Written by: Carla Wilson

What you want to do in business is to catch the wave just as technology is ready to change, high-tech success story Sir Terry Matthews told UVic business students yesterday.

"Timing in life is almost everything," he said to a classroom of about 60 students. Matthews, the UVic business faculty's Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year, was honoured at the Victoria Conference Centre last night.

Matthews, awarded a knighthood in Britain in 2001, has helped start more than 80 companies, including tech giants Mitel and Newbridge Networks Corp. Before immigrating to Canada in 1968, he earned an honours degree in electronics at the University of Wales.

He is chairman of Wesley Clover, an investor in and a manager of investments in technology, real estate and other industries. It is headquartered in Wales and has offices in Canada.

Believed to be a billionaire today, Matthews started his business career with a $4,000 bank loan.

Yesterday, he called on his own experience to illustrate to UVic students how he started new ventures. Rather than developing a product and then trying to find a buyer, he has specialized in anticipating how technology can evolve and working with clients to tailor products to their needs. That's what he means by catching a wave — being ready when technology changes dramatically.

"The size of that [new] business is equal to everything installed before," he said. "This replacement cycle is incredibly important to catch."

Try to join in too late, and your company could get knocked out, Matthews warned.

He advocates using an affiliate model, meaning that the new venture would be connected with a larger, established firm.

This brings instant credibility when calling on potential clients.

It also makes it easier to get in the door with your ideas.

Matthews, who starts five or six companies each year, calls himself a "born capitalist" and stresses the importance of being a team player.

His world demands total commitment and persistence: "You never give up … you never back down." He likens business to war.

Matthews is looking for four or five UVic business and engineering students to become interns and work on a project at Wesley Clover's Ottawa office. New graduates willing to "turn on a dime" must work as a team, he said.

In these startups, "Your job is to establish what the goalposts are so you win the game."

In existing companies, the organization will get in the way of adapting quickly, he said.

Around-the-clock commitment, quarterly reports and up-to-date notebooks outlining product development are all critical to any new company.

Notebooks help protect intellectual property in case of a patent dispute, he said.