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Entrepreneur Insights: 8 tips for getting your great idea off the ground

Posted on: May 14, 2013 | Author: ATB Business & Agriculture

Bryan Szatkowski and Brad Johnston of Lloydminster's GCHEM Ltd. open up about taking on the big guys, sleeping and writing, and getting kicked in the face as that new idea comes to life.

When it comes to science, some fields are pretty popular: astronomy, medicine, paleontology, marine biology. And then there's forensic geochemistry. It's not on the popular list, but you can add forensic geochemistry to the super-useful-and-increasingly-important list here in Alberta.

That's because of the oil and gas industry. When there's a leak, it's crucial to know where the oil or gas originated, so you can determine if it's a natural occurrence or if it's coming from a specific industry well. But how do you tell one gas from another? It was tough until Bryan Szatkowski and Brad Johnston of GCHEM Ltd. came along.

"The easiest way to look at this is, if you watch CSI on TV, we do the same thing with oil, gas, and water," explains Bryan, GCHEM's founder. "We fingerprint the gases, fingerprint the waters, and then we'll characterize these gases and fluids as indigenous, naturally occurring, or out-of-zone."

And they're good at it. According to Bryan, GCHEM is over 80 per cent successful at determining the source of a gas, whereas the standard industry process is a fraction of that.

How did they get so good? In a word: innovation.

Here are Bryan and Brad's tips for getting your great idea off the ground:

  1. Focus on your passion.

    "I am passionate about science. I know it's crazy, but I love developing and inventing things," Bryan says. "I remember taking apart the lawnmower and having the motor completely stripped down when I was about five, and I put it together. There was a few pieces left, but guess what? It still worked."
  2. Start with the best.

    "Start with the best equipment possible and then add the best people, and you should get the best end result," says Brad.
  3. Be persistent.

    "One guy told me that when you're the first person with a new idea and you try to open doors, a lot of times you're going to get kicked in the face," Brad recalls. "That's certainly been the case here. I mean, it's taken us a long time to convince oil companies and regulators that what we do is not only good but better than what else is out there."

    "To me, our single biggest triumph is that we were able to build something that we were told would never work out."
  4. Don't shy away from the big guys.

    "We're going against companies that are the largest oilfield service companies in the world, and there's my little company," says Bryan. "They have millions or billions of dollars that they can put into research with their logging tools and everything else, and this little company in Lloydminster is outperforming them by a long shot."
  5. Protect your ideas.

    "Your ideas, your techniques, your methods, your interpretations—those are really what makes your company your company," Brad says. "We work very hard to protect these things and keep them in-house."
  6. Keep a notebook.

    "I'll wake up in the middle of the night and I've got a notepad right by my bed, and all of a sudden I'll just wake up and I'll go and write something down," says Bryan. "I don't even remember the next morning, and there's a piece of paper there that says 'Think of this. Do this.' That's how a lot of my stuff has come up."
  7. Be good at what you do, and get help for the rest.

    "Like I say, we're good at science and maybe not so good at business at times," Brad says. "We're not accountants. We're not bookkeepers. We're not lawyers. So one thing that we've certainly discovered in our time at GCHEM is that as good as we are at the science, we certainly lean on other people for some business help."
  8. Remember: Innovating takes hard work—but it's necessary.

    "Anybody can write a cheque to buy equipment or a vehicle or some piece of production equipment, but it takes innovation, it takes know-how, and it takes hard work to make it better, to give you something that somebody else doesn't have," Brad says.

    "Innovation is everything," Bryan adds. "We've got to move forward."

To hear more from Bryan, Brad, and other successful Alberta entrepreneurs, visit our We Grow Alberta page

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