Rob Imbeault emerged from dark days to start every morning with a smile

Co-founder of Ottawa software powerhouse Assent Compliance has a new agritech venture and a fresh outlook on life
Rob Imbeault
Ottawa entrepreneur Rob Imbeault has written a bestselling memoir chronicling his struggles with drug and alcohol abuse that delivers a beautiful message of finding healing through forgiveness. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen/JVL Photography

If you’ve read Rob Imbeault’s memoir, you’ll know the successful Ottawa entrepreneur overcame both professional and personal challenges to land on top. 

Imbeault is the co-founder of Adapt.ag, a new agritech company launched in January that takes shipping containers and transforms them into solar-powered gourmet mushroom farms, with the goal of advancing access to sustainably grown food.

“We can be completely off-grid,” said Imbeault, who also founded his own shipping container manufacturing company to support his fledgling business. 

But 10 or so years ago, Imbeault’s story was much different. 

In the business world, his claim to fame relates to Assent, an Ottawa-based supply chain data management company that he co-founded with Jonathan Hughes and Matt Whitteker in 2010. It’s now worth $1.2 billion.

Imbeault stepped away from his job at Assent (formerly known as Assent Compliance) in December 2017 but remains a shareholder. His departure gave him the time he was looking for to be with his young family and to focus on his life-long passion for writing. It’s not necessarily a skill you’d expect from somebody with a background in software engineering and product design. 

"I got a real-world MBA from working with Andrew, and it would be a shame not to use what I’ve learned to solve real-world problems."

In 2020, he published his first book: a well-written and unflinchingly honest memoir that focuses on his five-year-long suicidal drug and alcohol binge. His self-destructive years, which started in his late 30s, coincided with the triggering of a repressed childhood memory. 

Before I Leave You: A Memoir on Suicide, Addiction and Healing delivers a beautiful message of finding healing through forgiveness. Imbeault credits his editor, Laurie Gough, with helping him to complete his book, which was critically acclaimed and became an Amazon bestseller. Last year, Imbeault published a collection of humorous short essays, I Can’t Believe How Well It’s Going.

But his experience at Assent still stands him in good stead. He credits Assent’s CEO, Andrew Waitman, with teaching him everything he’s learned about business. 

“I got a real-world MBA from working with Andrew, and it would be a shame not to use what I’ve learned to solve real-world problems,” he said. “Although vertical farming has already made leaps and bounds, the industry is still in adolescence. It’s like the early days of the Internet, which is incredibly exciting, plus we can move the needle on food security.”

Imbeault’s new venture is about feeding a greater number of people by producing thousands of pounds of produce per container, per month involving thousands of containers. 

It’s also about people in the industry working together, not against each other, said Imbeault. 

“We all want to feed people. We’re all a part of this vertical farm industry; we’re all going to the same place. It’s about how to better grow food.”

Mushroom wellness advocate

Imbeault is also an investor in Adapt.ag’s sister company, Forage Hyperfoods, a mushroom wellness company based in Carleton Place, which goes to show he’s still very much a “fun-gi” (apologies for the bad pun; maybe it’ll grow on you?). Imbeault is a part-time chief operating officer at the startup. He took on the senior executive role voluntarily last fall to help the small company along. 

Forage Hyperfoods is in the business of sustainably harvesting all-natural Canadian mushrooms from the boreal forests of Quebec to create easy-to-consume preventative health products. It was started in December 2020 by CEO Jonathan Murray and chief product officer Chanel Murray. 

“I met the founders and was incredibly impressed,” explained Imbeault, 50, over a round of smoothies at Pure Kitchen in Kanata. His rolled-up dress shirt sleeves reveal arms heavily tattooed with Buddhist representations. “They’ve built a culture of ethics and integrity.”

Imbeault’s motivation for investing in mushroom wellness products and vertical farming has less to do with earning another fortune and more to do with finding a “just cause.” He’s dedicated himself to something that’s bigger than himself as an individual, bigger than the company. 

While the entrepreneur recognizes opportunity with medicinal mushrooms and agtech – both multi-billion-dollar markets – he also sees the health benefits from Forage Hyperfoods’ products and the solutions that Adapt.ag provides for food sustainability challenges. Also, 2022 Forty Under 40 award recipient and angel investor Shane Currey is an adviser and friend. 

These days, Imbeault lives a (mostly) plant-based, clean lifestyle. He and his wife, Mira, are actively involved in raising their two daughters, ages five and two. Meditation now forms part of his daily morning routine. So does writing in his gratitude journal, which is the very first thing he does when he wakes up. He likes to start his day by making sure to smile. It’s known to trigger brain chemicals related to positivity. 

“It all sets a tone for how I will interact with people and challenges,” said the mental health advocate. “There’s a solution for every challenge – we just need the right mindset to tackle it.”

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT ROB IMBEAULT:

  1. He won a Forty Under 40 award in 2010.

  2. He once met the Queen of England at a ceremony at Rideau Hall while in the presence of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

  3. His favourite book is David Epstein’s “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World”, which makes a strong case for gaining a breadth of experience and skill sets to succeed.

  4. He’s a former board member with the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation and helped to co-chair its signature white-collar boxing fundraiser, Fight for the Cure, in its second year. There was even a boxing ring in the Assent office.

  5. Life isn’t about achieving work-life balance, he believes. It’s more about managing the peaks and valleys. “You do have to put your head down and work sometimes for days, weeks (maybe not let it go months). Other times, let your mind wander. That’s when creativity happens.”

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