Shift by Alberta Innovates

From making money to making a difference: Charles Buchanan from Technology Helps

February 10, 2023 Charles Buchanan Season 4 Episode 2
From making money to making a difference: Charles Buchanan from Technology Helps
Shift by Alberta Innovates
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Shift by Alberta Innovates
From making money to making a difference: Charles Buchanan from Technology Helps
Feb 10, 2023 Season 4 Episode 2
Charles Buchanan

Charles Buchanan is a man on a mission to build community and help end technology poverty for non-profit social entreprises. Through his company Technology Helps, Charles and his team take a unique approach to assessing the technology needs of a social enterprise. They always start with asking why. Why does the enterprise exist, what are its goals and how can technology help them to achieve their goals?

Arguably a non-traditional IT approach, but isn't that how it is with innovation? It's not status quo.

Sit back and settle in. Learn more about Charles, his company, his mentorship of aspiring black entrepreneurs and support for black-run charity and the paths he's taken to get to where he is.

Welcome to Shift!


Bio


Charles Buchanan

Charles is the Founder and CEO of Technology Helps. As an innovator and visionary, he has a distinguished history in corporate technology leadership (including Suncor Energy, Deloitte, Oracle, MNP, and Royal LePage), management consulting, and entrepreneurship. Charles has a has founded and worked with numerous technology companies in diverse areas such as online gaming, fintech, environmental protection, and more. He continues to be an authority in the tech space and has provided expert advice and implemented large-scale technology solutions for enterprise clients.

He's a passionate contributor to the community and has served on various non-profit boards for the past 20 years, including his role as Board Chair at Centre for Newcomers. He currently serves on several boards: Calgary Black Chambers (co-founder); The Common Approach to Impact Measurement; Momentum (finance committee); Black Business and Professional Association. He also serves on the grant committee at Calgary Foundation and an entrepreneur mentor at Venture Mentors Service of Alberta (VMSA). Charles is a founder and advisory board member of UpRising Academy helping talented at-risk youth in Jamaica in STEM and sports.
 
 He holds an MBA from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and a B.Sc. (Hons) in electrical and computer engineering. When recharging, Charles can be found on the golf course or hiking in the beautiful mountains near his home in Calgary and spending meaningful time with his family.

Shift by Alberta Innovates focuses on the people, businesses and organizations that are contributing to Alberta's strong tech ecosystem.

Show Notes Transcript

Charles Buchanan is a man on a mission to build community and help end technology poverty for non-profit social entreprises. Through his company Technology Helps, Charles and his team take a unique approach to assessing the technology needs of a social enterprise. They always start with asking why. Why does the enterprise exist, what are its goals and how can technology help them to achieve their goals?

Arguably a non-traditional IT approach, but isn't that how it is with innovation? It's not status quo.

Sit back and settle in. Learn more about Charles, his company, his mentorship of aspiring black entrepreneurs and support for black-run charity and the paths he's taken to get to where he is.

Welcome to Shift!


Bio


Charles Buchanan

Charles is the Founder and CEO of Technology Helps. As an innovator and visionary, he has a distinguished history in corporate technology leadership (including Suncor Energy, Deloitte, Oracle, MNP, and Royal LePage), management consulting, and entrepreneurship. Charles has a has founded and worked with numerous technology companies in diverse areas such as online gaming, fintech, environmental protection, and more. He continues to be an authority in the tech space and has provided expert advice and implemented large-scale technology solutions for enterprise clients.

He's a passionate contributor to the community and has served on various non-profit boards for the past 20 years, including his role as Board Chair at Centre for Newcomers. He currently serves on several boards: Calgary Black Chambers (co-founder); The Common Approach to Impact Measurement; Momentum (finance committee); Black Business and Professional Association. He also serves on the grant committee at Calgary Foundation and an entrepreneur mentor at Venture Mentors Service of Alberta (VMSA). Charles is a founder and advisory board member of UpRising Academy helping talented at-risk youth in Jamaica in STEM and sports.
 
 He holds an MBA from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and a B.Sc. (Hons) in electrical and computer engineering. When recharging, Charles can be found on the golf course or hiking in the beautiful mountains near his home in Calgary and spending meaningful time with his family.

Shift by Alberta Innovates focuses on the people, businesses and organizations that are contributing to Alberta's strong tech ecosystem.

Jon:

Welcome to Shift Today, folks. Our guest is Charles Buchanan, founder, president, and CEO of Calgary based Technology Helps.

Good morning, Charles. How are you doing?

Charles:

I'm doing great. How are you doing?

Jon:

Very well, thank you.

