BCom graduate takes web startup global


When Arnold Leung graduated with his BCom in 2007, the young entrepreneur already had the beginnings of a web and mobile development company in his back pocket.

Today, at 26, his work as CEO of Appnovation Technologies, a North American leader in the use of open-source web and cross-platform mobile development, has seen the company grow into a 45-employee operation with revenues of $4.2 million last year.

Appnovation has found great success working with partners’ open-source software, using it to create customized web and mobile solutions for clients rather than building websites or apps from scratch. He attributes his rapid growth largely to forming alliances with influential software companies such as Massachusetts-based Acquia, Atlanta-based Alfresco, and Silicon Valley-based Strobe.

“We tripled our revenue in one year. And that’s by using strong partners and tapping into their niche software and client base to come up with efficient, customized solutions,” said Leung. He is now taking Appnovation into global markets where their partners are already established. “We have an office in Atlanta, Georgia and will set up in the UK in May. Alfresco and Acquia are there so we have the network set up for us.”

Leung’s bold business moves won him the Business Development Bank of Canada’s Young Entrepreneur Award in 2011. He is also the youngest person to rank in Business in Vancouver’s Top Forty Under 40 and has been included twice in Profit Magazine’s Hot 50 List, which ranks Canada’s emerging growth companies.

Appnovation’s story began during Leung's internship in BMO Nesbitt Burns’ retail banking division while studying at Sauder. He began helping investment advisors develop their websites on a contract basis. By the time he graduated, he was armed with the knowledge, skills, and connections to begin a new venture.

“I knew I had to make a decision when I graduated; either go work for someone else or see what I could do with this web development work. I decided to give myself six months to make some money and then evaluate my situation,” he explains. “And so far it’s working out pretty well,” he modestly understates.

In fact, Appnovation is one of only 40 or 50 companies in North America specializing in building web and mobile applications that run on multiple device platforms such as Blackberry, Apple, Android and Windows. This year they have added two more partners: Sencha and Mulesoft, and have also come up with their own technology called “Canopy” that combines other software to speed up the application-building process.

Being a young CEO can have some unique challenges, says Leung. “I had to learn that everyone won’t do things exactly how I would and that’s okay. Actually, the psychology courses I took at UBC really helped when it comes to understanding how people work and how I can best work with them,” he explains.

“And of course, the finance and accounting courses I took at Sauder were also incredibly useful for me; it’s the numbers that really matter when you’re running a business.”