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An Interview with Dr. Sarah Lubik on Background, Qualifications, and Upbringing (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/05/22


Dr. Sarah Lubik is the Director of Entrepreneurship, SFU Co-Champion, Technology Entrepreneurships Lecturer, Entrepreneurship & Innovation Concentration Coordinator, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. She discusses: background; qualifications and intentions behind the credentials; and the importance for a variety of experiences for a diverse upbringing.

Keywords: business, Canada, entrepreneurship, innovation, Sarah Lubik, SFU, technology.

An Interview with Dr. Sarah Lubik Background, Qualifications, and Upbringing: Director of Entrepreneurship, SFU Co-Champion, Technology Entrepreneurships Lecturer, Entrepreneurship & InnovationConcentration Coordinator, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Part One)[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, we will start at the beginning naturally. Tell us a little bit about your background in terms of family environment, upbringing, so culture, geography, language.

Dr. Sarah Lubik: I grew up in Coquitlam, in the suburbs of Vancouver. I’m lucky to have had a mom at home and a father with a job at Imperial Oil and all the benefits that come along with it.

So, I’m not sure it was that exciting in upbringing as far as the story goes, but I can tell what’s one of the things that has been interesting for me, and that I like to think has shaped me.  My parents both come from very hardworking families.  My father is the second generation from Eastern European.

They were all entrepreneurs and were always hard workers. That’s something that’s been passed on to my sisters and I. We’ve never had brothers and had a matriarchal family. Mom’s family, in particular, is strong.

So, there’s never been any question for my sisters and I of not being able to do anything or ever being restricted because we are women. We were lucky enough to have a cabin that my father built, up in Indian Arm, when we were growing up, where we would spend the summers.

Being in a place without electricity, you constantly have use of your imagination, like building houses for plastic dinosaurs out in the back with leaves and sticks, and helping dad fix things. So, we started off feeling empowered and capable. It wasn’t until I ended up going away to school in England for my Master’s and Ph.D. that I fully realized there was still a long way to go in many places.

I’d heard of glass ceilings, but I didn’t have much experience it Until much later.

2. Jacobsen: When you were getting your qualifications, what was the intention there? What were those degrees’ purposes towards what you had as a long term vision, if there was one at the time?

Lubik: Your last point was incredibly relevant. There was not much in the way of vision, more a series of opportunities that makes sense in hindsight. There were never questions in my house growing up that we wouldn’t go to University. We were going to University. The question was where.

I was told that my grades are good in science, which meant I could probably get a science scholarship. When I wrote a scholarship essay, I showed it to my English teacher and he said, “Cool! You’re going not going to SFU.”

I was shocked. I said, “No, I wanted to go to SFU, how would I change this?”, and he told me to rip it up. “Because they’re looking for something interesting, they’re looking for someone who thinks differently. This is a -written, structured essay. It’s not particularly insightful or genuine. It’s not going to get their attention.”

Having heard that SFU was a place where they wanted people who thought differently and wanted people to be themselves, immediately, SFU was, even more, my school of choice, and I was accepted with a science scholarship. Interestingly, the scholarship essay was about how I might not say in science, because the most important part of the university was self-discovery, and I might discover science wasn’t where my heart was.

While I had good grades in science and was interested in experiments, I knew was it was unlikely that I was going to stay because I used to like to debate with people, so I wanted to be a lawyer. My grade 12 law teacher was a hero of mine, he even helped me get into some legal public speaking competitions.

I didn’t do well in them, but I enjoyed it, so at the time, I wanted to be a lawyer. So, I transferred from science to business and liked marketing. There was room for creativity in it, and I took international business because, wrongly, I thought that it helped you travel for work.

It wasn’t until my mother came home with the story of ‘my friend’s son is in co-op, loves it, so you need to be in a co-op.’ I wasn’t originally convinced, but I did not win that argument with my mom and ended up in co-op. It was transformative.

I went out and experienced a bunch of different work environments, then found out that there’s a whole bunch of things that I didn’t want to do at all. I learned that event management was not glamorous and how to survive a toxic work culture before I landed what surprisingly became my dream job: I was hired as a research assistant for a professor at SFU, who was studying the commercialization of fuel cells and materials.

My job was to call companies who were coming up with things that sounded like science fiction at the time, to call up their founders and CEOs and say, “Tell me your story and tell me what your challenges were. Let’s see if we can draw conclusions. Maybe, we can find patterns or strategies with other companies that might be able of help ot you.”

It never occurred to me that this was a career option before. No one had ever told me that. I absolutely loved it. I didn’t want the co-op term to end. As it turned out, this project was between SFU, MIT, and Cambridge University in England, and there was more work to do.

I asked my supervisor, “If I do a good job, for me, can you help me go see some of our partners in other parts the world?” She said, “Sure, where?” So, she helped me visit Cambridge for a semester to do the same thing, visiting those amazing companies and calling these incredible entrepreneurial people to find out their stories,

I had a high success rate with getting interviews, enthusiasm goes a long way, and that got the attention of people who we were working with. One day my supervisor in England brought me out into her garden for tea, as you do, and said, “We have some money for around this research. You clearly love what you’re doing. Have you ever considered doing a master’s degree?”