So tell me a little bit about Technology Helps. What does your organization do? Where did the idea come from and what's coming down the pike for you guys?

Charles:

Okay. So Technology Helps is what we would call a true social enterprise. So we're an organization that's focused on helping social good organizations which is charities, nonprofits, coops, and other otherwise underrepresented organizations use technology to be better. So we provide a system of support and a system of security for these organizations as well as keeping them technically engaged. So that is what Technology Helps is and does.

Jon:

Okay.

Charles:

Yeah.

Jon:

So when you say to be better, do you mean... Is that to be more efficient? More effective? Safer online? And is it primarily IT that we're talking about?

Charles:

Yeah. So we are talking primarily IT. And to be better means have greater impact. And to have greater impact, an organization needs to be all of the above. They need to be more efficient, they need to be more effective, they need to be more engaging to their clientele. They need to be more connected to their stakeholders. They need to be more communicative and more... They need to tell their story in better ways. So there are so many things that...

Technology touches everything that a nonprofit or a charitable or social good organization does these days. It's almost impossible to find an area of any of these service organizations that is not technology related.

So for them to be, and I say be better as opposed to, there's the other side of it is the whole poverty side, the technology poverty side where they are so far behind, I could look at it that way, get them out of poverty or I could say get them better. It's a different size of the same coin.

Jon:

And I would imagine though that in your work that you're seeing a lot of these social enterprises that span that continuum. As we all know, social enterprises don't have a lot of money at the outset for administrative costs to develop IT infrastructure.

Charles:

Yes. Yes, we do see a lot of them. And so back to your original question as to where the idea came from, the idea came from a long history of community work and I do not like... Yeah, anytime spent with me, you'd get my position on volunteering. I do not see... It's not volunteering and it's community work and it's work that you're not paid to do as a responsible contributing member of the community.

So in my years of community work, working in various organizations as a frontline now person assistant with service delivery or on boards, it occurred... I guess I hadn't seen it for years but then seven years ago, it dawned on me. I started realizing that these organizations did not enjoy the same level of technology capabilities as the for-profit businesses that I was involved in. And so I looked at it quite carefully and it's like I realized that yes, there was a situation here which is essentially poverty.

These organizations are quite... They're really badly off and it's not just having the latest computer or the best software, it cuts right through the entire technology stack. And it's where they have challenges when it comes to infrastructure, the hardware and the network. And their applications are not necessarily what they need to be. Their use of data is just not there. Their business processes are generally not aligned nor well documented or figured out. The way they use social media, they've gotten a little better at that, but that's still lacking and missing. How they use cloud technologies? How enabled are they from mobility? How secure are they and how well they're supported?

So there's so many areas that cut across this technology spectrum when someone says, "How you address technology poverty and when you're working with these organizations, what do you do?" Yes, we look at all that because all that makes up their technology capability or their technology ability. And-

Jon:

That's amazing.

Charles:

... [inaudible 00:05:23]. Yeah.

Jon:

That's a lot of work.

Charles:

It is a lot of work but also it's... And I think it's a lot of work and it's misunderstood even within the organizations themselves. So when we look at it, when we start working with an organization, we always start off with assessment and a roadmap. And it's not your typical tech assessment and roadmap but it looks at all those areas. And to some people, it's mind blowing and it's eye opening for one and it's mind blowing. It's like, "Oh, we had not considered that," or "We didn't realize that was technology. We didn't realize that these things could or should be integrated or this thing or..." Go ahead.

Jon:

Let me... I just got to stop you there because you said something interesting. Well, it's all interesting, but one particular point that stuck out to me and you said they didn't realize that was technology. So help me establish a baseline understanding for our listeners of what technology is as you define it.

Charles:

So technology is as now they're calling it digitization, it's anything... It's information technology, I would say anything that's computer, data, or information related. And it's going back to information, the information in information technology. It's anything that processes, touches, or stores information.

So any of your computer systems, your phone is a part of your IT infrastructure, your cloud services that you consume, the apps that you... They're all part of your technology ecosystem including-

Jon:

So when you talk about apps, when you say you've got a LinkedIn app or a social media app, you helping them navigate through the usages of those apps? Or are you helping actually with content there too?

Charles:

So we help them... We take it a step back from that and we start off with the why of the organization, what is your purpose as an organization, what impact are you trying... What difference are you trying to make in the world? Our conversations start there.

People... Our agencies we work with are taken aback sometimes by that. You're like, "Well, that's not typically a tech question." And we're like, "No, it's not a tech question. We need to know why you're here. And then from why you're here, how are you going about doing this work that generates in this impact or making this difference. And based on that, in what way our technologies... Or is technology playing a role in that?"

