“Vancouver is on its way to becoming another Silicon Valley,” says Alex Moret, a UBC MBA student who is combining his passion for sailing and skill as an engineer with Sauder’s entrepreneurial training and support to graduate this month not only with an MBA, but with a fully-fledged tech start-up as well.
He recently returned from Italy, where he skippered Sauder’s MBA sailing team to a third-place finish at the Rolex MBA Cup, an invitational regatta on the Italian Riviera, besting teams from the world’s top business schools. And he’s hoping the team will do even better next year, with the help of the Afterguard tactical racing system – the high-tech glasses he’s taking to market that allow a sailor to check their instruments wherever they are on a boat.
The perfect mix of skills, passion and the right environment
Afterguard’s story began a year ago, when Moret was in his first semester at Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School taking in a guest speaker in an entrepreneurship class. The speaker, MBA alumnus Fraser Hall, had been part of a team of students that launched Recon Instruments – a company that produces digitally enabled goggles and glasses for athletes like skiers and cyclists. Recon had been founded by Hall and three classmates as part of a project in a class very similar to the one Moret was sitting in.
Moret already knew Hall, having sailed together before, so they started talking, and Moret quickly saw how Recon’s technology could be a huge help for sailors, and had the potential to revolutionize racing. That December, he submitted a proposal to start an off-shoot company based on a version of Recon’s glasses that would connect to a yacht’s instruments and do calculations based on factors like wind direction and boat speed.
It was the perfect mix of his skill set as both an engineer and MBA student, and his passion for sailing. Before his MBA, Moret finished an engineering degree and had been project manager at a hydrogen technology company. He’s sailed halfway around the world, and set a world record in 2005 when he helped sail a trimaran from Sydney to Tahiti in 13 days.
He got involved with Sauder’s sailing team as soon as he began his MBA, starting as the team’s skipper at the Italian regatta last year in his first month at Sauder.
“The fact I now get to go out sailing all the time not only with my classmates, but also for my business and make a tool that every single sailor will want as part of my studies – that’s really cool,” Moret says.
“Plus, in Vancouver, we’re in one of the most beautiful places in the world for sailing,” he says, adding that he’s met some alumni who chose Sauder because they wanted to be on the West Coast and learn to sail – and others chose it because of the entrepreneurial West Coast spirit.
A clear vision for the future
As he’s been going through his MBA, Moret has had his hands full leading the sailing team, and developing the technology for Afterguard. He’s spent plenty of time on the water testing prototypes for the heads-up display, sometimes with help from two-time Olympic medallist Ross MacDonald, a part owner of Moret’s company.
The glasses will show a skipper important data right in front of their eyes the moment they need it – the display is in their peripheral vision, and uses gaze detection so that whenever the sailor looks down, the screen appears. It brings together information on speed, wind and heading, and can tell a sailor if they’re on track to make it round a buoy or in front of another boat, to avoid making a costly last-minute change of course. The glasses weigh only 60 grams, as they’re wirelessly connected to an on-board central communications unit, in turn connected to the boat’s instruments and specialized on-board sensors.
At the Italian regatta this year, Moret had a clear vision of just how much Afterguard’s glasses, which will be ready to go in 2015, could have helped his team.
“So many times in that race, I had crew blocking my view of my instruments, so I was constantly moving around the boat to see them – which wastes precious seconds when you’re racing,” Moret says.
“But next year, we’ll definitely have Afterguard onboard. And then everyone will be talking about us,” he says.
Sauder’s network of entrepreneurs
Sauder has been ramping up its programs for entrepreneurs for the past several years, with specializations for both MBAs and BComs. The school has also just announced a new scholarship that sets aside half the money as a seed fund for incoming student ventures.
Instructor Paul Cubbon, who leads much of Sauder’s entrepreneurship programming, says Moret’s story is an excellent example of how the school’s extensive network of alumni is constantly helping current students.
“This positive, giving-back nature seems to epitomize alumni entrepreneurs,” he says. “Our students are very often hearing them say, ‘Call me, let me know how I can help’ – genuine offers that help drive successes like Afterguard.”