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An Entrepreneur's Journey as an ISP Innovator in Grey Bruce

Updated: Jan 11

About this Episode

This podcast features Richard Gils, the founder and CEO of GBTEL, as he shares insights into his journey as a rural entrepreneur in the dynamic world of Internet Service Providers.

In this engaging conversation, Gils discusses the complexities of building a successful ISP in Grey Bruce, touching on the challenges and opportunities in a rural setting, the importance of government support, and the intricacies of managing a skilled team in a technical field.

He reflects on the significance of trust and team dynamics in business, offering personal anecdotes and advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. The discussion also delves into the broader economic landscape of Grey Bruce, exploring the impact of local and regional businesses on the area's development.

Gils' narrative provides a unique perspective on entrepreneurship, highlighting the blend of professional challenges and personal growth that define the entrepreneurial experience.

Key Themes and Takeaways

  • Entrepreneurial Resilience in Rural Settings: Gils highlights the unique challenges and rewards of being a rural entrepreneur, emphasizing the importance of adaptability and local engagement. Success in rural entrepreneurship requires a deep understanding of local needs and the flexibility to adapt to unique market dynamics.

  • Importance of Trust and Team Dynamics:Trust is central to Gils' management philosophy, fostering a strong team environment essential for technical and complex operations like ISPs. Building a reliable and skilled team is crucial in technical fields, and trust serves as the foundation for effective team dynamics.

  • Navigating the Evolving ISP Landscape:The podcast explores the challenges GBTEL faces in the ISP market, including competition with larger corporations and navigating government support.Success in the ISP industry involves strategic navigation of market dynamics and leveraging opportunities for growth and development.

  • Economic Development in Grey Bruce: Gils discusses the economic patchwork of Grey Bruce, highlighting the roles of different sectors and the impact of local versus external ownership. Recognizing and supporting diverse economic drivers, including local businesses, is key to regional development.

  • Personal Growth and Professional Development: Reflecting on his journey, Gils advises on personal development, emphasizing honesty with oneself and the commitment to continual learning and growth. Personal and professional growth are intertwined, and success often lies in self-awareness and a commitment to continuous improvement.

Interview with Grey Bruce ISP Innovator and Rural Entrepreneur Richard Gils

00:00 - 07:04 | The Genesis of GBTEL: Richard Gils' Entrepreneurial Journey

Richard shares the compelling story of his transition from a tech enthusiast to a successful rural entrepreneur. The conversation begins with Gils reflecting on the early days of GBTEL, marked by experimentation in wireless and fiber networks, software, and hardware development. He emphasizes the company’s commitment to harnessing local talent in Owen Sound, contributing to its growth and innovation.

The pivotal moment for GBTEL traces back to a personal challenge at Gils' in-laws' cottage in Chesley Lake. Faced with poor cell coverage and skepticism from his uncle about his abilities, Gils was driven to prove his expertise in telecom. This led to the development of a small wireless network for his uncle, laying the groundwork for GBTEL. The success of this initial project quickly generated widespread demand in the area, catalyzing the company's expansion.

Gils also delves into his background, revealing his early fascination with computing and programming. He describes his journey from tinkering with computers as a child to establishing GBTEL, painting a picture of a deeply passionate and persistent entrepreneur. The segment effectively captures Gils' entrepreneurial ethos, setting the foundation for understanding the genesis and growth of GBTEL in a rural context.

07:04 - 21:51 | Navigating the Evolving ISP Landscape in Grey Bruce

This segment of the podcast delves into the dynamics of the Internet Service Provider (ISP) market in Grey Bruce, with Richard Gils of GBTEL offering insights into the challenges and strategies involved in operating within this sector.

Gils begins by discussing GBTEL's journey, highlighting significant milestones like securing funding through Swift and the Universal Broadband Fund. This funding played a crucial role in GBTEL's ability to build out rural areas, a key focus for the company. He expresses a sense of local pride and a slight disappointment at not being chosen for certain projects, underscoring GBTEL's deep-rooted connection to the Grey Bruce area.

The conversation shifts to the broader market dynamics, where Gils notes a sentiment of divide among ISPs. Some are focusing on building fiber in specific areas, creating entrenched local presences, while others opt out due to incoming government-funded competition. This landscape has left openings for larger entities like Bell and satellite services like Starlink to offer alternative solutions.

Gils elaborates on GBTEL's approach, which involves strengthening their fiber network and improving wireless solutions, underpinned by investments in GIS technologies and server-based platforms. This strategy aims to position GBTEL competitively in a market increasingly shaped by consolidation and capital access challenges.

Gils also touches on historical parallels in telecom consolidation, relating it to the current ISP landscape. He explains the challenges smaller ISPs face, particularly with capital and regulatory decisions, which often favor larger players.

The segment concludes with a discussion on private equity's interest in rural networks, with Gils noting that pension fund-based private equity firms show a preference for long-term, stable investments like fiber networks, aligning with their lower return expectations and longer investment horizons.


21:51 - 25:59 | Balancing Entrepreneurship and Personal Life

In this segment, we explore the personal side of being an entrepreneur, discussing the challenges and rewards of balancing his professional and personal life. We start by acknowledging the complexities involved in switching roles frequently, from running a business to engaging in personal activities.

Gils emphasizes his passion for learning new things, a trait that drives his entrepreneurial spirit. He values working with smart, hardworking individuals and highlights these qualities as key criteria in his hiring process at GBTEL. Trust, diligence, and intelligence are pillars upon which he builds his team, ensuring a productive and effective work environment.

