Thomas Elwell is CEO of KATE Energy.
What is KATE Energy and what does it do?
Elwell: KATE Energy is a Calgary based producer of cleaner, more affordable and sustainable power and heat. We are a young company that was founded in early 2016 and is moving from the startup phase to commercial operations and growth.
Our core focus is providing remote Canada with an economically and environmentally sustainable alternative to diesel and other high-CO2 emitting fuels. KATE accomplishes this by providing remote communities and large industrial operations (such as mines) with power and heat using natural gas.
To succeed, KATE works with producers of LNG, which is the most cost-effective way to deliver natural gas to sites where pipelines are inaccessible. KATE hopes to soon be producing its own LNG.
What has business been like for the company considering the economic conditions in the province in the last few years?
Elwell: All politics aside, it has been a struggle, no doubt. It doesn’t help that the national perception of the energy sector is way off and skewed, but the primary struggle for most of us has been on the investment side. Until recently, the global investment community has shied away from investing in Western Canada for several reasons, including uncertainties in the energy market.
The fact is, there are several innovative companies, such as KATE, here in the West that offer great investment opportunities. We simply need an audience – a group that will give us the opportunity to present our innovative models.
On the other hand, the challenged economic climate does present opportunities, it’s not all doom and gloom. KATE, along with other forward thinkers, are finding ways to take advantage of the low price of energy. We at KATE have developed a more economical and environmentally sustainable power and heating solution that complements renewables.
Best of all, KATE now has an opportunity to do its part and help rebuild our bruised economy. Providing jobs, paying taxes, training, educating and making a difference.
What is your vision for the company?
Elwell: First, we need to capitalize on the lessons learned from our initial foray into the commercial phase of our company’s evolution so we can provide a consistent solution to our clients. No pain, no gain, as they say.
In order to enjoy the gain, we need to focus on KATE’s long-term vision and continue to learn from and listen to our clients, our Indigenous partners, vendors and even our governments so we can strengthen our offering and deliver the effective positive change to the communities we serve.
Our vision is to become the number one go-to company for remote power production in Canada. To the extent that we’re a power producer, or what the market calls an independent power producer (IPP), KATE also looks to provide clients that are in lesser remote locations with a more affordable, more independent power production solution as well.
You’ve been involved in many startups during your career. What’s the key to success for any startup?
Elwell: Take a page out of Brett Wilson’s recipe book and be unapologetically passionate. You also need to be persistent beyond reproach. Once you learn your idea is plausible and that you aren’t crazy, pursue your idea with absolute prejudice and resolve.
Start by building a team of individuals who can see your vision, experience the same “ah-ha” moment you did, and who are prepared to develop the opportunity with laser focus. Corporately and commercially, the team has to be relentless, put in the time, listen to potential clients, ask a lot of questions and believe in the company.
You need to build your network, a community of potential customers and influencers, including a board of directors, who will help guide the business and create the momentum required to be a success.
It takes longer than you can possibly imagine and is far more expensive in every way, so you need to be prepared and have a plan.
Personally, the most important aspect of creating a business is maintaining your sanity. For me, my wife and kids were and are incredibly important as they support, encourage and provide levity through the process.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received on being an entrepreneur?
Elwell: “Give people what they want, make money, repeat.” A friend of mine from a previous life (he knows who he is) did his best to instil that formula in me since the age of 27.
Sounds simple doesn’t it?
It’s not! There are so many layers under those eight well strung together, seemingly innocuous words that it could take a lifetime of trial and error to achieve. You have to listen more than you speak, know your strengths, and especially your weaknesses, team up, research, hope your timing is perfect, don’t be fooled by shiny objects or shiny people, be prepared to be considered foolish, laughed at and told “no” a million times.
If you make it through that, you will have achieved the “give people what they want” part. The making money part is simple math (finance) and for that we defer to the smarter people we hire.
The point is, it’s very hard to take an idea and turn it into a success but not impossible because it’s done every day. When you nail it, it’s the most amazing feeling of accomplishment, next to marriage and children (for me), you could ever achieve, period!
During it all, don’t forget to have fun, life is too short.
Interviewed by Mario Toneguzzi, a Troy Media business reporter based in Calgary.