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Rossland skier turned tech giant to receive BCIT honour

Brian Fry will receive the BCIT Distinguished Alumni Award on Nov. 2
BCIT graduate Brian Fry went from the slopes of Red Mountain to one of the world’s tech industry leaders. (Contributed)

Tech-industry wizard Brian Fry will receive the 2023 BCIT Distinguished Alumni Award at the BC Institute of Technology awards gala on Nov. 2.

At 19 years of age, Fry went from racing with the Red Mountian ski team to representing the nation as an elite ski racer on Team Canada in the 1980s.

Suddenly, a world of possibilities was at his ski boots. For this young athlete, who was born and raised in Rossland, it was exhilarating – until the unthinkable happened.

While competing in Europe, Brian suffered a serious injury. He recalls waking up in a hospital in the French Alps to learn that his femur had been seriously broken. His ski racing career was over.

Now, Fry had to carve out a new future. As a ski racer, he knew that being able to anticipate and adapt to changes in his environment are key to crossing any future finish line.

He used this skill to pivot, not only building an extraordinary career as an entrepreneur but also pioneering an inspiring path in technology innovation.

BCIT helps chart a new direction

In 1984, soon after his ski accident, Brian enrolled in BCIT’s Marketing Management program.

“I chose BCIT because I thought it would be a very quick way to download the information I needed to get on with my life,” explained the BCIT alum. “I thought BCIT was going to be much easier. It was quite the opposite. It was an incredibly intense experience but that work acumen and discipline that the school instilled in me have been foundational to my career to this day.”

Fry also says that BCIT – through its curriculum, his instructors, and like-minded classmates – sparked the entrepreneur in him.

He had become very interested in new technology, and as he watched students painstakingly write papers with typewriters or pen and paper (which did not allow for deleting or cutting and pasting), he saw a future where tech could solve a problem.

A side gig sparks his technology career

“Part of the motivation was that I needed to bring in more money because I was self-funding my education,” said Fry. “My program at BCIT inspired me to be entrepreneurial. I could see that students were struggling with preparing their assignments.

“I thought, ‘They really need personal computers’, which were not at all common at the time. So my girlfriend (now my wife) helped me by setting up a booth at BCIT several days a week to sell computers to my fellow students.

“We sold them as inexpensively as we could.”

Fry put the computers together at home and, with the permission of BCIT, sold them on campus.

“For me, that was really the beginning of becoming a tech entrepreneur,” says Fry, who graduated in 1986.

A pioneer in the tech industry

Fry has been a technology entrepreneur and leader in B.C. for many years. After his first entrepreneurial pursuit selling computers to students at BCIT, he went on to help build many tech start-ups in Vancouver, Silicon Valley and the Kootenays.

While in Vancouver, Fry was instrumental to the city’s early tech scene. He served as chair of Software BC and Information Technology Association of Canada – BC Chapter (ITAC BC).

He helped ITAC BC amalgamate with the Electronic Manufacturer’s Association of British Columbia to become the British Columbia Technology Industry Association (now BC Tech Association), where he served as a founding board member. Since 1997, Brian has been based in his hometown of Rossland, where he started his next round of tech companies.

Over the past 20 years, he has been instrumental in building the largest ISP in the province in 1998.

In 1999, he co-founded IPWorld (Fiber Optic Network Company joint venture with Utilicorp) with partner Tim Dufour.

In 2001, Fry and Dufour also started RackForce, which became Canada’s largest cloud provider and leading builder of advanced data centres.

In 2015, they sold RackForce for $33 million to TeraGo. In 2018, the partners co-founded PodTech Innovation Inc. with Brian Fehr to design, build, and operate advanced-edge data centres (the next phase of infrastructure for cloud computing, especially AI). They sold the company in 2020 to Iris Energy, where he is a strategic shareholder.

A future of possibilities

While Fry has long stopped selling computers from a booth at BCIT, he says he still leans on the same skills that got him started back in 1984: an entrepreneurial mindset from BCIT, competitive agility from ski racing, and an innate ability to see beyond the present and anticipate the future environment.

Once again with Dufour, his partner of many ventures, Fry recently launched a new company Great Plains Ecosystems, which he says will have a significant and positive impact on the planet by sequestering carbon from biodegradable waste and making it valuable. He is the chief marketing officer of the organization.

“It’s by far the most exciting work of my tech career,” he said. “For example, if our dream comes true, we’ll be able to help the forest stakeholders manage forest waste to the point where we never see a major forest fire again and forests will once again be diverse and healthy.”

Always looking ahead, Brian is energized about the future.

“My wife, who often has to remind me to focus on the present sometimes, will agree: I live in the future all the time,” he laughed.

BCIT will host the 18th annual Distinguished Awards at the Westin Bayshore in Vancouver on Nov. 2 to recognize a total of five recipients of the Distinguished Alumni Award and the Outstanding Student Leadership Award.

–Article contributed by Emma Berg, BCIT News