So our exercise, it's like so when it comes to... It's a long ways down the road before we talk about specific apps because what capabilities do you need, what do you need technology to do to enable you to do your job.

So we look at your strategic plan, we look at their programs, we look at where they're going, and it doesn't take a lot of time because that's all we do. And to say, "This is..." And then what role does technology play? And it's like... And then we look at things like around apps. It's like, "Well, you have an app that does this. Why do you have three or four apps that do that?"

Jon:

Right.

Charles:

Or "What exactly does it do for you? And if it's doing that, how is the information, how is the data that comes from that being used over here? And are you collecting the same information twice? Are you doing..." So sometimes a lot... There are a lot of organizations that are technology loaded but not necessarily technology enabled because they have a lot of... Because it's essentially a technology landfill. You just acquire tools and acquire things and it's just-

Jon:

Right, yeah.

Charles:

... Without any integration or any orchestration or coordination of these very powerful resources, you could basically end up having it work against you because the time and effort... The energy it takes to maintain.

Jon:

Sure. Well, especially... Sorry, I just cut you off. I apologize, Charles.

Charles:

Yeah. No, go ahead.

Jon:

Especially in the context of today where apps and tools and everything's just flying at us so quickly and then people go, "Oh, yeah, I need Canva." "I need..." Especially with ChatGPT and stuff like that and the influx of artificially intelligent bots and tools, people just... "It's a shiny item and I want to have that. That's going to help me somehow."

But stepping back to what you're originally talking about, you're looking at an organization holistically. You're looking at them from starting with their why statement. What do you do? What's your purpose and how is the technology going to support that and help you fulfill your end goals? That's fantastic.

Charles:

Yeah. And to do that... Because that's the job that's required.

Jon:

Yeah.

Charles:

Even though I'm at the core a technologist, I see technology as if it's not serving a purpose, then it's... Even computer games serve a purpose, it's recreation. But you should not have recreational tech or just useless tech or unnecessary things. We're too busy for that.

So we look at organizations, we look at their technology stack across all those areas, and then what we also look at when we do their roadmap is what are the forces that are acting on these organizations. So what is it that's making you want to do something about technology? Is your funding at risk? Are you adding new programs? Is there some shift happening out in the world that impacts in the people you serve so that your workload's going to increase? Do you have new compliance concerns? Do you have... So there's a lot of things that will...

So what's your technology situation and why does it matter? And then from that, we look at what should your target state be? Was it where it's cleaner, coordinated, nicer, all the wish list? And then we go from here to there with a sequence set of actions.

Jon:

It's very much like communications. The area I work in. Always starting when a client approaches you or someone wants something, communications driven, a tool, it's the first question is why, how does it serve the purpose, what goal is this going to satisfy, is there other stuff that we have currently working for us that we can redeploy. So it's making use of things more effectively and efficiently.

So what's your background, Charles? You described to me a bit about how you came to this, but what's your tech background all about?

Charles:

Yeah, I have a degree in computer engineering and I started my career in AI in the way too many years ago in the late eighties, early nineties. And then I did some development for a while, then ended up in sales and marketing in a tech firm. Decided that I needed to learn something about business so I went and did an MBA at Queen's and moved west. And I've been in... Since I've moved west, I've spent a lot of time in... I've worked for Oracle for a while and consulting and sales and I've been in management consulting and technology leadership roles in the energy sector and other sectors as well as management consulted for since over 30 years.

Jon:

Oh, okay. And when did Technology Helps first launch?

Charles:

So Technology Helps started in 2016. So that seven years ago, just about seven years, April of 2016, when the pendulum shifted from making money to making a difference. And-

Jon:

I love that. Making money to making a difference.

Tell me a little bit about, now we touched on it a little bit, but I just want you to dive a little deeper about what inspired you to become an entrepreneur and then tell me a little bit about your journey through entrepreneurialism.

Charles:

So I think... So entrepreneurship is... I spend a lot of time with other entrepreneurs and it's one of the conclusions you draw that it's not something you dabble in, it's a terminal illness. It's something that you... I don't know if it's something that you were born with.

But my first active entrepreneur... My first job out of university working for a startup AI company was an interest in one. I wasn't one of the founders of that but I admired the work that was going into taking a piece of technology. It was coming a research environment and transforming that into a business-

Jon:

Right. [inaudible 00:14:27].

Charles:

... and that spurred my decision to go to business school where... There was so much you don't learn in engineering about how the world works. You come out, you're technically bright, you're mathematical but you don't know how the world works. So I knew that I needed to understand how businesses ran and how you turn technology into something commercial. So there was that.

