Welcome to the latest installment of Q&A, our regular series of one-to-ones with some of Greater Vancouver's leading business figures.
Our subject this week is Raghwa Gopal, President and CEO at Innovate BC.
What inspires you?
To see people succeed in life, especially those that are marginalized. I'm very fortunate for having the opportunity to help some achieve their dreams, through mentorship and/or connecting them with the right resources. I get a front-row seat to their journeys! Often, they haven't had an easy road and seeing them move past those obstacles with grace to achieve their goals inspires me to do more and better.
How do you relax?
Quiet time with family - which looks like a nice relaxing conversation over wine or watching my favourite sport and my favourite team, the Vancouver Canucks (although it hasn't been very relaxing watching the games recently!)
How do you balance work and maintaining a personal life?
Being a work-a-holic, it takes a lot of discipline to balance work and personal life. Since I enjoy my work so much, it doesn't feel like a chore at all to me - but I am very conscious that work shouldn't totally consume all my time and a good work-life balance is very important.
A few things that I practice:
a) be present - when I am at work, I am fully present there. When I am at home with family, I am fully present there and my family gets my full attention.
b) be very organized - plan well ahead (for both work and personal time)
c) make your workspace work for you for both work and personal
What was your first job?
My first job (part-time) was as a bottle washer in a small grocery store. I got this part-time job when I was 11 years old (grade 6) to wash dirty bottles so that they could be refilled with oil etc.
My first official job was as a Software Developer for the Fiji National Provident Fund.
What's your most prized possession and why?
First and foremost, my family - and secondly my home. Home is our sanctuary and where we have created wonderful memories with family and friends.
What keeps you awake at night?
Not much on a personal level as I am very content with where I am at in my life. For work, I am always thinking and planning about how I can find more resources to help the innovation and tech community in all regions of British Columbia - and how I can make sure that people that are marginalized (Indigenous, Women, people of colour, LGBTQ, racial minorities etc) are given their fair share of support.
Who do you most admire and why?
It's not a single person. Often admiration for me stems from moments where people take actions that are selfless, courageous, difficult, empathetic, etc. It's a gesture that helps someone or helps themselves be better. It is my family, my friends, the individuals in my professional circles, and public figures. When there is such an abundance of admirable people, it is difficult to choose just one.
What is the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?
I have been an entrepreneur for almost all my working life and I have seen and faced all the usual challenges that all entrepreneurs face but the biggest challenge for me has been in my current position. The needs in our innovation ecosystem are so huge and the amount of resources are so limited - so the challenge for me is to find more ways and resources to support that ecosystem.
What is the biggest challenge facing Greater Vancouver?
Besides COVID-19 and the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, climate change is one of our biggest challenges. That's obviously not Vancouver-specific, but we've really been seeing the effects of climate change here over the past year. With the record heat this summer and recent storms and flooding that continue to impact communities across the province, we've seen first-hand the impact of climate change – which will only escalate if we don't get the climate situation under control.
What do you like most about doing business in Greater Vancouver?
Greater Vancouver is a beautiful destination with a growing global reputation as an ideal place to live and work. It boasts many reasons for companies to want to conduct business here – Vancouver's convenient location serving as a global gateway, and its reputation for safety, multiculturalism and a commitment to sustainability are just a few. There's great appeal, which is why we've seen so many large global companies establish new offices here.
Where do you see untapped potential in Greater Vancouver?
We have some amazing post-secondary institutions in Greater Vancouver, which attract bright young people from all over the world. But at the same time, in the tech sector at least, there's a huge talent shortage right now. So, there's all this fresh young talent that we need to harness.
At Innovate BC, we offer a few different hiring grants to help businesses get some extra help but to also give students and young professionals a chance to develop their skills on the job.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement to date?
I am very proud of the integral part that I played in building a great innovation and tech ecosystem in the Okanagan. It has become one of Canada's fasted growing innovation ecosystems and a model for others to follow. My hope is to replicate that success in other regions of British Columbia.
What is the most important lesson, business or otherwise, life has taught you?
Life is a constant experiment. You are always learning from your experiences – and most importantly, you get to do it all over again. And, you cannot take anything for granted – as there are forces beyond your control that can change things in an instant. Appreciate and enjoy what you have!
What do you think makes a great leader?
For me, a leader is someone who is visionary and can see beyond the immediate future. They build a strong, diverse team around them and have trust in their team. They recognize the unique attributes of team members and value the different perspectives of every person.
They focus on developing others - like a coach – who helps people reach their goals (and takes pride in the accomplishments of those they helped). Leaders have to have humility – i.e. they are not afraid to hire people that are better than they are.
And honesty, integrity and empathy are a must.
Where is your favourite place in Vancouver?
I like being downtown Vancouver and exploring all the restaurants in the core.
What do you think Greater Vancouver needs more of?
Greater Vancouver is very multicultural but we're not seeing that same representation in local tech businesses. We need to put more thought into how to attract diverse and fresh talent into our local tech sector. That's something we're really focusing on at Innovate BC. Our latest program, Innovator Skills Initiative, is designed to increase diversity in the tech sector by ensuring placements for traditionally under-represented groups are available.
Who has helped you most in your career?
There are 3 individuals who have had a huge impact on my career. Firstly, Mr. PR Patel - my employer (where I started working part-time while I was going to school). His generosity is what allowed me to continue and get my education, so I am hugely appreciative of his help. Secondly, Mr. Lionel Yee - my very first employer for my first real career role. He became my mentor, and his tutelage was huge in forming my career. And thirdly, Mr. Mike Schleppe - my business partner and lifelong friend who has been a mentor, great supporter and confidant over many years.
What do you do when you aren't working?
I love travelling and learning about different parts of the world so when I am not working, you most likely will find me in some different part of the world.
What might (someone) be surprised to know about you?
I know my way around a farm having grown up farming.
Innovate BC is a Crown Agency of the Province of British Columbia, offering business coaching, hiring grants, and funding opportunities for research, pilots, commercialization and scaling.