Rossland’s Brian Fry honoured with a BCIT Distinguished Alumni Award
October 10, 2023 by Emma Berg for BCIT News
At just 19 years old, Brian Fry went from racing with his local alpine ski team to representing the nation as an elite ski racer on Team Canada in the 1980s. Suddenly, a world of possibilities was at his ski boots. For this young athlete, who was born and raised in the small town of Rossland, BC, it was exhilarating—until the unthinkable happened. While competing in Europe, Brian suffered a serious injury. He recalls waking up in a hospital in the French Alps to learn that his femur had been seriously broken. His ski racing career was over.
Now, Brian had to carve out a new future. As a ski racer, he knew that being able to anticipate and adapt to changes in his environment are key to crossing any future finish line. He used this skill to pivot, not only building an extraordinary career as an entrepreneur but also pioneering an inspiring path in technology innovation.
BCIT helps chart a new direction
In 1984, soon after his ski accident, Brian enrolled in BCIT’s Marketing Management program.
“I chose BCIT because I thought it would be a very quick way to download the information I needed to get on with my life,” explains the BCIT alum. “I thought BCIT was going to be much easier. It was quite the opposite. It was an incredibly intense experience but that work acumen and discipline that the school instilled in me have been foundational to my career to this day.”
Brian also says that BCIT—through its curriculum, his instructors, and like-minded classmates—sparked the entrepreneur in him. He had become very interested in new technology, and as he watched students painstakingly write papers with typewriters or pen and paper (which did not allow for deleting or cutting and pasting), he saw a future where tech could solve a problem.
A side gig sparks his technology career
“Part of the motivation was that I needed to bring in more money because I was self-funding my education,” says Brian. “My program at BCIT inspired me to be entrepreneurial. I could see that students were struggling with preparing their assignments. I thought, ‘they really need personal computers’, which were not at all common at the time. So my girlfriend (now my wife) helped me by setting up a booth at BCIT several days a week to sell computers to my fellow students. We sold them as inexpensively as we could.”
Brian says he put the computers together at home and, with the permission of BCIT, sold them on campus.
“For me, that was really the beginning of becoming a tech entrepreneur,” says Brian, who graduated in 1986.
A pioneer in the tech industry
Brian has been a technology entrepreneur and leader in BC for many years. After his first entrepreneurial pursuit selling computers to students at BCIT, he went on to help build many tech start-ups in Vancouver, Silicon Valley, and the Kootenays.
While in Vancouver Brian was instrumental to the city’s early tech scene. He served as Chair of Software BC and Information Technology Association of Canada – BC Chapter (ITAC BC). He helped ITAC BC amalgamate with the Electronic Manufacturer’s Association of British Columbia to become the British Columbia Technology Industry Association (now BC Tech Association), where he served as a founding board member. Since 1997, Brian has been based in his hometown of Rossland, BC, where he started his next round of tech companies.
Over the past 20 years, he has been instrumental in building the largest ISP in the province in 1998. In 1999, he co-founded IPWorld (Fiber Optic Network Company joint venture with Utilicorp) with partner Tim Dufour. In 2001, Brian and Tim also started RackForce, which became Canada’s largest cloud provider and leading builder of advanced data centres. In 2015, they sold RackForce for $33 million to TeraGo. In 2018, Brian and Tim co-founded PodTech Innovation Inc. with Brian Fehr to design, build, and operate advanced-edge data centres (the next phase of infrastructure for cloud computing, especially AI). They sold the company in 2020 to Iris Energy, where he is a strategic shareholder.
A future of possibilities
While Brian has long stopped selling computers from a booth at BCIT, he says he still leans on the same skills that got him started back in 1984: an entrepreneurial mindset from BCIT, competitive agility from ski racing, and an innate ability to see beyond the present and anticipate the future environment.
Once again with Tim, his partner of many ventures, Brian recently launched a new company Great Plains Ecosystems, which he says will have a significant and positive impact on the planet by sequestering carbon from biodegradable waste and making it valuable. He is the Chief Marketing Officer at the organization.
“It’s by far the most exciting work of my tech career,” he says. “For example, if our dream comes true, we’ll be able to help the forest stakeholders manage forest waste to the point where we never see a major forest fire again and forests will once again be diverse and healthy.”
Always looking ahead, Brian is energized about the future.
“My wife, who often has to remind me to focus on the present sometimes, will agree: I live in the future all the time,” he laughs.
BCIT is proud to recognize Brian Fry with a 2023 BCIT Distinguished Alumni Award at the awards gala on November 2, 2023.