Growing up, Andrew Knowles wanted to be an astronaut or a scientist. When he decided to abandon his plan to pursue a PhD in science so he could go into business and support his wife while she got an education degree, it was the toughest decision he had ever made. But he doesn’t regret making it.
Fortunately, the company he ended up going to work for in 1999 was Stemcell Technologies, B.C.’s most successful biotechnology company, which has had 20% annual growth since it started 15 years ago. It’s a success story Knowles has helped write.
Stemcell Technologies makes the media and tools for growing stem cells for medical research. So while Knowles isn’t making discoveries from a lab bench himself, his company plays an important role in medical research by providing some of the tools scientists use.
“I loved Stemcell instantly,” said Knowles, who heads a 150-person team as vice-president of operations.
“It was just clear there’s a whole world beyond academic science and you could practise science still within the company, even in a different role [operations]. We’re really making a difference in the research market.”
Born in Manitoba, Knowles earned a master’s degree in science from the University of BC, specializing in nutritional biology and cancer research. When his wife – who was also pursuing a PhD – decided to change tacks and get an education degree to become a teacher, he put his own graduate studies on hold.
Knowles was 24 when he joined Stemcell – then a 50-person company – as technical sales representative and worked his way up to vice-president of operations of a 500-person company.
While there, he reorganized the company to make all the departments more integrated – just one of the many reasons Stemcell CEO Allan Eaves nominated him for a Forty under 40 award.
“He said, ‘You’ve brought this company from 50 people to 500 people and taken on challenges no one else was able or willing to wrap their heads around,’” Knowles said.