But then my first real entrepreneurial venture was when I left Deloitte in the late nineties and started a computer games company making massively multiplayer online games-

Jon:

Okay.

Charles:

Games for the rest of us. So back then, there were a lot of shoot them up games and games for boys with weapons and lights and sound, but there were no games that were generally accepted like murder mysteries and that kind of stuff.

So I dove into that full force, had a team, had an office down and studio where even a ceiling was painted black at downtown Calgary. And we were making games for some platforms like the Microsoft network but of course, trying to make massively multiplayer online games in those days for people who recall what kind of bandwidth we were dealing with, the 56k modem was quite [inaudible 00:15:51].

Jon:

Sure. Right.

Charles:

So there were games that I would say were ahead of their time, but it was also something like... Now, you look and see games like FarmVille and fun games that people play with other people all over the world. Those were the kind of products that we were making 25 years ago. And so-

Jon:

So you hit the wall though. So you were developing these massive multiplayer online games but the technology to distribute those with modems and stuff like that weren't powerful enough to transmit them, so to speak. So there was some technology poverty that you had to navigate.

Charles:

Yeah. Those were just, I guess, technology constraints I would call those [inaudible 00:16:37].

Jon:

Technology constraints.

Charles:

And we tried to work around that. So in the case of a game universe, you'd have to download the universe overnight and then all that would get transmitted would've been directly instructions to your pieces. So instead you would send that direction to someone to move or raise your hand or... Whereas... So there was some smarts to it but we were way ahead of our time and I don't make excuses for failures but...

Jon:

Well, no. That's interesting though because when you say failure, a lot of other entrepreneurs that I speak with now while failure can be something we wince at or try to sweep under the rug, failure's an important learning tool, I think. What's your perspective on that?

Charles:

I think failure is important. And your first big failure is it's not something... It takes maturity to lean in. And again, nobody enjoys failure. It takes maturity and a certain makeup to lean into failure and it takes a long time to say, "What did I learn from this?" Or "What was the lesson here?" And it's like, "Well, don't..." Some of the lessons from that, it's like, "Don't develop something too fast or get your capital..." There's a lot of lessons to be learned from having done something.

But what that also tells you having survived a failure is what a lot of people don't tell. People wonder why entrepreneurs, you have serial entrepreneurs where they haven't... It's not like we're chasing a home run in some cases, is that I try not to use the word resilience because really resilience to some people means that you could just keep taking blows to the head, but having survived a failure, you fear it less the next time around whereas you know it will not kill you.

Jon:

Right. Good.

Charles:

And that's something that... There are people who are petrified to start things. They have great ideas and they say things like, "I'm not an entrepreneur, I can't risk it. I can't..." But having taken a risk and lost or failed, you know next time around, "Yeah, I could... Okay, maybe it's not like I'm going to do everything differently next time around."

Because some risks that you take and starting to take venture are always going to be there. The risk of it may not work, one risk. The second risk will, it may not get adopted. Other risk is somebody better capitalize and faster with better access to the market might outrun you.

Jon:

Sure.

Charles:

And so there's so many other risks that my team could win the lottery or... There's all kinds of risks and things you cannot do anything about, but the paralyzing fear that a lot of people have around diving in or dipping their toe into an entrepreneurial venture diminishes as you rack up your failures.

Jon:

I love that because it's very important to understand that.

Now, as you'd said earlier, maybe entrepreneurs aren't born. So that's implied there's a skill that you can learn maybe not to acquire the illness, as you put it, but it almost goes back to nothing ventured nothing gained. Somebody... You may have the fear but if you try it and you go in, don't sell the farm, but make smart decisions, learn from other people's mistakes, part of what you're talking about, growing too quickly or maybe not completely understanding the technical constraints that existed around the product that you were designing I think it's all very cool when you think about that growth of an entrepreneur and the growth of that mindset.

Charles:

Absolutely.

Jon:

Yeah. So if you were to go back and let's say you were doing this massive multiplayer game again, what are some of those things that you would do differently?

Charles:

Well, I think doing things now and doing things back then, it's dramatically different. So right now, we have tools that we could rapidly prototype things and test your concepts. So now we could get into what people call failing fast.

Jon:

Right.

Charles:

So it would be throwing things at the wall, failing fast, and then you'd be able to mock up a prototype. Back then, if you were to... Just the sound design alone for just very small was hours and hours of work. So there's so many things...

