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Ray Walia

Forty Under 40 winner 2014: Executive director, Launch Academy, Age 37

The path from running a Dairy Queen to running a tech company probably wouldn’t appear linear to most people, but for Ray Walia, it’s the natural course of an entrepreneurial spirit.

Before co-founding the Launch Academy business accelerator and serving as CEO of Razor Technology, Walia got his start in the business world as a franchisee of two fast-food outlets, one of which was in downtown Vancouver.

The turning point came when Walia enlisted a friend to build an online ordering platform in 2002 targeting corporate offices. From there they branched out and began offering coupons on customers’ cellphones.

“I just got bit by the [tech] bug by looking at new and innovative ways to offer my business and engage my customers,” Walia said.

For a decade, he oversaw more than 80 employees and earned awards from Dairy Queen for sales at his Lower Mainland locations. At the same time, the vision for Razor Technology was changing: instead of offering coupons over people’s phones, it would offer movie trailers and music videos on mobile devices.

“That just kept the fire going and it grew from there,” he said. “The further and further I went into the tech startup world, the less interested I was in the traditional brick-and-mortar world.”

But that desire to be an entrepreneur eventually led him to mentoring others, and he co-founded Launch Academy in 2012.

Since then, the business accelerator has grown from just a dozen desks to a 12,000-square-foot centre that has helped more than 200 startups get off the ground and raised more than $27 million.

Part of his strategy for leading this growth was bringing in partners like Microsoft, Lighthouse Labs, the Business Development Bank of Canada, Garibaldi Capital and his own LX Ventures all under one roof.

“Everything that we offer here [at Launch Academy] is everything that the entrepreneurs that run this space, that work in this space, wish we had when we were building our startups,” Walia said.