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Ali Pourdad

Forty under 40 winner 2017: Co-founder, Progressa, Age 35

Before Ali Pourdad co-founded Progressa, he worked in the restructuring and insolvency industry.

“I saw a lot of situations and people who were down and out and didn’t have a lot of solutions,” said the chartered professional accountant. “When 2008 happened and the banks tightened even further, it became quite evident that a lot of people out there didn’t have many options. For me, it was an easy decision to leave the accounting world and leave professional services, and try to make a difference.”

Pourdad started Progressa in 2013. It’s a financial technology (fintech) firm that provides alternative loans that help clients consolidate debt and avoid expensive payday lenders.

With 13,000 customers and 110 employees in Vancouver and Toronto, Progressa’s loan origination platform expanded by over 300% between 2015 and 2016, with a similar figure expected in 2017.

When Progressa got started, it was one of about 30 fintech companies in Canada. Now there are between 300 and 400, Pourdad said.

Amid the industry’s growth and his own company’s gains, Pourdad learned that there’s a right way to grow, and a wrong way.

“The thing you learn the most is to manage other people’s money as well as you can because it might be the last money you ever get,” he said. “You need to manage it like it’s your own, and today Progressa has almost 100 shareholders, and so of utmost importance is making sure we’re good stewards of our investors’ capital.”

He said finding people who buy into the company beyond just monetary terms is also key to growth.

“I tried to just surround myself with as many strong, talented people as I could find,” he said. 

Every entrepreneur needs to manage his or her business as if the next financial crisis were just around the corner, he said. “You might get caught with your pants down.”

Raising capital is something he’s most successful at when he displays his emotions in negotiations, he said, adding, “It’s not always going to be pretty.”

Birthplace: Vancouver

Where you live now: West Vancouver

Highest level of education: Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CA)

Currently reading: Tougher Boards for Tougher Times by William Dimma

Currently listening to: “Youth” by Glass Animals

When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up: NBA basketball player

Profession you would most like to try: Definitely pro golf

Toughest business or professional decision: To move our lending operations to Toronto in 2016 and in the process let go of approximately 25 people in our Vancouver office

Advice you would give the younger you: Surround yourself with people smarter than you as quickly as possible

What’s left to do: Take a vacation without my email or phone. Crossing fingers for 2018

Join us to celebrate the 2017 Forty under 40 Awards on January 23, 2018, at the Vancouver Convention Centre. For tickets and event info visit