With $15,000 of borrowed money, emergency medical technician Sean Ivens purchased some medical equipment and a converted GMC Suburban, and got into the ambulance business in 1995. And when the time came to respond to his first RFP, he had to search the library for a book on how to write a proposal.
Ivens laughs at the memory now, because he could write his own book on going from bootstrapped solopreneur to the CEO of Advanced Medical Solutions Inc. (AMS). It's a conglomerate whose offerings include air ambulance services, medical supplies and equipment for hospitals, and on-site medical personnel for oil, gas and mining companies working in remote locations. Ivens' achievements are even more impressive when you consider where his businesses operate: exclusively in Canada's North.
"Most people have no idea how vast and isolated most of the North is—it's a very different kind of place to run a business," Ivens says. "We have really long transportation times, usually in bad weather. But surviving in that kind of environment gives you confidence to do anything."
Ivens, who grew up in the remote communities of Inuvik and Hay River, N.W.T., is especially proud that AMS is entirely "northern owned and operated." The Yellowknife-based company employs 50 full-time staff and 20 to 30 casual workers, many of whom are skilled medical professionals.
Outside of business hours, Ivens has served four years as president of the Rotary Club in Yellowknife, and given time to that city's Habitat for Humanity program. He also devotes time and money to helping kids in remote northern communities play sports.
Still, Ivens' strong ties to the North haven't stopped him from pursuing business opportunities far below the tree line. He recently joined forces with a Calgary-based executive jet company as part of a plan to launch an international air-ambulance service for travellers. His goal: to operate medically equipped planes out of 10 locations across Canada within the next three years.
But no matter where Ivens' business interests take him, he doesn't believe that he'll ever abandon the North for warmer climes: "I've spent most of my life there; that's home."
Read other entrepreneurial success stories in "The Fabulous 30."