Verbatim: Change Agent
Cameron Chell brings a dynamic background to conscious capitalism
by Tim Querengesser
Photograph Chris Wedman
Cameron Chell has been many things. He was a decathlete who competed internationally. This year UrtheCast, the Vancouver-based company he co-founded, put cameras on the International Space Station. But Chell has many other experiences that made him the businessman he is today. On September 11, 2001, he was in the building when the planes hit. After, where he once bought and sold companies to reap big profits, Chell switched his focus to creating. With Slyce, a mobile app in development that allows users to photograph an item – and then for clever software to recognize what they have photographed, find who sells it and then allow them to purchase it – Chell is on the cusp of something really profitable in the consumer space. till, he sees Calgary-based Slyce and his other businesses as enablers of “conscious capitalism.” We wanted to find out why.
Q: What shapes your approach to business?
“I was going into the buildings on 9/11 when the first plane hit. That, along with the ensuing chaos that it brought into my life, made me realize that I wanted to come back to Canada. I spent a number of years really just trying to find the meaning of life, if you will, and the meaning of business. Now, after having been through all of that, I’m very thankful to be in a spot where I find purpose in business as opposed to the purpose of business being about money. Certainly our philosophy here is that it’s about what you can create that makes things better.”
“We create the businesses, we come up with raw ideas and then put our experience into, ‘OK how are we going to turn this raw idea into something that generates prosperity and delivers good value to people?’ I’ve always loved business, but for a while in my life it was about making money, and that became incredibly shallow and hollow.”
“In the case of UrtheCast, here’s a company that put cameras on the International Space Station, for the initial expressed purpose of driving transparency to the world. For the first time, anybody who has an Internet connection is going to be able to witness what astronauts witness when they first go up to space. They’ll be able to see Arab Spring unfolding or the Fukushima disaster or typhoons, and not just get it from a news agency but get it from a perspective of the gods, if you will. UrtheCast has a very defined business model to sell observation data to all kinds of organizations. But underlying that, the project was to drive transparency for the average human being. To me, that’s a great example of how we’ve meshed consciousness and capitalism.”
“In the case of what we’re doing with Slyce, we can take a picture of anything and buy it in one click – very commercial, very consumer, very all those things. But underlying that, what’s driving the ‘Why’ of that company, is we’re now working on projects where people in the developing world can take pictures of wounds and instantly have them assessed and be able to get medical help. So the capitalist part of it affords us the opportunity to drive the technology down to the lowest common denominator of cost. So those are the things that empower us in business and are what we think are examples of conscious capitalism.”