The Driving Force Behind Alacrity; an Interview with Owen Matthews

Note: This is part one of a two-part interview with Owen Matthews, co-founder of The Alacrity Foundation.

The Origins of Alacrity

The Alacrity Foundation is deeply rooted in tech entrepreneurship. Owen Matthews, a founding member of Alacrity and investor based in Victoria, BC, co-founded the organization with the aim of fulfilling a critical need. Having successfully founded multiple businesses, the founders of Alacrity wanted to use this organization to encourage and support entrepreneurship in young engineering and business graduates.

We were all focused on making businesses successful. We wanted to bring our philosophy, experience, and connections to an organization that would help graduates learn how to be business-people and, where needed, to help them raise money. The final piece of the puzzle was incorporating a model that unified the private sector experience of Alacrity’s founders with government programs and university research opportunities to promote entrepreneurship and help businesses be more successful.

Owen’s Roots

As the most visibly involved of Alacrity’s co-founders, Owen Matthews has become the face of the organization. The entrepreneurial spirit runs deep in the Matthews family. Owen’s father, Terry Matthews, is well-known in the business world. He’s founded or funded over 100 successful companies, including Mitel, Newbridge Networks, and Wesley Clover International.

Owen himself was bit by the business bug early on and began working in the technology sector at a very young age. He started his own company, NewHeights, in 1998 while studying at UVic. NewHeights grew to around 100 employees in British Columbia before being acquired by CounterPath in 2007.

With active roles in multiple organizations throughout his career, Owen has contributed to the business world while also having significant impact on his community. He’s actively involved in supporting children’s health and is currently on the Board of Directors for Power To Be, a local charity focused on improving the quality of life of vulnerable youth, and the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island. He also serves on the Board of Governors for St. Margaret’s School and the Board of Advisors for UVic’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business.

The Vision Behind the Foundation

Alacrity was born out of generations of knowledge and experience in the tech sector. The initial aim was to encourage and promote entrepreneurship in British Columbia, but the vision has grown to be so much more.

Hopefully, the foundation is evergreen and creates enough value that it attracts private support as well as ongoing government support, so that young people start more companies and build an even stronger culture of entrepreneurship in Western Canada. This activity creates more and more opportunities – not just for the company shareholders, but for everyone working in the businesses, as well as the other services that spring up to support them. An amazing ecosystem gets created as a result of some people taking risk. We are working to make Western Canada a place that attracts strong foreign capital investment because we deliver great returns and because we have great companies.

Our goal is to make starting and developing a business a career path which people choose. They then go on to build companies that have a broad economic impact in the local communities. That’s my vision for it.

Creating a Culture of Entrepreneurship

For Owen, one thing matters above all when talking to young business people and companies:

Culture is always the most important thing. Is the team willing to change their minds if it’s in the best interest of the company, or are they most concerned about self-interest? Are they working hard because they’re dedicated and passionate about what they’re doing? Does the team understand the importance of the subjective nature of entrepreneurship?

At its core, the details of the company are less interesting to me than the approach of the people who are in that company. How people in the company are treated is more telling to me than the revenue run rate. I’ve seen good revenue run rate businesses evaporate because they lose their culture as they grow. If the culture is wrong, great team members don’t feel appreciated and either leave, or are unduly limited in their contributions. So I look at culture first and foremost.

Alacrity’s culture exudes the same sort of spirit that Owen values. One of the two programs run by the foundation, Entrepreneurship@Alacrity, has member companies share spaces, services, and experiences with one another. They co-host events and actively participate in the local tech community. Most of all, they lead by example, encouraging those interested in building a company to take risks, get involved, and create the opportunities that will sustain their local tech sector.