The conversation then shifts to Gils' involvement in coaching sports, specifically soccer and hockey. He finds a parallel between coaching and entrepreneurship in terms of empowering individuals to excel. Gils takes pride in guiding people through their development, focusing on enhancing their skills, awareness, and attitudes. He draws a direct comparison between coaching and managing his team at work, where he enjoys seeing his employees grow, develop their skills, and achieve their goals.

Gils concludes by discussing his role in fostering growth and development in his employees, mirroring his approach in coaching. He relishes the opportunity to support his team's professional growth, whether through commendation or constructive feedback.

This part of the podcast paints a picture of Gils as not just a business leader but also a mentor and coach who finds fulfillment in nurturing potential, both in his business and personal life.


25:59 - 29:56 | Cultivating Trust and Talent in a Rural Business

In this part of the podcast, Richard shares his experiences and challenges in building a skilled and reliable team for his rural business. The conversation centers on the unique aspects of managing a team in a less urbanized area, particularly in a technical field like internet services.

Gils emphasizes the importance of trust in his approach to team management, drawing parallels between his experiences in sports and business. He believes in giving people opportunities, especially those who haven't had the chance to thrive. This approach involves looking beyond traditional indicators of success and potential in resumes, focusing instead on uncovering hidden talents or "diamonds in the rough."

He narrates an anecdote about an employee who transitioned from window cleaning to working in telecom, illustrating his willingness to invest in individuals eager to learn and grow, regardless of their background. This story exemplifies Gils' philosophy of seeing potential where others might not, fostering a culture of growth and opportunity within his company.

He further discusses the necessity of communication and trust, especially in high-stakes situations like building cell towers, an early part of GBTEL's operations. These experiences have shaped his leadership style, emphasizing the need for clear communication and trust in his team's abilities.

This segment highlights Gils' unique approach to building and managing a team, showcasing how trust and opportunity can create a strong, competent workforce in a rural business setting.


29:56 - 37:35 | The Complexities and Opportunities of Entrepreneurship in Grey Bruce

In this segment, the discussion pivots to the broader entrepreneurial landscape in Grey Bruce, where we reflect on the region's opportunities and challenges. We begin by acknowledging Grey Bruce as a patchwork of diverse opportunities, influenced by seasonal trends and varying economic sectors.

Gils highlights the importance of government support in fostering a conducive environment for businesses. Drawing a comparison with South Korea's state-supported economic model, he suggests that local and regional businesses thrive when backed by local economies, creating a mutually beneficial growth cycle. This approach, Gils argues, is particularly effective in areas like Grey Bruce, where different economic influences, such as tourism and senior living, coexist.

He notes the significant role of Bruce Power in the region's economic development, emphasizing how state support for the nuclear industry has driven wealth in parts of Grey Bruce. However, he also points out that this support hasn't been uniformly distributed across all sectors, leading to disparities in regional development.

The conversation then turns to the role of local ownership in regional economic growth. Gils shares his perspective on the need for strong, regionally-focused companies that can drive local development. He expresses a sense of disappointment in not receiving as much government support as expected for GBTEL, underscoring the challenges faced by local ISPs in securing grants and fostering growth.

Concluding the segment, Gils touches on the ownership of major regional players like Bruce Power, noting that its profits are not retained locally. He underscores the importance of recognizing and supporting locally-owned businesses that contribute directly to the regional economy, advocating for a more inclusive approach to economic development in Grey Bruce.

37:35 - 41:09 | Reflections on Rural Entrepreneurship

In the final segment of the podcast, Richard reflects on his journey as an entrepreneur and offers advice to his younger self and other budding entrepreneurs, especially in rural areas.

When asked what advice he would give to a younger version of himself just starting GBTEL, Gils initially finds himself at a loss, indicating that he wouldn’t change much about his entrepreneurial journey.

The conversation steers towards the concept of trust, a theme that Gils had emphasized earlier. Gils acknowledges that trust has been a fundamental part of his approach, ingrained in him from his experiences in team sports and his competitive nature. He also recognizes that effectively communicating and articulating the importance of trust to his staff has been crucial in his role as a leader.

Gils emphasizes the importance of personal and corporate growth, advocating for a culture where staff are encouraged to improve their skills and invest in their own development. He stresses the importance of being true to oneself, understanding personal goals and limitations.

He advises that hard work is essential for success, using Bill Gates and Elon Musk as examples of individuals who have combined hard work with smart investments to achieve remarkable success.

The interview concludes with Gils reinforcing the need for honesty and self-awareness in one's professional journey. His parting words serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of hard work, trust, and personal growth in the entrepreneurial journey.


About Richard Gils

Richard Gils, founder and CEO of GBTEL, stands out as a resilient and innovative rural entrepreneur. With a deep-rooted passion for technology and a commitment to local talent, he has navigated the complexities of the ISP industry in Grey Bruce, emphasizing the importance of trust, team dynamics, and community engagement. His journey from tackling technical challenges to fostering economic development in a rural setting underscores his unique blend of entrepreneurial spirit, technical savvy, and dedication to regional growth. Gils' story is a testament to the potential of rural entrepreneurship in bridging technological gaps and driving local economic advancement.

About the Rural Entrepreneur Podcast Series

The Rural Entrepreneur Podcast Series delves into the stories of rural entrepreneurs, exploring their struggles, triumphs, and the driving force behind their perseverance. The conversations are profound and insightful. If you're interested in being a sponsor or guest, feel free to contact us or book some time with Chris.

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