Oct 2013
Eaves Screen Capture

Quietly building a Canadian success story

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How did Dr. Allen Eaves build STEMCELL Technologies into a multimillion-dollar enterprise ($72 million in sales last year) employing 500 people (450 in Vancouver) and selling highest-quality products to the world’s leading scientists (including at least three Nobel Laureates) in 79 countries?

Dr. Eaves, a Canadian Stem Cell Foundation Director, did it quietly. With an eye on the big prize: curing cancer.

His amazing success story – Cell Made Man – is featured this week in BCBusiness, expertly written by Anne Casselman.

She tells of how, to bring in more money for research at the Terry Fox Laboratory he founded in 1981, Dr. Eaves began selling culture media for growing blood-forming stem cells to colleagues around the world. By 1993, the media-prep business had outgrown the Terry Fox facilities, so he took out a half-million-dollar mortgage on his house and negotiated a $500,000 loan from the Western Economic Diversification Fund to start STEMCELL Technologies.

Profitable from year one, when it employed eight people and did nearly $1 million in sales, STEMCELL Technologies has grown 20% annually over 20 years. Profits are used to fuel growth and a substantial amount of revenue (about $7 million a year) gets ploughed back into R&D to keep the product line current with a field that is growing – and changing – rapidly. For example, one of the company’s key products is mTeSR™1, a culture medium for human embryonic stem cells and human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). Neither type of cells even existed when the company was founded, with iPS cells arriving on the scene just six years ago.

Dr. Eaves, an astute businessman who owns the company outright, is not in it for the money. He has turned down many offers by big multinationals that would have made him a multimillionaire many times over. “It would basically kill the company,” he told BCBusiness. He has a larger goal in mind. “I want to cure cancer. That’s the motivation,” he said. “It’s all about curing some of these diseases, wiping them off the face of the earth.”

The products that STEMCELL Technologies develops, sells and ships around the world “will contribute to doing just that,” Ms. Casselman writes.

And that’s truly refreshing to read about. While it’s always important to focus on the bottom line – businesses can’t survive, can’t employ people and can’tcontribute to the economy if they don’t make money – it’s just as significant to see the big picture.

Dr. Eaves does both. Ever so quietly.

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