Health tech entrepreneur and MBA alum wins coveted Forty Under 40
Jason Robertson jokes that he’s the UBC Sauder grad who never left. The health technology entrepreneur graduated from UBC Sauder’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) in 2010, but rather than leaving campus life behind, Robertson offered to volunteer as a mentor with two UBC tech startup programs. Ten years later, his contributions to B.C.- based technology innovation and investment have been recognized with Business in Vancouver’s 2020 Forty Under 40 award.
As Co-founder and Vice President of Nimbus Synergies, Robertson leads early-stage financing of digital health and health technology ventures. His company is responsible for investing a $20 million fund belonging to Discovery Parks, an organization that was created by the B.C. government 40 years ago to support technology investment. Robertson’s team is also looking to raise $50 million to expand the program’s mandate and back more ventures.
“My aspiration was always to be an entrepreneur, like my parents,” says Robertson. “I wanted to start my own biotechnology company. It seemed like the most difficult business you could possibly start and for some reason, that challenge appealed to me.”
While Robertson is an out-of-the-box thinker, he is also connector of ideas and people and his social network includes hundreds of CEOs, investors, scientists, researchers, professors, members of government agencies and industry associations. But it all started with a book.
“I was 15 years old when a family friend gave me a book called The Billion Dollar Molecule. It was about a young Harvard scientist who was trying to design an early treatment for AIDS and his journey to build a biotechnology company. I was captivated by it and knew then that I wanted to help the world through health and technology.”
At the intersection of life sciences, technology and business
Born and raised in Vancouver, Robertson moved to Montreal in 1999 to pursue sciences at McGill University, majoring in microbiology and immunology and minoring in biotechnology. While there, he launched two tech consultancies and worked with some of McGill’s most accomplished researchers, scientists, and physicians.
Upon graduation, he worked for variety of companies, including Aquinox Pharmaceuticals. After helping the company raise more than $60 million in venture capital financing, complete a NASDAQ IPO, and land a $155 million partnership with a Japanese pharmaceutical company, Robertson felt he had gained enough business experience to return to school to pursue an MBA, as both parents had done a generation before.
He entered UBC Sauder’s part-time MBA program in 2008, specializing in finance and strategic management. It didn’t take long to find students like himself who were fascinated with entrepreneurship.
In 2009, Jason Robertson participated in UBC Sauder’s MBA Exchange program in Shanghai.
“On my first day of school, I sat next to two students who would become two of my closest friends and business confidants. We’d sit around for hours outside of school brainstorming what businesses we should start when we finished our MBAs,” recalls Robertson.
After graduating in 2010 at the top of his class, Robertson remained in contact with Paul Cubbon, one of his professors and the Assistant Dean of Innovation at UBC Sauder.
“As a professor, one of the great pleasures of the job is the opportunity to meet and spend time with many bright, talented and interesting students,” says Cubbon. “While I was running Lean Start-up programs via entrepreneurship@UBC, Jason volunteered to mentor early-stage companies, and we were able to work together as peers.
“In recent years, he’s been very active as an Investigator in the Creative Destruction Lab Health stream. This involves full days of listening to talented scientists with breakthrough-enabling technology but incomplete or broken business models, and helping guide them so that they are more likely to succeed in ultimately helping human health and quality of life. Jason is generous with his time and advice and embodies a “pay it forward” ethos.”
Picking ventures with big promise and high social impact
With a career that straddles both for-profit and not-for-profit streams within Vancouver’s tech ecosystem, Robertson has had the opportunity to work with some cutting-edge companies.
One example is Arbutus Medical, a medical device company founded by a group of UBC Engineering students. The students were challenged to develop a “frugal innovation” to solve the problem of hospitals in third world countries having limited access to surgical drills, which typically cost about $30,000 each. Rather than building a cheaper drill, the students devised a sterile, pathogen-resistant cover to place over a standard home power drill and have found significant success in healthcare settings, as well as veterinarian hospitals and the military.
A second company in Nimbus Synergies' portfolio is Starling Minds, an all-digital platform for addressing the mental health of employees. The company has secured contracts with insurance companies, worker compensation boards, education unions, and frontline healthcare workers in B.C. and across Canada. Starling Minds is also partnering with UBC as part of Canada’s Digital Technology Supercluster consortium.
Earning recognition among industry peers
Now married with two young sons, Robertson is enjoying all aspects of his life and career – excelling in the role of connector, collaborator and rainmaker in B.C.’s vibrant health tech community. While being selected for Business in Vancouver’s 2020 Forty Under 40 award came as a surprise, it’s something he’s quietly wished for since he was a teenager dreaming of a career that combined all of his interests.
Jason Robertson, his wife Andrea McLean (UBC Sauder MBA, ‘09), and their two sons.
“Making the Forty Under 40 list is something that’s always been an aspiration on my vision board but I never thought it would actually happen, so to receive this recognition is pretty humbling. I’m 39 so I just slipped in under the wire.”