11 Questions with Mogens Smed

Cybera is running a series of blog posts that will showcase Alberta's innovative technology and research community. Over the course of 11 months, we are asking 11 people 11 questions related to technology and research in Alberta.

MogensSmed copyThis month's 11 Questions interview is with Mogens Smed, CEO of DIRTT (Doing It Right This Time) Environmental Solutions.

1. What brought you to Calgary and what's kept you here?

My family came to Calgary in 1952. My father was a Danish cabinet maker and we came to Calgary for the many opportunities available here. What's kept me here is that Calgary is absolutely the most entrepreneurial city, filled with the nicest type of people. I wouldn't live anywhere else.

2. How would you describe Alberta's tech sector?

Grossly inadequate, but growing.

3. What would you say is the greatest challenge of working in the tech sector in Alberta?

The province doesn't have any understanding of technology and no understanding of the value of technology, with regard to what it can do for businesses and what it can do for people's lives. It is certainly very reluctant to invest in technology to improve businesses.

4. Following on that, what would you say is the greatest benefit of working in the tech sector in Alberta?

The opportunity is enormous. Luckily, we're starting to see younger people coming into the marketplace, and they understand technology much much better than older people. The decision makers, like myself, didn't grow up in that environment, whereas the younger people grew up with it and are able to pick up new technologies almost instantaneously. People who have been in the business for 20 years have a hard time unlearning what they did before and embracing new ways. Definitely, the demographic will be affecting the opportunity for technology in Alberta.

5. How do you stay connected and tapped into Calgary's tech sector?

I don't spend too much time networking '€” we'll talk to some people in the technology sector on an ongoing basis '€” but really our whole program is us selling our solutions across the country, continent, and world, which is mostly how it applies to our own business, but then it can also apply to other industries, such as housing or data centres. That's who we primarily interface with.

6. Who inspires you and why?

Warren Buffett inspires me, because he doesn't believe in consultants; he believes in his own long-term views for building a business. He has a practical sense to his business and that's one of the problems with tech entrepreneurs. A lot of them have incredible ideas but no business savvy, or any real understanding of how their ideas will apply to the real world. Warren Buffett is just one of those people that understands that.

7. What book are you currently reading and what do you think of it?

I'm reading a book called "The Tiger", by the same author of The Golden Spruce, John Vaillant. They are true stories about the environment, and in this case it's about the Siberian Tiger and what is going on in the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Golden Spruce is about the environment on the West Coast of Canada and the United States. Both books are incredibly compelling. The theme is really about our environment, and what has been done to it. I spend a lot of time reading about the environment. I think technology may well be the saviour of our planet. We used to spend so much money doing catalogues and brochures, and now we don't spend a penny on that, we do it all electronically.

8. What do you think of when you hear the word "cyberinfrastructure"?

Whenever you hear these terms, the one thing I've learned is to not completely ignore them because soon they become the reality. I find that things are working so quickly, some of these technologies are upon us already. If it wasn't for new technology, we wouldn't be in the place we are now.

9. In your opinion, what are the most exciting technologies out there right now?

I'm biased but I'm very excited with the technologies DIRTT is working on. Exciting technologies are ones that support more efficient business models and create jobs. The truth is, we are becoming a knowledge-based society. We are not going to out-work the East, we are not going to "out-cheap" the East, but we can definitely out-think the East by using our technology in effective ways. One of the East's biggest barriers is the cost of freight when delivering things to the rest of the world. Alberta's biggest problem is that we're not competitive on a global basis, and we need to work on that. When I see the things that are being done virtually, it really has a powerful impact on every part of our business, especially if we can bring that into building and operating our residences.

10. Are there any other fields you're not currently involved in that you would like to see yourself / your company working with?

We'd definitely like to be involved more in the environmental impact of things. We'd like to do more with our oceans and the world's food supply. There is a company in Alberta called Spring Creek Ranch in Vegreville, AB, that has an incredible biofuel operation. One cow produces 2 tonnes of manure in a year, and the fact that they're converting it into energy and fertilizer is really exciting. If that solution comes, you'll see a lot of changes. There's always lots of things we'd like to be involved in.

11. What advice would you give to someone just starting out as an entrepreneur?

Well, first I'd tell them not to do it. I'm 63 years old and I live for what I do but a lot of people would describe my job as extremely stressful. I don't feel it because I've been a part of it for so long and I'm used to it. People see the romance of what we do and it all looks very beautiful and exciting. You get to be a contrarian and it's something you have to remain steadfast in. It's not always financially rewarding '€” you're always going to have lots of ups and downs, and you're going to need to drive it and keep it going. It's not easy and there's not a lot of people who can do it. The entrepreneur also has to be able to recognize when their business is beyond them, and that they need to step out and go build something else.