Supporting ‘hands-on’ learners
More than 20 years after co-founding ERA Environmental Management Solutions, Gary Vegh, BSc 88, GrDip 92, and Sarah Sajedi, BSc 91, credit the opportunities they received as students at Concordia for helping them build their environmental consulting software firm.
Today, the entrepreneurs choose to give back to their alma mater. Their recent $60,000 donation funds the annual ERA Environmental Bursary, which supports students entering the sciences, engineering and computer sciences. They also sponsor other awards to help students benefit from the same opportunities they had at Concordia.
“We both know from experience how difficult it is for young people to balance work and studies,” says Vegh.
Vegh and Sajedi met as undergraduates at Concordia. After graduating, the recession of the early 1990s forced them to look for jobs in the United States, where they became environmental researchers and consultants. Their consulting experience helping companies submit environmental reports opened their eyes to the enormous potential in the software market. A short time later, the idea for ERA Solutions was realized.
“The Clean Air Act in the U.S. was being amended, which meant that industries would have to do a lot more record keeping and reporting,” explains Vegh. “We got into the business doing air permit applications, and from there we grew into the software industry.”
ERA Environmental Management Solutions has grown significantly. The company has two offices: in Saint-Laurent, Que., and Bala Cynwyd, Penn. Their once-small startup now counts BMW, Lockheed Martin, J.B. Poindexter, and other multibillion-dollar companies among its growing client base. The company also employs a number of Concordia graduates and Co-op students.
“Gary and I had to travel many miles to go find a suitable job,” says Sajedi. “We’re hoping students don’t have to do the same, so creating jobs is another way of giving back. We have grown from a startup with a small handful of employees to nearly 100 full-time employees — all because we focus on job growth.”
Building a better future
Sajedi knows the importance of investing in women’s education in the sciences. “Girls are not given as much of a push to get a degree where I come from, but my mom pushed me very, very hard rather than forcing me down the more traditional path.” ERA employs many strong women from the sciences for management and leadership positions.
“We never imagined what we could do with our degrees,” says Sajedi. “It’s a really amazing feeling what we’ve achieved, but isn’t it more amazing to give that to somebody else?”