Our May Spotlight is on e@UBC mentor, Fadi Asfour. At our Lean Launch Pad, you can always see Fadi working intensely with our entrepreneurs. When speaking with Fadi, his stories never fail to keep you engaged, and you will be left wanting to know more. e@UBC had the chance to sit down with Fadi to learn a bit more about him.
Can you tell us about your background – What was the journey to where you are now like?
My formal training is in Chemistry and Computer Science. After receiving my MSc for my work on plastic composites, I worked briefly in the automotive paint industry. I realized I wanted to learn more and pursued a PhD in Materials Science, specifically new materials for lithium ion rechargeable batteries and fuel cells. I continued in this field during my post-doctoral position at UBC, and then won an Industrial Research and Development Fellowship from NSERC to work with E-One Moli Energy (Canada) Inc. After a few years, I joined SWITCH Materials Inc., another clean-tech company, to help them move from prototype to product development. Throughout this experience, I used my computer background to optimize data processing, streamline decision processes, and augment productivity within R&D teams.
Growing up, I lived in several countries, so, from a very young age had to learn to bridge cultural gaps quickly. I use that skill now to bridge gaps that appear between the R&D and business development areas of businesses in the green technology space. Since starting my consulting practice in 2010, I’ve been fortunate to work on a number of interesting projects. One was with a Mexican company that had developed a methodology to use ozone as a clean fumigating agent within grain storage bins and wanted to bring that technology to Canada to serve a growing need for alternative and clean fumigation agents.
Experiences like this challenge me to learn more about business development, finance, and strategy.
You are a LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® facilitator. While some might think that LEGO® is just for children, can you tell us what are some important lessons that entrepreneurs can get out of working with LEGO® ?
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is a methodology. It can be applied to build out a business model canvas or value proposition design, and to better understand a business’s strategic vision.
It gets 100% participation of every participant, encouraging participants to think first, share their story, and then review what was built and said. It forces us to look and interact with the system together… to “see” the abstract. LEGO® itself is an efficient tool that allows us to express ourselves and to think with our hands by tapping into the highly creative and innovative side of our brains.
It is difficult to break down complex topics, especially whenever one person or idea dominates discussions – which can be particularly fatal to a company’s strategic development. We avoid this problem by building a shared story as a team.
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® is a tool for discovery, for uncovering knowledge and the role that each team member plays. It allows us to build confidence in each other. My role as a facilitator is to help teams find order out of the chaos around them.
What inspires you about working as a mentor at e@UBC?
Having worked in the green technology sector, I have observed that it is not always easy to be a start-up – you are almost always creating a new market. So, I want to help ventures succeed here [lower mainland]. I am humbled and inspired to see the generosity of fellow mentors and the courage exemplified by students and members of new ventures that pursue their dreams.
Having lived in the world of both entrepreneurship and academia, I understand the challenge to transition from one world to the other. UBC has a great opportunity to commercialize a wealth of intellectual property. I hope to help new ventures find their market fit and grow, assist in the development of their ideas, and bring their ideas to a market in a sustainable and profitable manner.
Best piece of mentorship advice you have ever received?
I don’t have just one, but actually three simple guiding principles my mentors have taught me and now help guide my work:
- Everything is negotiable
- Build something really well for a small group of people before you expand into the market
- It is good to be confident about your technology, you also need to be humble enough to learn how to best make it relevant today.