Published on on Huddle Today, Mar 17, 2016.
FREDERICTON – Andrea Feunekes was part of the New Brunswick startup scene before “startup scenes” were even a thing.
She may be, as the kids say, an OG.
The president and CEO of Remsoft started the company back in 1992 with her husband Ugo – now the company’s CTO .
“‘Startup’ wasn’t a thing back then. But both my husband and I have always been independent in our thinking and kind of wanted to do things in our own way,” says Feunekes. “This is the third business that we’ve worked on together and it just seemed easier that when you have an idea, you get out and do it.”
With over 200 clients worldwide, Remsoft helps public agencies, leading products companies, and timber investment management organizations gain insight into how their land assets are being used and could be used. It uses big data to help companies manage risks, costs and decision complexities, while creating sustainable value. People have taken notice of Feunekes’ tenacity. Last year she was presented with a lifetime achievement award for Startup Canada.
But with over 24 years in business, Feunekes has faced her share of challenges. Some of the biggest have been the moments where she didn’t really know what to do. She says with New Brunswick’s growing and supportive entrepreneurship ecosystem, that’s one challenge she wouldn’t have to face if she were starting out today.
“There isn’t a book on how to run a business or how to be a startup. So what do you do when something happens?” says Feunekes. “I didn’t know that I could just pick up the phone and call some of the business leaders in this province and say ‘hey, can you help me?’ and they would. I had challenges in terms of trying to figure things out on my own when maybe I didn’t need to.”
Other big challenges have come from the fact that Remsoft is largely involved in the forestry industry, which hasn’t always been the most stable throughout the years.
“A few times in our history, essentially we would lose our clients because they would go bankrupt or they would go out of business. There was a time when a lot of the paper companies sold off their land,” says Feunekes. “That meant they didn’t manage forests anymore and our clients were gone. We had to do this pivoting and rebuilding several times over the 24 odd years we’ve been working.”
The way Feunekes got through these challenges? Not looking at them as such.
“I never think about them as challenges . . . I like working in a world of uncertainty. I find it interesting to find your way through the uncertainty and out the other side,” she says. “I like the strategic part of business, so I don’t see things as challenges. I see them as opportunities and exciting things to figure out.”
Feunekes is one of few female CEOs in New Brunswick. It’s not a fact she really focuses on much, but it’s something she’d like to see more of. She says women shouldn’t be afraid of taking the startup plunge.
“Go after it and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is a tonne of people in the province who would love to see somebody start a business and succeed,” says Feunekes. “The other business people particularly in this province are massive cheerleaders. They will help where they can. They’ll take a phone call. It’s something I didn’t realize early and I think it slowed my business down . . . I could have moved faster.”
Feunekes is the chair of the New Brunswick Business Council, a group of non-partisan business leaders who are committed to trying to help the province’s growth and community development. There’s a lot of things New Brunswick needs to work on, but according to Feunekes the main one is innovation.
“We’ve got the resources to be innovative. We’ve got good universities, we’ve got a very entrepreneurial community,” she says. “We have the opportunity to mark off territory in the global market. We don’t want to get left behind, but that means all of us have to invest in innovation.”
And when she says “all of us”, she really does mean all of us.
“At the school level, it means not producing learners, but producing thinkers and creativity. At the company level it means taking some of what we do and investing back in innovation. Government needs to think and put a priority on innovation. It takes all levels, that’s the thing that’s going to take us out of where we are today and propel us forward.”
Another area of improvement is immigration. With the province expecting to resettle around 1,500 refugees, this could be New Brunswick’s time to shine.
“I think the refugees need to be welcomed with open arms. They’re bringing their families. They’re committed to building a healthy life in New Brunswick just like the rest of us,” says Feunekes. “They’re a source of employment for business that are trying to grow. Anytime you add diversity you make a richer, stronger community.”
Yet, there are some opponents to resettling refugees…and other bold steps that might transform New Brunswick. Feunekes says it’s fine to disagree with ideas, but at least try to add something constructive to the conversation.
“We have what I believe is a small core of people who are almost anti-everything,” she says.
“I would challenge anybody if they have a criticism of something that’s going on in the province, they should balance that with a very concrete idea or suggestion. It’s fine to criticize, but if that’s the only thing that happens, we’ll never move forward.”
Though the “anti-everything” crowd somehow manages to make their message loud and clear in the province’s narrative, Feunekes believes they are just a small minority.
“I do believe that the vast majority of New Brunswickers are great people who love this place and are waiting for an opportunity, she says.
“I think it’s up to every single one of us to lean in and try to make a difference in some way and we’ll get there.”