Julien Plourde, 27, would like to hook his office microwave up to the internet.
He’s not prevented by lack of know-how: among the screws, circuits and switches on his desk is a gizmo that could do exactly that.
He builds them – although the gadgets are usually used for purposes other than monitoring whether the staff microwave is free, from the comfort of your desk.
Instead, they’re used by companies such as Northwestel to wirelessly monitor their equipment from afar.
The only thing stopping Plourde from fulfilling his microwave whim is the success of his Whitehorse business, Technical Solutions. He and his four co-workers are simply too busy working on clients’ projects to put the microwave online.
Plourde was recently named one of Canada’s most promising young entrepreneurs by the Business Development Bank of Canada. Last week he attended an awards ceremony in Ottawa where he was congratulated by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The award didn’t come with a cash prize, but it was a “great opportunity” to bring his business some welcome publicity, he said.
Plourde grew up in Hearst, Ontario, about three hours north of Timmins, and found early in life he had an affinity for gadgets.
He received an amateur radio licence at age 12. By 14, he had started flying a small aircraft, and by 17 he had his private pilots’ licence.
In high school he participated in the federal government’s trades promotion program, Skills Canada, and kept winning top honours. Today he sits on the Skills Canada board for the Yukon. “Now it’s my time to help students,” he said.
He went on to pursue electrical engineering at the University of Waterloo. During his degree, a co-op term with Northwestel brought him to Whitehorse.
It was an easy decision to return when he completed school. He loves to climb mountains and to hunt.
As for starting his own business, Plourde concedes “it’s definitely a lot tougher” to run a company than work for one.
“You’ve got only yourself to rely on to make things work properly,” he said. “You can’t just pass off a project on someone else.”
But he also has the freedom to choose what projects his company pursues. He likes this.
Plourde started his business in his parents’ basement as a student. It now occupies an office in the Arctic Star Printing building on Strickland Street.
It’s not an ideal location, as Plourde and his colleagues need to regularly haul 35-kilogram controllers up and down three flights of stairs.
Next year the company plans to move to a new building in Whitehorse’s industrial area. It will be on the ground floor.
And he expects the growing company will have taken on another two employees by then.
Technical Solutions’ specialty is automation. They make machines run by themselves.
For example, one client cleans soil contaminated by oil spills. The machine that does this work usually needs to have different settings adjusted by hand. Plourde’s company is working on a system that would make these adjustments automatically.
Technical Solutions designs gadgets, builds them, writes the instruction manuals and offers maintenance support after the sale. Customers like being able to order a product that’s custom-suited to their needs, said Plourde.
Bigger competitors may have far greater resources at their disposal, but Plourde has found his customers are happy to deal with a local company, rather than a distant corporate office.
“You can deal closer with us. You get exactly what you need,” he said.
Contact John Thompson at email@example.com.