FREDERICTON–Rivers Corbett is an entrepreneurial poster child. The Fredericton-based businessman is an outspoken advocate for taking the plunge and becoming a master of your own destiny.
It was all thanks to a terrible boss.
“It was a boss that was a prick that ultimately started me along this journey,” says Corbett with a laugh. That untenable work situation caused him to look inward to see what he wanted from life. “It really was to follow my own path, create my own opportunity and so on.”
“I could kiss him every time I think about him now.”
Corbett is the founder of the national chain Relish Gourmet Burgers and The Chef Group. He’s also an outspoken advocate for growing the region’s startup culture. He is the Founding Entrepreneur of StartUp Fredericton and was a founding member of Startup Canada. He hosts a regular podcast for them.
“It’s been 19 years. I’ve had some great views from the top of the mountain and man I’ve been in quicksand many a times too, lots of scars along the way, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love what I do.”
Corbett says that entrepreneurialism is something that wasn’t part of the culture in New Brunswick. Parents wanted their kids to grow up to become doctors or lawyers, not entrepreneurs.
Making things worse, New Brunswick’s K-12 education system also lacked any focus on entrepreneurialism. “Our education system didn’t include it and it’s still very weak right now,” cautions Corbett.
Corbett says a prosperous future for New Brunswick counts on a stronger embraces of the startup world. “If we don’t embrace entrepreneurship, the entrepreneurial journey and entrepreneurs from the school level all the way through then none of it’s going to happen. “
The progress in Fredericton should be instructive to the province as a whole. Things started to change in the capital when a group of people began working to put that small city on the map as a startup hub. Corbett points to leaders like Radian6 executive David Alston, Knowledge Park’s Larry Shaw and UNB’s Dr. Dhirendra Shukla and Karen Murdock.
“A lot of people caught on to the idea and said lets run with it.” That’s when the policy makers started to pay attention.
Today Corbett says he considers Fredericton “the startup capital of Atlantic Canada.”
“There is a lot of cool, magical activity – businesses – that are starting, that are developing, that are commercialized locally, that are commercialized internationally,” he says.
In addition to a committed group of supporters, he points to the active support of the City of Fredericton and the presence of UNB as reasons why Fredericton has succeeded.
“There’s no doubt that resources are there, the intellect is there, the support processes are there and UNB is always a great community partner,” he says “Their accessibility is so easy here and the players that are involved from UNB are significantly committed to this bigger picture which is the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Overall UNB is a fantastic player.”
The rest of the world is taking note.
“People know that there’s special stuff happening here… We are put up there as a model of community excellence in supporting, nurturing and developing entrepreneurship,” says Corbett.
While Corbett is a big booster of Fredericton and its startup scene, he recognizes the need to think bigger.
“One thing that’s cool about the community… yes it’s Fredericton centric, [but] it doesn’t exclude provincial organizations from playing in the game…we’re all part of this and ultimately we’re too small to be thinking in silos.”
Corbett does have a life beyond business. For instance, he’s a huge fan of the New England Patriots football team, and its quarterback Tom Brady.
“I’ve got a huge man crush on Tom Brady,” admits Corbett. But even with football, Corbett brings his love of the Pats and the team’s Hall of Fame QB back to business.
“Tom Brady is a startup himself,” he says.
In Brady, Corbett sees a role model entrepreneurs in New Brunswick can follow. He was drafted 199th with low expectations. He’s always faced adversity and found ways to overcome it on the way to winning four Super Bowls. Corbett says Brady succeeds because he works harder and smarter than the competition.
“He’s a true team player.”
Podcast music Urbana-Metronica (wooh-yeah mix) by spinningmerkaba (c) 2011 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/jlbrock44/33345 Ft: Morusque, Jeris, CSoul, Alex Beroza