Fly-fishin’ CEO reels in huge opportunity in clean technology

As an avid flyfisher and lifelong entrepreneur, Don Freschi has cast many proverbial lures. He’s CEO of Fenix Advanced Materials Inc., a startup in Trail that converts Teck Metal’s byproduct into ultra-high-purity semiconductors. He’s executive-in-residence for the Kootenay Association of Science and Technology’s Venture Acceleration Program. Oh, and he’s a global consultant for semiconductor research, which he says, “takes up my extra time.”

Another of his full-time “jigs” (as he puts it) is fly-fishing, which has had him “hooked” since the age of 13.

But it’s not all fishing puns with Don. His career in metal semiconductors has turned him into something of a walking, talking periodic table. Many metals on their own, after all, are toxic and potentially harmful to the local river ecosystem. Rather than treat them as a byproduct, Don turns them into semiconductors, diverting them from the natural environment.

Take cadmium – a toxic metal – combine it with tellurium and it makes cadtel semiconductors, which are are a key component in x-ray equipment and photovoltaic solar panels. Or arsenic: combine it with gallium, and you get gallium arsenide, a semiconductor inside practically every mobile phone.

As the area brands itself as Metal Tech Alley, Don’s passion for fishing makes him extra excited to highlight local clean technologies.

“Everything gets used,” he says. “It’s pretty cool to be able to take these impure or toxic metals and turn them into something that can essentially save the world.”

In his hometown of Trail, Don has made a thriving career in the semiconductor biz, and is still within an hour of all the best fishing spots and hard-fighting rainbow trout.

“I’ve been lucky having Teck Metals right there on the Columbia River,” he says, having landed a monster market in downstream industrial byproduct metals. His hope now is for more startups to see the potential in creating value-added high-purity metals using Teck Metal byproducts.

“We’re only doing four or five of those metals. I would love to see more companies come to the area and take advantage of those.”

This blog post is part of an ongoing series focused on the technology sector in the Kootenays. It is supported by Kootenay Association for Science & Technology and Imagine Kootenay. Read the next post in the series: Web developer taps Revelstoke’s sweeping seasons and digital undercurrent.