Congratulations to the 2019 NAIT alumni award winners!

Five different approaches, one focus: building community

Community building, on the surface, takes many forms. For Hubert Lau, it's ensuring food safety. For Justin Cross, it's cultivating a love for lifelong fitness among young people. For Linda Hoang, it's using social media to bring people together (and it involves cats, but more on that later).

But go below that surface, and all their efforts have something in common.

What those grads are doing, as well as Ken Jurina and Sean Rayner (more on them later, too), is putting their education and talents to work on something that's bigger than a job, and on things that have the potential to touch many lives, maybe even make them better. That's why they've been singled out, from more than 200,000 NAIT graduates, for 2019 alumni recognition awards, including

  • Alumni Award of Distinction – given in recognition of the accomplishments of alumni who have risen in their professions and made significant contributions to NAIT or to the community
  • Alumni Award of Excellence – given in recognition of significant recent contributions to their profession or community
  • Spirit of NAIT Alumni Award – given in recognition of outstanding achievements of alumni early in their careers and within 12 years of graduating from NAIT

Here's a look at the unique accomplishments and contributions those awards represent, and the impact they have on creating better places to study, work, play and live.

Alumni Award of Distinction

hubert lau, nait alumnus, bixscoHubert Lau 
President, TrustBIX Inc.
Computer Systems Technology ’91

Community work

  • Member, NAIT Alumni Association Advisory Committee
  • Member, Advisory Board for the Confucius Institute in Edmonton
  • Board of Directors, Citadel Theatre

What he does

Hubert Lau has extensive experience as an IT consultant and is a successful entrepreneur in agriculture technology. His current company, TrustBIX, helps improve food safety, security and sustainability for Canada’s livestock industry by tracking data for millions of head of cattle, from birth to feed to medical treatment to slaughter.

“If we don’t focus on solutions that create sustainability, that encourage innovation in food production, we could run into a problem where we can’t feed the planet.”

Coolest way to explain your job to a stranger

“I show them a picture of the McDonald’s Angus Burger packaging, which has the sustainable beef logo. Well, we’re the technology that backs that claim. And we do that for many other companies around Canada and now are going global with it.”

The rewards of the job

“The people. When you get to work with people who work in food production – the planet, our soil, the animals – when they talk, it’s in terms of how they make a difference in everyday life, how they enjoy life, how they see life grow. And sometimes, they have to end life because if you’re talking about the livestock industry, at some point you’re going to have to harvest the animals. It’s real. You get a new appreciation of what we eat and how it came to us and the whole industry behind that and the struggles they have.”

Successful entrepreneurs work hard, have a sense of purpose, are trustworthy and optimistic. But there’s more to it

“Success is a combination of all four of those things, plus a little bit of the universe helping you out – being in the right place at the right time with the right mentors, friends and network. Eight years ago, I never thought I’d end up in agriculture. It literally fell in my lap, when Brett Wilson from Dragons’ Den and Mark de la Bruyere from Maclab Enterprises approached my partner Ted Power and I for help on a company that is in agriculture and technology. If that didn’t happen, I would probably be doing something else right now.”

Alumni Award of Excellence

ken jurina, nait grad, marketer, top drawKen Jurina
President and CEO, Top Draw Inc.
Marketing ’95

Community work

  • President, Entrepreneurs’ Organization - Edmonton Chapter
  • Co-founder Canadian Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization
  • Board member, Junior Achievement Northern Alberta and NWT
  • Member of NAIT’s Marketing Advisory Committee
  • Former judge, Global Student Entrepreneur Awards
  • Former member of NAIT’s Branding and Communications Committee
  • Co-chair NAIT Cruise fundraiser

What he does

Ken Jurina founded Top Draw during the early days of the internet and has led the company into the smartphone and social media era as an award-winning digital marketing agency. With about 35 employees and growing, Top Draw recently launched a creative branding division, Haste Post Haste, and operates Truuve Agency, a marketing arm for the automotive industry.

“There are different times in the history of your company where you have to decide to put all your chips in, and to bet it all.”

The early days of a one-person startup

“I was the chief bottle washer doing all things in the organization for the first three years almost. My typical day involved seeing clients and either presenting work or meeting with new prospects and gathering up what their goals and needs were, and then coming back at the end of the day and working through the evening and weekends to do the actual creative and the actual work.”

The first ‘chips-in moment’ betting on the company

“The first, and I think, the hardest thing for starting off as an entrepreneur is probably when you hire your first employee – having some other person who you are responsible for putting food on their table. I always took that responsibility extremely seriously. In 25 years, we’ve never missed a payroll, never even been late. That’s important to me that people can depend on us, both for my personal brand and the brand of the organization.”

Why mentorship matters for entrepreneurs

“I think I did everything you could possibly do wrong as an entrepreneur and growing the company.  The mentorship and direction and experience I get [from being involved with Entrepreneurs’ Organization] is so valuable, because we all need support and we all need sounding boards. It’s given me the confidence I need to have in myself and my business to help us to continue to grow and to see others do the same.”

sean rayner, president and ceo, vetsSean Rayner
President and CEO of VETS Group
Marketing ’01

Community work

  • free parts and installation of HVAC systems for Valour Place, a “home away from home” for members of the Canadian Forces, RCMP, veterans and others who require medical treatment in Edmonton
  • pro bono annual maintenance for HVAC systems at the Be Brave Ranch, a facility run by Little Warriors, an organization committed to the awareness, prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse
  • served on the campaign cabinet for Essential: The NAIT Campaign, the polytechnic’s most successful fundraiser

What he does

Sean Rayner represents the fourth generation to lead the family business. Established in 1921 by his great-grandfather, Fred, it began as VET’s Sheet Metal, named to honour those he fought alongside of during the First World War. Today, VETS Group builds on that past as a rebranded operation that deals in industrial ventilation and HVAC services in Alberta and British Columbia. Growth has come with pains but valuable lessons, too, that have Rayner looking forward to the company’s centennial.

