There’s no dust settling on Winnipeg eco-entrepreneur Todd Burns.
The globetrotting president of Cypher Environmental has travelled far since he graduated from RRC’s Business Administration program in 2001, taking Cypher’s dust-suppression, road-stabilization and water-treatment products to dozens of countries.
“The last time I counted it was well above 35, so I’m probably around 41 or 42 right now. Last year I went to a few countries for the first time ever — Honduras, Costa Rica, Peru and Colombia.”
Even jet-lagged, the 34-year-old entrepreneur is usually the freshest face in the room wherever business takes him, whether he’s networking with local, national and international trade groups, or meeting with Cypher’s distributors in Asia, Africa, Europe, the U.S., Mexico and South America.
“Our distributors worldwide, the owners of those businesses have children my age,” he laughs.
Burns was by far the youngest executive invited to fly to Mexico with former prime minister Stephen Harper to attend the Three Amigos Trade Summit in February 2014 — an “awesome” experience that came three months before he joined a youthful peer group at a meet-and-greet with Prince Charles at AssentWorks during a whirlwind royal tour. And he was among a handful of local business owners asked to take part in a federal round-table on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Last year, he returned to RRC to speak to students in the International Business program, and he’s collaborating with RRC staff and students to further develop Cypher’s environmentally friendly dust-suppressant Dust Stop, with the support of a $65,000 Applied Research and Development grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.
“We also have worked with some of their students in the past in terms of doing applied research projects,” Burns says, adding he hired a student who was involved in one such project.
That student has since moved away from Winnipeg, but Burns has three other RRC alumni on staff, including Civil Engineering Technology grad John Palson, who has been invited to sit on a curriculum-review committee for the RRC program. Quality Assurance/Quality Control grad Teaghan Wellman is doing research and development work, and Cypher’s business development manager, Darryl Chubak, earned a certificate in Information Systems & Technology when RRC was RRCC back in 1980.
“We have such a great relationship with the College,” Burns says.
“Basically, we have access to their engineering research lab whenever we want it. It’s phenomenal for us because it gives us the ability to use the resources they have there without having to make the capital investment ourselves. We have a small lab of our own, but there’s a lot of equipment they have that we don’t yet have.”
Burns chose RRC’s two-year Business Administration program because it seemed more hands-on than other options. He studied environmental science at the University of Manitoba and planned to continue his business studies as well, but then success got in the way.
“I never ended up finding the time to go back, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. With all the travelling I’ve done and all the experiences I’ve had, I’ve grown into the business leader that I am now and so I never looked back. And just with the start I got at Red River, it gave me the skills I needed to focus and really flourish as an entrepreneur.”
Burns and his late father, Norm Burns, started Cypher Environmental in 2000, working out of Norm’s home after they acquired rights to an environmentally friendly soil-stabilization product called EarthZyme. Since taking the helm, he’s established a manufacturing facility and head office on St. Matthew’s Avenue and secured lucrative contracts for a diversified product line around the world.
He expects 2016 to be the company’s best yet, with two deals involving Dust Stop – one for a mining company in Morocco and the other for a substantial length of road in Honduras. Dust Stop has been used to control dust in African deserts, at Brazilian mining operations and even on the rural Alberta set of CBC-TV series Heartland. It’s a long-lasting means of reducing air pollution that requires far less fuel and water than traditional dust-control methods.
Cypher is a finalist for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce 2016 Spirit of Winnipeg Award in the environmental category, and Burns is delighted to be recognized for his efforts.
“But we’re all pretty proud of what we do already,” he says.
“At the end of the day we could all be making a living and developing a career doing something else … It’s really nice to know we’re doing so and giving back.”
The company is working on more new technologies to solve environmental problems, and Burns expects to amass a lot of frequent-flyer miles as it continues to grow over the next few years.
But he’s looking forward to the day when his suitcase is gathering dust at home. A lifelong dog lover — his mom, Vicki Burns, was executive director of the Winnipeg Humane Society for 15 years — he found it hard enough to leave behind his mixed-breed foundling CJ when he travelled.
These days, there are more powerful tugs on his heartstrings when he’s away from his partner, accomplished cellist Edvanny Silva, and their one-year-old daughter, Claire Victoria.
“I used to not think twice about jumping on a plane, but now I’ve got a lot more incentive to stick around.”
— Profile by Pat St. Germain (Creative Communications, 1989)