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Richmond high tech company awarded for creating 'smart' food management system

Burton said Richmond is well placed for high tech companies to grow
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Steve Burton, founder and CEO of Icicle Technologies, showcases his award-winning online food management program. All staff at his company work remotely from home. Daisy Xiong photo

A Richmond company, which has created food management technologies, was honoured at last week’s 2018 BC Food and Beverage Awards.

Icicle Technologies stood out among numerous nominees and received the Innovation Award from the BC Food Processor Association.

The company has created a digital platform that allows factories to manage all of their production, regulatory activities and archives in one central location, according to Steve Burton, founder and CEO of Icicle Technologies and a long-time Richmondite.

For example, factories can use their software to check if their suppliers meet safety standards, receive alerts when food is approaching expiry or schedule work orders to maintain equipment, he added.

The company is now in partnership with Bell Canada to develop an advanced system in which machines can “talk to each other” to automate production and safety processes.

“We display sensors in companies to measure things like the temperature of refrigerators, freezers, flow rates, Ph and chemical concentration, and those are used to feed information into the system,” explained Burton.

“It will generate reports showing the data range, watch for accidents and send out alerts if it exceeds the regular range.”

Burton, who has an IT background, became interested in the food industry after getting seriously food poisoned multiple times, including while travelling in other countries.

“When I went to look more into the incidence and statistics around foodborne illnesses, it was very surprisingly common. Like in Canada, one in eight people every year get some levels of food poisoning,” said Burton.

“I felt strongly for my family and people I love. I wanted to do something to improve food safety and quality. I thought it was something that was socially responsible.”

Burton then learned that there is a need for software packages to improve the productivity of food managing processes, as many food companies still use the traditional paper binders to record and archive information, so he created his own software.

“You know, a lot of times you develop software projects as a way to push out advertisements to people that don’t want them, but this one actually has a good cause,” laughed Burton.

Having worked in traditional industries, Burton said the high tech industry is a very rewarding industry with a high rate of return.

“It’s got two really great advantages. One is that you can develop a product it once and sell it many times; there is no raw materials overheads. It’s definitely a good business,” he said.

He added that Richmond has its unique advantage for high tech companies over other municipalities due to the proximity to the airport and the presence of talent who understand Asian markets.

“What people may not realize is that here we have an enormous talent pool of people who can help companies access Asian markets. We’ve got mandarin speaking staff for example. So I think there are a lot of opportunities for growth in the future, in Richmond,” said Burton.

“One thing Richmond doesn’t have, and Vancouver seems to be ahead in, is high tech incubators. We could have more encouragement to help small companies in Richmond; that would be a very nice thing to do.”