Victoria Times Colonist: Cascadia founder honoured with Mitacs award

Three years ago, Clayton Hiles took the more difficult path ahead of him. That decision is paying off for the University of Victoria graduate.

Hiles, who in 2012 founded coastal engineering firm Cascadia Coastal Research, has seen his business grow in each of the last three years. Last week, he was presented with one of four Mitacs entrepreneur awards at a gala in Calgary.

“It’s really nice recognition of the work and perseverance and risk that goes into starting a new business,” Hiles said. “I could have gone the easier route, moved to Vancouver and worked for a big engineering firm, but I wanted to stay in Victoria and work on the kinds of things I was interested in.”

The Mitacs award recognized Hiles for his work in establishing a company that offers ocean-modelling services to give clients a better understanding of wind waves, tides, storm surges and tsunamis. Mitacs is a national funding agency that supports graduate-level research and offers an accelerator-style program for young entrepreneurs.

Hiles was part of that program while studying at UVic. He graduated in 2010 with a master’s degree in applied science.

“Canada needs highly skilled innovation leaders like our interns in order to drive a productive and prosperous economy,” Mitacs CEO Alejandro Adem said.

“Fourteen per cent of former interns have started their own companies, indicating that our programs are equipping them with the skills they need to achieve business excellence and make a meaningful contribution to Canadian society.”

Hiles knew his work would keep him close to the water.

“I’d always been interested in the ocean — I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was five,” he said.

When he was older and realized there were few jobs in that discipline, he switched to engineering and eventually to coastal engineering.

His studies led him into computational modelling of ocean waves to support the renewable-energy industry. And now, Cascadia specializes in coastal-hazard work.

“We use the tools to understand the ocean environment and the hazards that might be involved when operating in that environment,” he said. That can mean anticipating the wind and waves that offshore platforms are likely to encounter, or assessing the effectiveness of existing protection structures in the face of rising sea levels.

“In the past, we haven’t been that worried about climate change as a society. But now, coastal communities are being mandated to consider sea-level rise and tsunami risk in their municipal planning,” Hiles said.

Cascadia has completed 24 projects for 16 clients, providing design criteria for coastal structures and ships. It also has projected the potential for extreme events and assessed marine renewable-energy technologies.

By: Andrew Duffy