And even just the game pieces. Now, you could just mock something up and sell a concept and then get your investment and then go big. Or just change paths or pivot. Pivoting is not one of my favorite words but you could change tracks or you could change your mind or redo things fairly quickly now with rapid prototyping tools and no code things for your MVP. So I would take a slightly different approach. And then I would secure my publishers or my distribution channel in advance off doing too much work on the development.

But back then... Because now, I think the concept is way better accepted. In fact, I probably wouldn't do a massive multiplayer online game now because the field is so crowded.

Jon:

It's saturated.

Charles:

It's crowded.

Jon:

Yeah. Tell me a little bit about... So back then, compared to now, when you think about, and we've already talked about that community building, let's zone in on community building for entrepreneurs. Now, I don't know what it was like back then for the supports and the people around you to help.

I know Alberta Innovates has got technology development advisors to help in Calgary. You've got the Calgary Innovation Coalition, the Regional Innovation Network out there, and Rainforest Alberta.

Tell me a little bit about what it is to have supports like that to help entrepreneurs move forward.

Charles:

So yeah, back then there were no such supports. Late nineties, early 2000s, there were... Those things did not exist. And it's not like people did not recognize entrepreneurship as important but I think...

Now I participate with those organizations, platform, they support BMSA, I'm a mentor to one of the entrepreneurs in the BMSA program.

And it's having... I think for a bunch... There's so many support, there's so many resources available to entrepreneurs now. I think what a lot of entrepreneurs need is some guidance as how to navigate these resources, almost like a curriculum by saying, "Okay, you need..."

Jon:

Right.

Charles:

There are all these resources but this is, call it what you will, your roadmap so you don't just spend your time attending courses or just going from incubator to incubator and... Because nothing's being incubated while you're just spent.

So figure out, okay, what is it that I'm trying to... Where am I? What are my strengths? What do I need to learn? Or what do I need to gain? And then work your way through the programs. And which one is ideal for... Which one's best for you based on the kind of business you're trying to start? Where you're coming from? What you're personally bringing to the table in terms of history and background? And then how can these programs help? A lot of them are interesting but they should not necessarily be on everyone's path.

Jon:

Yeah. I get what you're saying. The Alberta ecosystem is a very busy ecosystem. There's a lot going on. There's a lot of support for entrepreneurs. But I would imagine when you just come into it, you go, "I have to align myself. I have to orient myself and figure out where I am." And I'm just...

Pardon me, Charles, but I'm going to put in a plug real quick for some of those Regional Innovation Networks. There's eight across the province. Calgary has one, Edmonton has one, and then there's the six rurals as well. It's a great place to start for a lot of entrepreneurs that are just getting their feet wet and then to sign up with a technology development advisor out of Alberta Innovates. And I know you've got one, Charles, and again, it's just one resource amongst many to orient you and help you move through the system.

But enough about me and pushing my own agenda. But tell me a little bit about the challenges and the successes that you may have faced as a black business owner. So when you first started as an entrepreneur, have you seen... Is there a lot of change, a little change, no change?

Charles:

My experience when I had eye on entertainment myself, my games company, I was still fairly new in the Alberta. I've been here... I moved here in '93. I was still fairly new to the province and we did not have the same ecosystem, right?

Jon:

Right.

Charles:

So that one was... I'm not sure how much of our success or failure could be attributed to anything about being black or anything like that. Then my consulting business, [inaudible 00:26:42], started around about the same time, that one, we did very, very well with that.

But consulting businesses can expand and contract. You're not investing in infrastructure, you're not building products, you're not doing anything. Basically, you acquire clients, you build your team, you scale back, you scale up. It's a very straightforward business.

Technology Helps, on the other hand, is starting that and trying to generate social... Having a business that's focused on social impact and not just your own social impact but the social impact of others has been a very interesting story because I started that at a different point in my career with a much different platform and profile in the Calgary community.

My presence in the social community was tangential because I'd been a board member and a contributor but not an insider in that space. But what I have found in Alberta and it's something I share with friends and family back east is I think Alberta is as close as it gets to a meritocracy when it comes to skills.

I cannot say I can attribute any... I've not been held back in any way by being black as far as I'm aware and because, granted, I see barriers as things to be overcome as opposed to seeing them as walls and I've seen no closed doors or any situation in which I say, "Well, is it..." No.

Because on the other hand, my profile is a little bit different and my attitude and my approach to the community is a lot different. I don't come from a place of... I have no concept of being second class. So even if you were looking at me that way, I would probably not know because it's not possible for you to look at me that way.

Jon:

Right, right. Yeah. No, that's interesting-

Charles:

It just does not apply because I'm not going to... I don't engage with bigots so I've never really... So it hasn't really, really changed anything.

