Inniskillin Changemaker: Jason Sparrow
“I would love to see increasing levels of startup investment – and ultimately, more companies that have a big impact not only in Canada, but abroad.”
In partnership with Inniskillin, Canada’s first estate winery, Startup Canada is celebrating and spotlighting leading entrepreneurial changemakers and disruptors across Canada. Startup Canada was pleased to sit down with Jason Sparrow, Co-Founder and CEO of BarrelWise, to learn about their journey and the impact of their work.
With a background in the food equipment industry, Jason is passionate about technology and wine. He is currently the CEO of BarrelWise, which has developed the world’s first comprehensive system for wine barrel management that delivers process efficiency, quality control, and barrel-by-barrel quality insights to wineries. Jason holds an MBA in Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the University of British Columbia as well as a BA in History and Economics from the University of Victoria.
SC: In one sentence, what does being an entrepreneurial changemaker mean to you?
JS: I think being an entrepreneurial changemaker is about coming up with new and innovative ways to help people with the tasks they have to complete day-to-day. It’s about finding ways to get things done faster, better, and with more information in a way that really matters to them (the entrepreneur).
SC: Tell us about your entrepreneurial venture(s) – what do you do? What role has it played in your life?
JS: Wine has been made for thousands of years and even though certain aspects of the winemaking process have improved significantly with technology and with production scale, the process of barrel aging wine has remained very artisanal. So working with wineries in BC, Washington, and California, we at BarrelWise have developed a system that makes the task of caring for these oak barrels much more efficient. The system saves wineries a lot of time – in one case study we saw a 74% reduction in the amount of time it takes to do the monthly barrel work. It also allows the winemaker to collect and analyze a significant amount of information about the wine – and ultimately enact a lot more precision into winemaking.
In terms of the role BarrelWise has played in my life – it has played a huge part and I love it. We have an incredible team and great customers. There are so many challenges to tackle but it is incredibly rewarding to be making an impact on a process that has been done for thousands of years.
SC: What motivated you to become an entrepreneur?
JS: BarrelWise started out as a university project. Myself and the other Co-Founders took a class called ‘Tech Entrepreneurship’ that was offered during the MBA program at UBC which is where we initially thought of the idea. We became very motivated to start a company when we travelled to the Okanagan in northern Washington to meet with several winemakers – and these are people who are deeply passionate about what they do – and the feedback we got was overwhelmingly positive. So from there it became very clear after speaking with these potential customers that it was a great opportunity.
SC: What are you most proud of related to your venture(s)?
JS: I’m most proud of the team we have put together at BarrelWise. We are up to 10 people at the moment and the group we have put together are extremely talented, motivated individuals. It is a privilege for me to be able to work with them everyday.
SC: Tell us about your biggest hurdle – what was it and how did you persevere through it?
JS: I think our biggest challenge was getting started right out of university. It was challenging graduating and seeing your friends going off and getting jobs when me and my Co-Founders were taking lots of financial risks. Fortunately, we were supported by entrepreneurship@UBC. The organization provided for us, and continues to provide, a ton of support, office space, prototyping, and mentorship. So that made taking the leap to entrepreneurship a lot less daunting.
SC: What has your biggest learning been along the way?
JS: We have learned so much. One of the most important lessons has been to involve our customers in the technology development process. It is very easy for us as a group of tech-minded individuals to build a product with all of the coolest features we can think of. Ultimately it is critically important for us to talk with our customers, understand what each new feature means to them, and how they would benefit before spending the time and money to develop it. This is something we learned really early on and it has become a core principle for us.
SC: What drives your motivation when things get tough?
JS: When things get tough at BarrelWise, there are a lot of ways to get things back on track. The technology itself has so many possibilities and undiscovered applications that it is pretty easy to get excited. The team is also really good at helping each other out during tough times. And of course it is really easy to get excited about our customers. Winemakers are so passionate and meticulous about what they do, so it’s very motivating to see them using and benefitting from our technology.
SC: Where can people go to learn more about your journey and organization?
JS: They can go to our website www.barrelwise.ca. For more of the day-to-day stuff they can follow us on Instagram at @barrelwise!
SC: What is your ideal vision for Canada’s entrepreneurship community over the next 20 years?
JS: I think Canada is a great place to be an entrepreneur. There are so many resources available to support technology development and there have been many successful companies who have been founded and scaled-up in Canada. I would love to see entrepreneurship in the country continue along its current trajectory and continue to see increasing levels of startup investment – and ultimately, more companies that have a big impact not only in Canada, but abroad as well.
SC: What do you think today’s entrepreneurs should be focused on for a better, brighter future?
JS: There are countless ways entrepreneurs can make an impact. One increasingly important field is agriculture technology and focusing on ways to improve our food systems. There is a lot of activity in this sector in Canada at the moment and a lot of promising technology so it’s very exciting.
Are you an avid supporter of Canada’s entrepreneurship community? Share Jason’s story or showcase your OWN entrepreneurial changemaker across social platforms with the hashtag #CheersToTheChangeMakers!