"One of the things that I’ve tried to do is honour the past without being suffocated by it.”

On bringing change to the establishment

“My job in the early years was to remove roadblocks. What sparked the growth of the company was kind of a standoff with the estimators [who said], ‘We can’t do that job.’ I said, ‘That’s not your problem. Your problem is to go out and get the work, because we want to try this job. My job is to make sure the company is able to do the work.’ About three weeks later [the estimator] dropped a million-dollar contact on my desk. We knocked it out of the park. The rest is history. That was it: not accepting the status quo and having a vision for the future.”

Leadership lessons from scaling back during the downturn

“Be critical of your own strategy when it’s a departure from a business that you know well, [and] make sure that you have people that you trust to help.”

On the value of taking risks

In 2016, we invested in a niche market by acquiring a company in British Columbia…. Dust collection [such as wood or grain dust] is a sliver of industrial ventilation that’s very safety and process oriented. It’s an explosion hazard. There are very few people who can address that need in Western Canada today. [The acquisition] presented us with significant cultural challenges of growing into that geography and business. It was a huge cost. But it was the right thing to do. We knew [that] market was counter-cyclical to oil. Without that added diversity of geography and knowledge, I don’t know if we’d be here today.”

Spirit of NAIT Award

justin cross, nait alum, personal fitness trainer, cross conditioningJustin Cross
Personal trainer, owner of Cross Conditioning
Personal Fitness Trainer ’12

Community work

  • free fitness testing and seminars for Strathcona County high school football teams
  • offers one practicum placement each semester for a Personal Fitness Trainer student
  • returns to NAIT regularly to speak to students eager to enter the industry

What he does

After earning a university degree in history, Justin Cross returned to school in 2010, enrolling in NAIT’s Personal Fitness Trainer program. He did it out of personal interest. But mid-way through his second semester, people picked up on his passion and asked if he’d train them. Cross’s company, Cross Conditioning, was up and running by the time he graduated, and now sets itself apart through innovative, tailor-made training programs, including one for high school athletes.

“My ultimate goal is that we’re building lifelong exercisers.”

On getting kids into fitness

“Our goal is to introduce kids to a lot of different sports and activities and give the kids who aren’t naturally gifted at one sport a chance to excel at another. It’s not about winning and losing, but tracking their own progress – really trying to reinforce their success in that regard.”

Lessons from the early days

“As a new trainer, I never said no to anyone. If you wanted to train anytime, anywhere, I would have been there. It definitely kept me motivated to keep making the work-life balance more manageable. But it was important to get my name out there and keep fine-tuning my skills. It was a very steep learning curve in the first two years. That’s what I tell the practicum students – the point is to not make the mistakes that I made.”

What the Spirit of NAIT award means to him

“It’s a vote of confidence that I’m on the right path. Deep down you always question, Did I pick the right career? Am I doing the right things? Am I moving forward? It reinforces that the good we’re doing is getting noticed and people are benefiting from it. Just keep going.”

linda hoang, nait alum, social media mavenLinda Hoang
Social Media Consultant at Hoang Digital; Blogger at; Host of ‘Don’t call me a guru’ podcast
Radio and Television - TV '11

Community work

  • program advisory member for NAIT’s Radio and Television program
  • founder of Edmonton’s International Cat Festival

What she does

Linda Hoang is one of Edmonton’s most recognizable social media strategists, influencers and bloggers. Since graduating, she has provided advice and training, and developed social media strategies and influencer marketing campaigns for businesses, nonprofits and government. The founder of the Edmonton International Cat Festival, Hoang has raised over $81,000 for local shelters and rescues. She’s passionate about connecting with people and encouraging them to explore their city and discover local artists through her Instagrammable Wall guides and walking events.

If you put yourself out there, build your name and think about yourself as a business, you can set yourself apart.”

On harnessing the power of social media

“I find it really rewarding when I can sit down with someone and guide them through how to find their voice and encourage or inspire them to feel more confident using social media. I love it when they see the opportunity or potential that can come out of using social media strategically to further their business or to build themselves. I always use the Cat Festival as an example of the power of social media. I really think its success is directly a result of building social media presence, networks and awareness.

On discovering local artists via Instagrammable walls

“When I started looking for [Instagrammable walls], I saw that there are so many pretty, interesting, bright walls all over the city. So I started doing tours in different neighbourhoods. You go into it thinking I am going to get a great photo for social media, but then you become more aware of all of these local or international artists. Social media might have been the catalyst behind getting a nice selfie on a backdrop, but it’s also really helped artists get their name out there.”

On creating Alberta's first-ever International Cat Festival to support local shelters

“I've been very fortunate the last few years, and thought, ‘How can I give back to the city in a way that I'm passionate about?’ I wanted it to be meaningful and help people. In this case, it was cats. For a lot of those small rescue [organizations], they’re just wanting to help a few cats and now they've got thousands and thousands of dollars in vet bills. I don't see myself going out and rescuing feral cats, but I can raise money for them.”

Subscribe to receive more great stories every month

Find out more news about NAIT, stories about our alumni and their impact on their communities, and useful how-to content featuring our experts.

Sign up today »