Tech startup can thank Prince Charles for boosting its profile
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/12/2014 (2975 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The digital age has forced the re-think of many traditional industries and the fundamental ways of doing business.
Among other things, it’s reduced the barriers to entry for lots of entrepreneurs who, not so long ago, might have required a lot more resources than they do now to get started.
What that means is that the process of starting a new business has become more of a possibility to more people.
There is a thriving start-up ecosystem in Winnipeg.
Organizations like Startup Winnipeg, Eureka Project, MTA and Innovate Manitoba are creating a vibrant community of would-be entrepreneurs willing to collaborate, share ideas and work together.
It’s an environment that makes it easier for them to test the waters, even (perish the thought) to fail.
On a semi-regular basis the Free Press will feature some of these start-ups with a focus more on innovation than the likelihood of success.
IT’S a sign of the times that a Winnipeg entrepreneur is already talking about a technology that would make computer tablets obsolete.
The way David Enns tells it, transitioning from clipboards to tablets was an evolutionary process for some field workers.
Enns’ believes his new business, which could make digital tablets obsolete in particular applications, is more revolutionary.
The business, called VisualSpection, is site assessment software that lets front-line workers in the oil and gas, utilities, telecom, transportation and other sectors access useful information hands-free using wearable technology such as Google Glass in some of the worlds toughest and most remote areas.
“When you think of it, a tablet is a glorified clipboard,” said Enns. “This is revolutionary. We are talking about changing the way field workers interact with information.”
Enns and his partner Mark Kulchycki have developed an inspection software product that integrates with the Google Glass technology to allow site inspection of pipelines, power lines, or any kind of remote infrastructure. The hands-free interface provides time and place tagging to support inspection compliance.
It allows workers to do field notes including photos and videos by following a workflow process that prompts the worker to do certain activities. And it’s all completely voice-driven.
Not so long ago Enns, 40, was part of the problem his current business is trying to solve.
“My former business, Map it Out, did mobile and web mapping applications,” he said. “It was status quo, mobile forms, hands-on, heads-down work. It dawned on me that there must be better way.”
He sold that business to Protegra in 2012 but the bells went off for Enns when the Google Glass was released.
There was nothing on the market until then.
Now VisualSpection has a partnership agreement with Google to be able to acquire glasses for the use in the Canadian market (they are not yet commercially available here.)
He is also already working with a safety glass manufacturer to integrate the Google Glass technology into a safety glass design.
“It’s the first thing a worker needs as soon as he steps out of the truck,” said Enns, who prides himself on his own field work and commitment to understanding the problems VisualSpection hopes to solve.
“Doing the job site visit is where we learn the most,” he said. “You have to understand how someone does a job before you can suggest a solution.”
Pilot projects are already underway with Manitoba Hydro and in the oil and gas business in Alberta. MTS field workers will start testing the technology in the new year.
Gary Brownstone, CEO of Eureka Project, and his staff at the business incubator have been doing market validation work for VisualSpection which is a tenant at Eureka. They’re interviewing a number of resource companies about the methods they currently use to do field inspections and whether they would be open to the idea of making a change.
“I think their prospects are good,” Brownstone said. “We ask the companies if they would be open to the idea of wearable technology and many of them ask if we could send it over this afternoon.”
Enns said he did not become a tech billionaire with the sale of Map it Out, but he and Kulchycki have been boot-strapping the company on their own to this point.
He expects to be able to have paying customers by the end of the first quarter of 2015. He also figures he’ll have done his first round of financing by then. Meanwhile, the company just received a shipment of 16 Google Glasses and at $2,000-plus each, that means a big hit on the enterprise’s (and his personal) finances.
“It could be a grim Christmas,” Enns said laughing.
Considering his experience and some early market acceptance, the VisualSpection solution could make a run of it.
In August, VisualSpection made it onto the TechVibes 20, a bi-monthly list of the hottest and most promising tech startups across Canada.
As well, in May of this year the company received a significant media hit with photos of Prince Charles wearing some VisualSpection Google Glasses during his visit to AssentWorks in Winnipeg’s Innovation Alley.
“The Prince Charles thing was a great media launch for us,” he said. “It was phenomenal. It it got published in every major newspaper and on-line magazine around the world. It was pretty big.”
Martin Cash has been writing a column and business news at the Free Press since 1989. Over those years he’s written through a number of business cycles and the rise and fall (and rise) in fortunes of many local businesses.