However, in some of my advocacy work, I was meeting with a professor from the University of Calgary last week and we're talking about some gains we'd made in moving platform forward and she says, "So how did you do that?" And I said, "Sometimes, it helps to be a big angry black man." And she said, "How much of that do you think is a factor?" And I'm like, "I don't know. I don't think it's much but I am very direct. And if I'm advocating for something, I will be demanding and [inaudible 00:29:49]."

Jon:

Well, and that's probably a good quality for an entrepreneur to have, I think.

Tell me a little bit about, you mentioned advocacy, your role as a mentor when you're working with the black community to help increase black entrepreneurship. You told me a little bit about a story earlier that's some great success that an organization you're involved with just had. Do you want to elaborate on that a little bit?

Charles:

Yep, yep. So yes, one of the things I'm passionate about and then now as I move to, I'm going to say the next stage of my community involvement, it's around... Yeah, it's been openly black whereas it's easy to be in this community, you're professional, you're talented, you're doing well, it's easy to just blend and just be focus on... Just enjoy, create some personal wealth and do some light community work. I'm not going to say lighter but some community work and then just basically just fly under the radar. That is possible.

However, there's also... As someone who wasn't born here, I moved here as a child, but do I consider myself I'm immigrant? No, because I've been in Canada longer than the average Canadian.

But I do realize I have a responsibility to people who look like me, the black people. And in the last few years I've been actively working on that. So one of the things... As a founding board member of the Calgary Black Chambers which I still serve on that board and I'm one of the officers. And our goal there is to make Calgary the best place in Canada for black people to live. And that's an explicit goal. And we're helping through mentorship, through scholarship, and through advocating for issues that affect our community and for fellowship to get to bring professionals and other people together.

So having a platform is a responsibility. So I see it as something like where I've charted a path and I have a network. I am active in the ecosystem. There are people who are either new to entrepreneurship or new to Alberta, to the country, or to the province and the city that could benefit. And it's like I don't have all the answers but on one hand it's good for them to know that yep, someone's gone ahead and is doing things.

But also that there's... Yeah, I meet with black entrepreneurs all the time. I told them, "I'm wide open for coffee or for a drink just to... And I'm not going to solve your business problems but I'm going to tell you that yes, there might be doors that are open, you might be looking at things different." Yes, I do support that. So yes.

And the story we were just talking about earlier was the Foundation for Black Communities which is one of the... I was on the ground floor of that foundation because there's a natural recognition, there's a report that was done that black charities receive less than 0.07% of grants in a charitable space across Canada.

Jon:

Oh, man.

Charles:

It was abysmal.

Jon:

Wow.

Charles:

And that was something that needed correction.

And the Foundation for Black Communities is said, "Yes, we need a community foundation that's national in scope that is going to address the needs of charities that serve the black community." And they have special needs and they may be run by volunteers, they may have different ways, but there are different ways of doing things that need to be recognized and that gap needed to be closed.

So yeah, the federal government accepted that challenge and they put $200 million on the table and now that organization has just been given the right to administer that fund for $200 million as well as there's some matching funds from a number of financial institutions and others and other community foundations have put money in. So I think there's going to be quite a bit of a nice little pot of money for organizations that serve the black community which is-

Jon:

Oh, that's significant.

Charles:

... fantastic.

Jon:

Yeah.

Charles:

Yeah.

Jon:

Congratulations. So now, that's national. That's right across the country.

Charles:

Yeah, that is national. So yeah, it selected a board that was national in scope that reflected the black community. So it wasn't just corporate types or just non-profit types. It's a diverse board and it was hard work selecting that board. But I think I'm proud of the board that's there and I'm excited to see what's going to happen with that organization going forward.

Jon:

Yeah. That's cool. Well, I'm excited to see how this moves forward as well.

So let's go back to Technology Helps again. Where do you see yourself in this time next year, the company? What's the growth like?

Charles:

Yeah, that comes on the heels of an investor conversation I just had this morning.

So a year from now, we are just about to take off. And our path... And how we got to where we are now is through a process of experimentation and navigating and weaving our way through the social good sector, learning and understanding and shaping ourselves to provide what's needed.

So right now, we have some solid systems in place, two great platforms that we're delivering. And a year from... And we are just dipping our toe into the U.S. market. We have got some good partnership conversations happening. So we are... Yeah, it's North America for the next year. So we're definitely going to the U.S. market. We're currently across Canada with... Well, we've worked with well over 200 organizations. We are-

Jon:

Wow.

