The Big Bear Innovation Centre is now open! Learn more about this space at

Big Bear Software: The 16 Year Overnight Success

Three years ago I had zero revenue. Zero employees. Zero contractors. Today, I employ twenty-one full time and contract staff and current and past clients include Kal Tire (booking system, Canada-wide), QHR Technologies, C4i Consultants (MILSIM, EDMSIM CDC), and most recently Innovate Calgary (IMPACT, TRACR FDA, HC, EU). Because I’m never someone who likes to get too comfortable, with this part of my business running smoothly, what’s next?

Big Bear is headquartered in Penticton, BC with offices throughout Western Canada including Calgary, Kelowna, and Penticton. We’ve been providing custom software solutions for over a decade; from web development and design to enterprise applications revolutionizing entire industries, we attract our clients based on our commitment to quality, efficiency, and great software. Our experience spans many industries including Medical, Logistics, Defense, IoT, Manufacturing and Smart Cities. I started Big Bear Software sixteen years ago with no money, no ideas, and nothing but willpower and desire.  I almost went bankrupt three times, the first time five months in with a mortgage and a newborn in the house. 

What’s next indeed… but first I need to back-up, in the summer of 2016, I got a little lazy.  I had secured a nice contract with a defence company, was working six hours a day, had one full-time contractor, and was making decent money.  I decided I would enjoy the summer and then work on fulfilling my lifelong vision for my company later. Almost immediately after deciding that, my one and only client hit financial difficulties and terminated all contracts.  At the time I was owed $50,000 and wasn’t sure if I would ever get it. This woke me up in a hurry. However; counter-intuitively, I didn’t jump right back into trying to attract clients and do what I had always done. I spent most of the summer running, riding my bike and thinking about what I wanted to do next.  I’m a talented coder; I’ve written software that competed against billion-dollar US Army software and won on performance and usability. I wrote touch screen voting software that was one of the top systems of its time and was the first person to put a wifi card into a voting machine- I kind of regret that.

I can sell. I could do anything. I realized that I could likely run any type of business. Did I actually want to run a software company?  The answer was yes, but not the way I had done it in the past. I realized that I no longer wanted to write software myself at all. I drew a line in the sand seven years in the future, coinciding with when my youngest son would be graduating high school. I began to visualize what I wanted my company to be, who I wanted to be, and what the community I lived in would look like.  It all came together one day in my first float tank session (talk about floating). I had my painted picture, my vision for the future. I saw myself standing in front of my team of 20 to 25 people, my sons at my side, describing the day I decided what I wanted the company to be. 

Now, a little over three years later, we are not only on track but on pace to exceed my expectations.  So how did I do it? How did I go from a little known software company in Penticton to a sought after tech leader who has helped grow the Okanagan tech community, and is being asked for advice on how to expand it in Calgary?  Honestly, I have no clue (kidding, I know exactly how we got here). 

I joined the Junior Chamber International (JCI) eight years ago, where I learned the value of volunteering. I then ran for school trustee five years ago. It took five weeks to create a marketing plan, get feedback from friends about myself, and learn how to campaign. I had already been involved with AO, and was decently well-known in the community but had retreated. I had to start from scratch. On the advice of my marketing consultant, I started writing a column for the Penticton Western called TechBrew, named after a monthly meetup I had created where members could discuss tech over a beer. I had no idea the reach this event would have. People from all over with thoughts of moving here were watching what the Okanagan tech community was like. I expected we’d get maybe five to ten people per month, now there are over 400 members. At its peak, 40 to 50 people per month came out in Penticton, with seven to ten people being new to the community. I began building up my reputation again. I had to take on projects that required me to code for a while but was focused on attracting talent more than I was on sales. I looked for any event I could go to that would benefit both the community and my business. I stopped volunteering for things that didn’t also serve my company (it’s ok to be selfish and selfless at the same time). I genuinely enjoy community involvement, it’s built a high degree of trust with my team and our clients. I have made many connections, gained credibility, and have obtained ideas and have shared many thoughts. It has all resulted in paying dividends, not just for my company but for the community. I’m currently the President of the Okanagan School of the Arts, trying to revitalize the Shatford Centre, a 98 year old high school, as a community hub for the arts, with plans to build an Innovation Castle, that’s a separate blog article.

In March of this year, I became the Canada-wide exclusive distributor of MedActiv medication cooler bags, a unique and amazing suite of products that have been sold for almost a decade in Australia and Europe to help those with temperature-sensitive medications live their best lives.

This winter we are launching our first product through Big Bear Innovations, a safety device for children on ski hills to help find lost children and injured skiers faster. 

My simple advice to those of you thinking about starting (or growing) your business:

  • Have meaningful conversations with people, listen more than you talk
  • Get out of your comfort zone any way you possibly can; challenge yourself daily
  • Bad decisions are almost always better than no decision, you don’t have to have the answer, just start
  • Find support groups, coaching, talk to people, don’t be afraid to discuss your idea(s). If the idea is easy enough to be stolen, it’s probably not worth doing. 

I don’t have all the answers; I still struggle with my fears. I can sense myself holding back a little with my new companies…but I’ll get past it.

To paraphrase Pablos Holman, who I saw speak in Seattle recently at a Singularity University event: Let’s stop focusing on creating the next great app and making the most money.  Let’s do things that have purpose. Instead of focusing on becoming the next billionaire, what if we focused on becoming the next company that impacted a billion lives in a positive way? I can’t say why I feel like we can change the world exactly, but I think a large part of it has been seeing the impact we’re having on the local community, and I truly believe this can be replicated on a global scale.