Darryl Lake never thought of himself as an entrepreneur, but in the early 1990s, his career as an academic took an unexpected turn with his effort to end the Sudbury brain drain of young talented people.
In 1995, Lake left his position as Cambrian College’s dean of health sciences, trades and technology, and started the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT).
The move was a big gamble. Lake left a comfortable job to start a non-profit organization at a time many others were going under. “The economy was a disaster,” Lake said about that period. “There were no jobs for young people.”
To establish a stable base of revenue for NORCAT, Lake brought over the Occupational Health and Safety Resource Centre, and the Ontario Centre for Ground Control Training, he had started at Cambrian. NORCAT soon became one of the world’s leading occupational health and safety training centres. With that base, NORCAT was able to start mentorship programs for young entrepreneurs and an intern program that had a 100-per-cent conversion rate to full-time jobs for interns who completed it.
“We were able to create an awful lot of jobs,” Lake said.
On Wednesday, Dec. 4, Lake was inducted into the Sudbury Area Mining Supply and Service Association (SAMSSA) Hall of Fame for his contributions to the community with the creation of NORCAT.
Bill Fuller, a Sudbury entrepreneur who started the company Abraflex, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“There’s a consistent pattern,” said Dick DeStefano, SAMSSA’s executive director. “These guys are real entrepreneurs.”
DeStefano said both Lake and Fuller took huge risks to start their businesses at difficult times for Sudbury’s economy.
Fuller founded Abraflex, a company that made rubber lining and urethane moulding for a variety of uses, in 1981.
That year, Sudbury’s unemployment rate hit 31 per cent. Inco and Falconbridge reduced their collective workforces from 17,637 in 1981 to 11,895 in 1984.
To keep his new business afloat, Fuller had to reach out to markets outside of Northern Ontario. Abraflex served Western Canada, the United States, Russia and South America in addition to businesses in its own backyard.
To diversify in difficult financial times, Fuller also bought a potato farm in Chelmsford, and a chip stand on Elm Street, in downtown Sudbury.
Fuller’s sons, Jeff and Glenn Fuller, started their own businesses in Sudbury, and together, employ more than 200 people.
Jeff owns Fuller Industrial and Glenn started Northern Logistics.
Bill Fuller said he was honoured and humbled to be recognized for his entrepreneurial spirit.
“I wasn’t really looking for any recognition for my accomplishments,” he said.