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A Q & A with John Zubak, 2016 BC and the North Region Adam Chowaniec Lifetime Achievement Award winner

7 December 2016
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John Zubak is a leading inspiration and entrepreneur on Canada’s West Coast. He’s also the 2016 BC and the North Adam Chowaniec Lifetime Achievement Award winner, presented by Wolf Blass Wines. He plays an instrumental role in building sustainable relationships between local businesses and the Thompson Rivers University of Business and Economics. John is also an Entrepreneur in Residence at Kamloops Innovation and is known for his role in the Business Kickstart 101 project, which engages over 100 community business leaders with students in mentorship format. Read our conversation below.

Q: What drives you as an entrepreneur?

It’s going to sound a little bit funny. I’m driven by problems and finding solutions. I don’t do well when everything is moving along at normal and status quo. I love having my brain working at night, and I love when it causes me to jump out of bed because I think I’ve found, maybe, a little workaround to something. I love trying to find creative ways – especially if it looks like it’s something where people will say “no, you can’t do it” or “this is the only way it will work.”  

Q: You work with youth. What advice would you give to your younger self?

Follow your gut instincts. You’ll thank yourself for it afterwards.

Q: How can we ensure Canadians at a young age have the right skills to contribute to an innovative, creative, and entrepreneurial Canada?

One thing I’d like to see more of is getting entrepreneurs into schools and classrooms at the earliest possible ages. I really don’t think there’s enough focus, or examples, when kids and children are at the youngest most impressionable ages. A lot of them, if you talk to them about what they want to be, they speak about careers and jobs, but they don’t have a lot of discussions about people creating ideas and creating ventures and careers.

Q: What kind of examples?

The simple things that I grew up with, where you’d have a lemonade stand, or you’d go door-to-door…. If young people could get examples earlier of people who had ideas, and how they transformed them into businesses, I think that would get children’s minds expanding with possibilities of what they could do, or be.

Q: How can Canada’s Startup Communities be strengthened to support creative and social entrepreneurs from the start-up right through to the scale-up stage?

We have to tell their stories, first and foremost. We have to get entrepreneurs and people who are doing innovative things in front of the media, where they can talk about their vision and the impact of what they’re doing. Funding will eventually come, and support will come as people get behind the stories. Too much of the good that goes on, we don’t hear about.

Q: That ties in with your answer about exposing those younger people to those success stories at the same time.

The young people are going to be the ones who come out with new ideas. As an older entrepreneur I’m constantly challenged. You can get a little bit cynical as you get older. Working around younger people with their new ideas, they challenge you and your way of thinking. Some things that were impossible in my day, that couldn’t exist, happen now.


Q: How do you think Canada better support its entrepreneurs to go global?

We need to create some collaboration centers through the country. We have a unique situation in Kamloops. We have a university called Thompson Rivers University. It was one of the early ones to look at an international student base. They had 52% international students in there. When Canadian students are able to be exposed to people from all over the globe, they are able to think differently and they think of the world as a global community. We’re fortunate to have that, but I think if we had centers throughout the country allowing entrepreneurs from different countries to work out of them, then we’d have a lot more natural interactions.

Q: How can creative and social entrepreneurs be empowered to employ sustainable business models?

If there were some funding grants that allowed us to invest into the people who have those ideas, it would allow them to get programs up and running. Our current models seem to be unchanged. They’re still using the same donor and management models, and they’re not looking at how to take in money.

Q: What has been your single biggest lifelong lesson?

I really, really believe that satisfaction in life, and success as a whole, is what we end up doing for others rather than ourselves. I’ve learned that, and have really tried to adapt that for most of my life.

Q: Last question: What do you believe has been your greatest legacy?

My daughters and my family. When you’re getting a little bit older it’s often times what you pass on through your kids that really is going to continue onwards.