October 2019 – Making Waves

With a mission to inform, empower, celebrate and advocate for British Columbia's current and aspiring business leaders, BCBusiness go behind the headlines and bring readers face to face with the key issues and people driving business in B.C.

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E N T R E P R E N E U R O F T H E Y E A R 2 0 1 9 / B U S I N E S S D I S R U P T E R 34 BCBUSINESS OCTOBER 2019 W I N N E R Kristi Miller F O U N D E R A N D N A T I O N A L M A N A G I N G D I R E C T O R , F I R S T W E S T C A P I T A L n "I've spent my career financing entrepreneurs, so there's always a story," says Kristi Miller. Turns out, her own tale is noth- ing to sneeze at. It starts in a South Vancouver kitchen where the Winston Churchill Secondary graduate spent a lot of time with a Rus- sian friend, eating cab- bage rolls and trying to understand what she and her family were talking about. "It was 1988, and it was just everywhere— glasnost, Gorbachev, Chernobyl," Miller recalls. "So I decided I wanted to take a Russian lan- guage class in university; the class was full, but I cried my way in, and by Thanksgiving most people had dropped it because it wasn't the bird course they were hoping for. But I loved it. It was just so cool to be studying a society that was changing right in front of you." Miller ended up graduating from McGill University with a joint honours degree in history and Russian studies. It also came in handy when, while studying for a mas- ter's degree in strategy and international business, she did an exchange in St. Petersburg. Two years later, she'd go back to the city for her first-ever job in finance—a 23-month spell as an investment officer with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. "We were putting money into Russian com- panies that had recently been privatized—weird companies," Miller remembers. "Corrugated- paper manufacturers, a printing company, a totally corrupt bakery— two bakeries, actually, one corrupt, one not. And that's when I realized that I love working with entrepreneurs. But there was no real plan, except to do things that were interesting." After that, there were stints back home at institutions like Canadian Imperial Bank of Com- merce and Vancouver City Savings Credit Union, but Miller eventually co- founded First West Capital in 2010. The firm stands out from its rivals because it has "the heart of a entre- preneur with the disci- pline of an institution," she says. "And that is unique in the marketplace." Vancouver-based First West has 15 employees (all of whom Miller lists off by name) and has supplied almost $250 million in funding to more than 100 growing businesses. And, of course, they all have a story. —N.C.

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