Charles:

Our client list now is close to a hundred on service desk and probably close to 50 on cybersecurity. So we're fairly well on our way. We're not a success story yet. We're going into the broader market and we're going to take on that market, not by geography, but by cause. So we've be looking at, say, hospital foundations as a market segment, family-

Jon:

Oh, I see. Okay.

Charles:

... children serving organizations because they have more in common across the country than they do in their local geography. So that's the kind of approach we've taking.

A year from now, I see us being, whether we measure ourself in terms of size, we'd easily be doubling size. Now we have a team of, I say we're up to over 20 people. Last year, we contracted a bit too, as we found focus, we're down to about 15 now, and we're hiring. So a year from now, I could see us being at least double in size-

Jon:

Oh, okay.

Charles:

... and triple our revenue because I-

Jon:

Wow.

Charles:

... think we're on... Because when you've got it built and ready to scale, it's just scaling. And we're also part of a growth catalyst program that Alberta Innovates funds. So that's a seven-month program that we're in. And the timing is perfect because now we're just looking at all the things that makes us scalable. So do you have the right processes in place? Do you have the right operational structure? Do you know your pricing? Do you know your customer? Are you working with the right people? How's your channel going to do it? And if you have explosive growth, how does that not be crippling?

So a year from now, and we'll be-

Jon:

That's awesome.

Charles:

... [inaudible 00:37:54] triple.

Jon:

Yeah, that's really exciting.

Now, as an entrepreneur, how does that stuff not keep you up at night? Because you're running a company that's employing people that's responsible for people's livelihoods and supporting nonprofits technologically and... I wouldn't be sleeping.

Charles:

Well, okay, then you should be an entrepreneur because, yeah, you don't really get a lot of sleep.

It does keep me up at night and it's not from the... We're over the hump in terms of staying awake, being concerned about people's paychecks. That part's covered.

What keeps me awake is the excitement and the things that we could be doing and how do we make this better, how do we scale this, how do I streamline our services, how do I engineer, how do I tighten it. So there are so many things to do.

And then also spending a fair bit of time rejecting things that you shouldn't be doing. It's like, "Okay, this is really exciting, but we really cannot do that." And turning away from things that you know they're necessary like the community you serve needs them but you can't do it, you could probably do it profitably, but you cannot do it at scale and you might not be best at it. So bite hard and just...

Jon:

So when that stuff comes along and you're given those opportunities, do you sit down with your senior management team and go, "Okay, team, here's what we've got." Are you making those decisions on your own? How does that all play out-

Charles:

Well, it's like-

Jon:

... when you're faced something?

Charles:

Well, going forward, I think now that we've found our lane or we've determined our lane, it makes it a lot easier. In the past, we didn't get distracted by bright shiny objects, but when waiting into a space and saying, "Okay, we're going to end technology poverty," and when you talked about earlier, the spectrum or the span of everything that's involved in technology for the sector, there is a lot that could be done.

So we started off not trying to be all things to all people but trying to do everything. But if there's a need, we would try to, "Okay, they need that help. We need to do it, we need to feed them, we need to make these things happen," and that's where we ended up in all kinds of spaces. We had a practice that is analytics at one point. We were doing all kinds of implementations, we're doing... And then, yeah, how do you turn that?

Over time, you execute on those projects. So you get in some of those initiatives, you have a little bit of success or you fail, you move on. And then once you've... It takes discipline to just stay in your lane.

I was saying someone yesterday it's like having a place that makes burgers and you have your burgers, they're $5 a burger, and people come in, they have a burger, and someone walks in and says, "Hey, I'll give you $25 if you cook me a steak." And you say, "Okay, yeah, there's a grocery store right there. We already have a grill. How hard could it be?"

Jon:

Right. Yeah.

Charles:

Next thing, your entire team is trying to do all kinds of things. And yeah, it might be short term lucrative or not or just be a huge distraction whereas you could have... And the people are just... Then a whole line is backed up of people waiting for their burgers and they're walking away because now you're focused on something that's seems it could be big revenue or-

Jon:

Short term [inaudible 00:42:03].

Charles:

... something, but yeah, it's also not... Or you could even start and get grand ideas that you could just have a steak and burger place and then next thing, you've completely lost your focus and your soul and you're just way burnt out and tired.

Jon:

Losing your focus soul and becoming burnt out and tired, it actually brings it around full circle to the why you were talking about with the nonprofits you work with and doing that assessment and understanding why they're doing what they do because the why is also going to involve how, who, and the what's and all of those other things. But if your why starts off laser focused and then starts to dissolve and get bigger, that's where you start getting those crazy sleepless nights, I would think.

