In the spring of 2019, brothers-in-law Ben Klepacki and Connor O’Shea took a gamble and left their jobs to develop power-on-demand technology to enable the use of compressed air on remote wellsites to eliminate methane emissions in their new company Westgen Technologies Inc.
“We cashed in our RRSPs and invested everything we had in Westgen,” said Ben.
And that gamble has paid off for this year’s Rising Star recipients. Westgen’s technology is now being adopted worldwide.
“We saw we both had a passion for making a difference in the energy industry,” said Ben.
That is what led eventually for them to establish Westgen, with Connor as president and Ben as vice-president of engineering and business development.
Ben came up with the novel power and compressed air solution, after a client was injured in a natural gas-related accident at a previous job.
The timing to start a new business was excellent.
“By 2022 the Alberta Energy Regulator has deemed that gas venting will be phased out at new wellsites,” said Connor. “Our goal was to find an economic way to eliminate gas venting.”
Their compressed air solution has won several awards including this year’s Emerging Clean Technology award at the Global Energy Show.
They built the prototype of their technology last summer and deployed the first unit last November.
“And now we have 16 companies we’re working with,” said Ben.
In addition to having sold the system to customers in Canada, they now have a customer in the U.S. and interest from likely customers in South America, Africa and Australia.
The company now has eight full-time staff.
“We think we can grow that to 100 in the next two years,” said Ben.
Both men are mechanical engineers – Ben earned an Engineering degree from Queen’s University where he specialized in alternative energy, and Connor earned his degree from Dalhousie University and a dual MBA from Smith School of Business (Queen’s) and Cornell University in New York.
Ben worked in the renewable energy industry in Ontario after graduating from Queen’s in 2008. It was a valuable experience.
“After being involved in the construction of a couple of wind farms I decided renewable energy wasn’t the magic bullet we needed,” said Ben.
He subsequently worked for some engineering firms, after a move back to Calgary, still determined to make a difference.
Connor worked for Shell Canada for 12 years, taking on a series of positions first in engineering and then moving in to commercial roles.
For both entering the oil and gas industry was logical. Ben’s father worked in the industry for many years. Connor, who is originally from the Maritimes, moved to Calgary in 2007 and knew he was hooked.
“I was impressed with the vibrancy of the city,” he said.
The rapid growth of Westgen means their roles in the company will only continue to grow.
In Ben’s case, he enjoys working directly with “the end users,” while Connor says his role of overseeing the business operations “is my dream job.”
Both have been fortunate to have benefitted from exposure to strong mentors. In Connor’s case, it was Michael Crothers, president of Shell Canada, who played a direct role in mentoring him.
The pair have dealt with the downturn in the energy sector by remaining positive.
“The world’s demand for energy solutions is higher now than it has ever been in history,” said Ben. “Alberta is uniquely positioned with the resources to provide many of these solutions.”
That’s exactly what Westgen has provided, but they say they won’t rest on their laurels and are focused on finding other technological solutions that help the industry reduce its environmental footprint.
Both say improving renewables are only part of the move towards a greener planet, with technology aimed at making the fossil fuel sector more sustainable being vital.
“The highest concentration of engineers in Canada is in Calgary, so we have the talent to solve the problems,” said Connor.
Despite being very busy with their business and with family life (they both have young children), Ben is involved in Bobsleigh Canada (he is a former sledder), while Connor is involved in United Way Calgary & Area.
Both see a bright future for the Canadian energy industry in the next decade.
“We can become known worldwide as a hot spot for clean energy innovation,” said Connor. “Exporting our solutions is a great opportunity in itself, but it also has the potential to change perception of our natural resources industry and be a big enabler for that.”
As for where they see themselves in five years. That’s an easy answer. They’ll be building Westgen into a much stronger company.
“We want to be problem solvers,” said Connor.