What makes for a happy workplace? Good pay? Strong leadership? A cappuccino machine in the lunch room?

Well, it all depends on how you look at it. Ten-year old Mississauga-based Nytric Ltd., an innovation consulting company, won the RBC sponsored 2008 Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council award for Best Immigrant Employer.

You don’t win an award for “hiring and nspiring” immigrant workers unless you’ve managed to create something special in your workplace. Something truly unique.

“We’re very proud of winning this,” says Av Utukuri, president and CTO of Nytric Ltd. “We’ve been growing for the last eight to 10 years and we’ve had some very different philosophies on how we run our business and what our employment strategies are.” How did Nytric end up with one of the most ethnically diverse and talented workforces in the City? According to Utukuri who was raised and educated in Canada, it was a total accident. To understand their philosophies on hiring and how those philosophies have distinguished their workplace from others, it’s necessary to understand Nytric’s business model and how it came to be.
Back in 1994, Utukuri and a few friends who had all recently graduated from university decided to start their own technology company developing virtual reality simulation systems and arcade systems. “We didn’t have much Canadian experience. We didn’t know what it meant for someone to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to us. We stubbornly said, this is what we’re going to do,” recalls Utukuri. He attributes his current success to that same drive and passion for innovative technologies with which he began his career. Things were going well for a while. They went public with Dynamic Visions Ltd.on NASDAQ:OTCB B in 1998.

Unfortunately, that’s about as far as it went. The company turned out to be one more doomed innovative vision swallowed up by Canada’s existing procedures for start-up technology companies.
If you’re a small to medium sized business or an entrepreneur with an idea for a new technology that you want to take to market, there are really only two ways of going about it, according to Utukuri. “You can spend cash, raise your own money, you can hire your own team—product development specialists, engineers, hardware guys, software guys— whatever’s required, or you hire a team of consultants that tries to figure out all the problems,” says Utukuri. In both cases it’s only a matter of time before you run into cash-flow troubles.

Hiring your own team seems like a smart move initially. Everything is contained, but therein lies the problem. “A lot of times you can’t see the forest through the trees,” says Utukuri. You hire more people as you need them, but with a growing start-up company, the skill sets required can change all the time. “Today you need an engineer with this type of talent [but] six months from now the project has shifted and you need a different type of talent,” says Utukuri. “What do you do with all of the old staff? You can’t just let go of them because then you’re losing all of your IT capability.”

Hiring consultants won’t fix the problem, unless you have a lot of money you’re willing to throw at it, according to Utukuri. The problem with consultants, he explains, is that your success is not an “incentive” for them. If you go to a consultant with a problem and he or she knows that you have $50,000 to spend on that problem, “well then it magically becomes a $50,000 problem,” says Utukuri. It became clear to Utukuri and his colleagues that there was a real need for a new type of company to fill that gap, to facilitate the process of getting a new idea to market. That’s when Nytric Ltd. was born. Nytric is part venture-capitalist and part product developer. It’s the best of both worlds. As partial investors in a new company, Nytric is automatically motivated by the success of that new venture. “We only make money when you’re successful, either with stock or royalty. So it becomes our incentive to try and get you to market as quickly as possible,” explains Utukuri. For that you need the right people – special people.

“The philosophy behind the company has been, hire the best individual for the job,” says Utukuri. “Because our business model is so unique—today we’ll be in the medical industry, tomorrow we’re going to be in the defense or aerospace industry—we never know where the next client or investor is coming from. For such a multi-faceted company, only a multi-talented and experienced workforce will do.

The best individual for the job is self- motivated and passionate about what he or she does. “When an engineer comes in, whether it be from India or the Ukraine and he has a huge passion for the job that he’s doing, to me it doesn’t matter what school he went to. I mean you could go to MIT and couldn’t care less about the education, or you could’ve gone to a no-name university in the Ukraine and you were taking cars apart from when you were six years old and you know mechanical engineering inside-out,” says Utukuri. Utukuri says they’re always shocked at the incredibly gifted individuals who walk through their door who are only making minimum wage because of where they went to school. It’s not that Nytric Ltd. doesn’t care about an employee’s education, but it’s certainly not the first thing they look for in a potential employee.

Nytric’s philosophy on employment strategy is as ground-breaking as their business model. Utukuri and his partners at Nytric are leaders, in their industry and in the way they view foreign-educated professionals. Nytric now launches five to six new companies every year and Nytric also sponsors the Great Canadian Invention Competition in partnership with Canadian Business Magazine. All of that makes Nytric Ltd. an exciting place to work.

By Sayward Spooner
February 2009 – Mississauga Business Times