Charles:

No, absolutely. And it's so much. But the problem is there's so much to do. And I think landing on where we landed now, it was a really harsh assessment. Are we ending technology poverty? No, we're not. Right? Are we making a dent? Hardly.

So last year, I did a very harsh assessment and said, "Yes, this is our why, ending technology poverty. That's way too big. We're not going to do that. We'll just be banging our heads against the wall or just flashing out to the ocean of possibilities," as opposed to, "What is it that we can do and do very well and do have a bigger impact?" And a bigger impact could be the depth of service within a narrow segment or it could be breadth of service across the globe.

And we've chosen to make it across the globe by focusing on the fundamentals which is support and security. There's a lot more on top of that which we address when we assess these organizations but we are not going to be the ones to do that for you.

Jon:

I get you. Okay.

Charles:

Yeah, it takes a lot to just accept that you will... And there's some of these things, they're attractive. They're just like... They're fun technologies and they'll be exciting to dive into them. But will you be having the biggest impact doing that? Not necessarily.

Jon:

Okay. No, and that all makes sense. And you brought a certain amount of clarity to something that's... An eloquent clarity to something that I've always wondered about because it's human nature to constantly go, "I want to help, I want to..." Well, for most people, "I want to help. I want to do something." And then you start to broaden your focus.

But to be effective, like you said, focusing on that breadth and the service and the support and the security, and keeping that, "This is how we're going to contribute to ending technology poverty," because not one company can do it, not one person can do it, but if a number of people are focused on it, we'll get a bit closer. Your company's doing this part of that.

But when you talk about technology, of course, I have to ask about artificial intelligence because with everything out there now, those are your roots, as you told me, everybody's hearing about ChatGPT and Ask Jasper! and whatever Google's doing now and Microsoft probably has something coming down the pike, is this something you guys are exploring how artificial intelligence can be deployed into support and security? Or is that still a ways off?

Charles:

Oh, no. Absolutely. It is something we're beyond exploring. We are actively doing some work which I'm not going to get into too much detail on. But on the service side, yes, AI is fairly well established in the assistance of providing services. So where we're looking at, and yeah, it's not a secret where we're looking at using artificial AI in our support business, it would be around... It will not be chatbots that annoy people. It will be based on what we know about a client.

For example, let's say if you were one of the users at our service desk with your organization being supported or your community user, we know who you are. We know what equipment you're on and we should be able to adjust it.

Jon:

Personalized.

Charles:

No, the data is there. So if you call, we should be able to anticipate what the issue might be and it might be related to a whole bunch of other things that are happening to other people with your profile. So we will be using AI. So then whoever answers the call will have already been briefed or prompt by the AI to say, "Yeah, this person was calling-"

Jon:

There's someone on the background then.

Charles:

Yeah. And no, this might be the problem or this might be the solution. So they could get to resolution fairly quickly because it's all about predictive, right?

Jon:

Yeah.

Charles:

It's predicting what might be happening to you. And it's like you're at a five-year-old computer, you're calling about it being slow. Yes, there's a good chance that might hit.

Jon:

Right. And you guys are maintaining the data on all of... So you ensure the clarity.

Charles:

Because we know who... Yeah. And in a cybersecurity area, we do many, many, many cybersecurity audits and review of the controls of organizations. We're looking at using AI to determine the effectiveness of the controls by saying, "Based on this security profile, you have these things. You do not have these things in place. Your likelihood of being breached is this." And we could advise. So we're actively working. And that's exciting. That's something like, okay, yes.

That keeps me awake at night in a good way. But also I wake up in the morning and I annoy my team. I'm like, "Okay, when can we start working on this?" And they're like, "No, we have people to support. Remember?"

Jon:

Someone has to reign you in occasionally.

Charles:

Well, yes, they try.

Jon:

Charles, every time I get to chat with you, I enjoy it. You're an energetic, intelligent guy that always sheds lights on things for me. And I appreciate your time today.

Is there anything else you'd like to add from Technology Helps' perspective or the work you're doing at the chamber or did we cover most of it?

Charles:

No. So I think we've covered most of it, but I'm just saying ending technology poverty is not just my job. I think we all have a role to play in that. So join us in that.

Jon:

Right on. And community building and volunteering. Volunteering isn't something we should just do because we got to check that box, help build your community, whether it's as an entrepreneur, the entrepreneurial community or your neighborhood.

Charles:

Absolutely. Get out there.

Jon:

Yeah.

Charles:

You're part of it. We are community, right? We are part of... Yeah, that's us. Okay.

Jon:

Perfect. Thanks, Charles.

Charles:

Thank you so much [inaudible 00:49:49].