. I was a judge on one of the panels and it was phenomenal seeing some of the ideas and successes that those young entrepreneurs had. All these programs are supporting a diversity of people in all parts of the country because there is such a foundation of entrepreneurship in Canada.”