That was the first time I’d actually thought of it, but when someone says, “Do you want a master’s degree from Cambridge?” You don’t say, “No.”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Lubik: So, we thought we’ll try it. It was incredibly fun. It was a fantastic way to see the world.

So, I got a way to travel after all, and I got to learn from experts and entrepreneurs all across Europe, which was amazing. Then part way through, I realized that I wanted to do a Ph.D. I wondered, “How do I tell [my supervisor] that I want to do a Ph.D.? Where are we going to find the money for this?”

Then she sat down in a meeting one day and told my department head, “We’re looking for money for Sarah to do her Ph.D.” I realized that she’s known for quite a while. So, that got past the problem of having to tell anyone or having to explain to her that I needed finances.

So, that was what happened. I loved the research side of things, but I also needed a job. I got the job supporting start-up companies because I walked into my advisor’s office and said, “I probably need to get a job to pay the rent, etc. Do you have anyone that you know who needs help?”

He checked post-it note on his office computer and said, “Actually, I do. He works helping startups for start-ups. You work on startups. So, here you go.” It all snowballed. That job was administration, which turned into coordinating pan-European projects and turned into working with all the different tools to support start-up companies and becoming a business coach.

Becoming a business coach let me meet a lot of interesting startups, one of my clients was fantastic, technologically, but could use help, commercially. So, I ended up getting together with those guys and we used their technology to start a new venture

So, I suppose my journey so far is opportunistic. I love supporting entrepreneurship. I love the creativity that comes with being in that world and being part of creating a lot of different opportunities

In line with that, I was studying commercialization of advanced materials through university ventures. The support structures and ecosystems that need to be built to support the university on innovation and entrepreneurship were key.

When I was thinking of whether or not I should move home to Canada, that was about the same time friends back at SFU, the Beedie School, in particular, were talking about how we need someone to lead the charge in this.

3. Jacobsen: When you were having a regular upbringing relative to Canada, you’re going to the cabin, exploring and using your imagination, as well having a key mentor in high school for law, do you think that you would be able to launch into innovation and entrepreneurship as a career path without those experiences?

Lubik: Interesting question.  In my journey mentorship has definitely played a significant role, employers and teachers, but also peers.

I did get some exposure to entrepreneurship at the end of my undergraduate career in case competitions, but this was before entrepreneurship was sexy and before our school had entrepreneurship programs. I had already done my first co-op and experienced what I didn’t want to do. When I came back to school, I wanted to make sure that I made the most of the rest of my university experience because I wanted to have a meaningful life and job.

After my first co-op job, I knew nine-to-five job didn’t appeal to me, I wasn’t seeing my friends at school, I was only taking one class. I thought, “How boring and unfulfilling.”

So, I watched other people who were excelling in school. One of the things that was common was they were doing case competitions. I thought, “I’m going to get into that. That’s where the ambitious people are”. They were recruiting for a large case competition: the first JDC West. We had an entrepreneurship team, but we had no entrepreneurship classes.

The person who was creating the team who said, “Sarah thinks on her feet, put her in entrepreneurship.” I went, “I don’t know anything about that, but sure.” I loved it. I loved the problem-solving aspect of it. I loved the strategy aspect of entrepreneurship, but at that point, I’d never studied it or spend time with entrepreneurs.

When I studied it later, I spent a lot of time with start-up companies and with the academics and entrepreneurs who were starting them. So, in a lot of ways, I learned at the feet of the giants.  Many of those companies are still going today.

The mentor that I had running the European projects in Cambridge whose mentorship style was the better I did then the more stuff he gave me. That was also experienced with a different kind of entrepreneurship, being let loose to create my own path as long as I got things done.

I’ve been lucky that the person who employed me at SFU also had a similar standpoint on mentorship, which was, “I’m going to give you things that excite you. I’m going to tell you what you need to get done, but how you do it is up to you.”

That’s one of the most important things that I now teach. I want some ambiguity and flexibility. Learning to just start when you don’t know how to start or where to start is a key entrepreneurial trait.

The other thing that took me down this path is that I was in a place like Cambridge. Cambridge is one of the biggest start-up hubs. Maybe not the biggest, one of the most thriving start-up hubs.

The energy and culture there are that people start start-up companies for fun. There are people who you’ll meet who you would not think, “This is an entrepreneur.”  But even those people are thinking t, “I’m going to see if I can commercialize my Ph.D. research.” Why? Everyone around you is doing it.”

So, being in that setting, where this is not just possible, it’s the norm, energizes you to take that leap.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Director of Entrepreneurship, SFU Co-Champion, Technology Entrepreneurships Lecturer, Entrepreneurship & Innovation Concentration Coordinator, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: May 22, 2019:; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2019:


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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