Selkirk College Alumnus Brings Wealth of Knowledge Home to Kootenays
Selkirk College Alumnus Brian Fry considers himself an ordinary man from an ordinary region, both capable of extraordinary things. Humble to the core, the one-time ski racer, now millionaire is a small town boy true to his roots ready to help grow potential in the West Kootenay.
“There is a way to do so much here. But we do it as a team,” Fry says. “Really, I was ordinary. I didn’t know I had the potential to be a ski racer. I didn’t know I had the potential to be an entrepreneur, most of the time I didn’t know how I would achieve any of this when I started. But I started. And doors opened.”
Fry grew up in Rossland and as a young child embraced mountain living donning downhill skis and joining the Red Mountain Racers in the late 1960s. Coached by the legendary Grant Rutherglen, 12-year-old Fry thrived under his guidance.
“He had a unique ability to coach me and bring out the best,” says Fry. “He is one of these unique individuals that connects with others and his influence sent me off in this direction. He inspired a bunch of us and our success came from that.”
Rutherglen was inducted into the Canadian Ski Coaches Federation Hall of Fame and coached nearly a dozen racers to Canada’s Alpine Ski Team, including Fry.
Turning Adversity Into Opportunity
Early on in Fry’s downhill skiing career, he had an accident that shattered his leg, changing the course of his life at age 19. His focus had been more on skiing than high school studies and going onto post-secondary education was a little intimidating. Finding Selkirk College accessible, he enrolled in January 1984.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he says. “I needed some direction. Selkirk was the next logical step. It gave me the initial confidence I needed to step into a new and different world.”
Fry studied Sociology, Psychology and Basic Computer Programming.
“It was an early precursor to my future interest technology. I didn’t do well in programming. It didn’t fit my brain at all. But I saw the potential,” he says.
The following year, Fry went on to British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) furthering his studies in marketing and commercial real estate, something he had developed a keen interest in, along with making money, he says with a twinkle in his eye. At the same time, he and his wife Lora began selling personal computers as people were just starting to realize the PC potential.
Once out in the world of real estate work, Fry began seeing how inefficient his company was with their data and he started developing data bases.
“And this started to get me further and further into the industry,” Fry says.
Passion Takes the Lead in Success
Over the next 30 years, Fry would go on to help launch and run nine tech companies as a sales and marketing specialist. In four of the nine companies, he was a significant stakeholder. Several were successfully sold. Fry became prosperous turning “nothing into something” through ideas, passion and hard work.
“You whip up a frenzy in your head. You get yourself passionate and excited enough about it that you want to get up every day,” he says. “I don’t think you can do this business if you can’t get passionate about it.”
In 2001, Fry launched Kelowna-based RackForce Networks serving as the VP of marketing and sales for the company. With the help of a $100,000 loan from Community Futures, some calculated risk, good timing and a bit of luck, the business took off. It became Canada’s largest cloud service provider and one of the largest data centres in North America.
“It was a remarkable experience where you are really driving your business and you have such confidence in your ability,” says Fry. “But we were under a lot of pressure. The line ‘failure is not an option’ was very true at that time.”
Fourteen years later, RackForce sold for $33 million in cash and stock.
Fry became successful in his field and for the majority of his career worked from his West Kootenay headquarters–a desk in his Rossland heritage home. After a brief stint in the Silicon Valley, the father of two sons knew family life was ideal in his hometown and he returned as a nomadic entrepreneur in 1997 “determined to demonstrate that the internet was going to allow jobs to be anywhere,” he says.
“I saw the silliness of living in a concrete jungle,” he says. “My kids were the main motivator. I wanted them to have the opportunity to ski like I did, and not have to worry about them walking to school.”
West Kootenay Has Amazing Potential
These days, Fry thinks of money differently. No longer requiring it for personal needs, he is interested in building companies on a whole different scale. His goal is to create several successful companies within the region through mentorship. Options wide open, he is working toward objectives he feels need his attention.
“With my background I have the opportunity to do something substantially bigger now,” he says.
His new project, Climate Change Disruptors aims to have “minds and machines collaborating to disrupt climate change.” RackForce’s success hinged on knowing what was going on with their system moment to moment. While climate change is a much bigger problem, the basic principles of data monitoring apply, he says.
“Often the companies with the biggest carbon footprint don’t have the right data to solve the problem. This is their living. Society depends on them,” says Fry. “So let’s put a dashboard on it, a way that brings data through so we can see what’s going on, tracking what’s really happening. Then, we can apply technologies behind the scenes to fix the problem.”
Earlier this year, Selkirk College opened a new Applied Research & Innovation Centre (ARIC), a learning environment equipped with the latest technology. Fry spoke at its grand opening and a partnership between the school and the entrepreneur was recently forged–strategies, innovation and applied learning at its core.
“We’re betting big on Selkirk. The expertise that exists within Selkirk is at a very high level,” he says. “Selkirk is jumping in with us and opening doors. It’s an interesting relationship I think we can turn into something spectacular.”
His vision is big and it extends to the entire region that supported him throughout his career.
“So many people from Selkirk College, BCIT, KAST (Kootenay Association for Science and Technology) and Community Futures contributed to this opportunity. It’s not mine alone.”
Fry sees the West Kootenay measuring strong against traditional tech meccas like the Silicon Valley. The Columbia Basin Trust is a valued financial resource. There is access to green energy and there are organizations in place to support the great minds converging on a region boasting high quality of life.
“All these brains are out there and we live in an environment where we can go and relax long enough to push our creative sides. You aren’t going to see this in a high pressure office environment. That kills creativity,” he says. “Our region has the ability to maximize the potential of the individual. The next part is providing the foundational support, the confidence–the coaching I got when I was a ski racer. We need to do this now with the region. There are all kinds of things we can do.”