Calgary Herald: Performance at low cost the goal for tech trio
Calgary Herald Startup of the Week: July 12, 2014
This week we talked to Stephen Dwyer, Jamie Yuen and Nicolas Olmedo, founders of Copperstone Technologies. Copperstone develops small, low-cost devices that measure equipment location and other important variables such as temperature, vibration and environmental conditions to help companies understand whether their equipment is working properly in very remote locations. The founders tell me they've used drones to detect leaks in pipelines and robots to drive over oilsands tailings deposits to test the soil, and they've also measured vibration on rail cars and highway trucks.
Here's more from our interview.
How did you come up with the idea for your startup? Was there an "ah-ha" moment?
During our graduate studies at the University of Alberta, Mitacs introduced us to Calgary-based BMI Technologies. Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that offers funding for internships and fellowships to Canadian university students.
BMI wanted a system that would monitor the location and usage of fleets of forklifts across North America.
We worked closely with BMI to understand their clients' problems, and built a wireless sensor that mounts on each forklift and reports back through a cellphone.
This system is much less expensive than similar older technologies, it is easily expandable, and it allows users to get reports through a simple web browser, saving them time in tracking their equipment, reducing maintenance, and ensuring that forklifts remain in service. We had our first client before we even started the company!
What has been the biggest challenge so far? What have you done to solve it?
Delivering high performance at low cost has been our biggest challenge. We've put in lot of effort and hard work into research and development and planning to get there.
Are there any key individuals outside of your organization that have been of great help to your startup?
Dr. Michael Lipsett, our supervisor in the faculty of engineering at the University of Alberta has been extremely supportive in our work and in bringing us business opportunities.
What advice would you like to share with others just starting out?
Having connections at the University of Alberta and through Mitacs has been key to creating a launch pad to start this venture. These connections have provided networking opportunities and helped us develop good relationships with experienced people.
In addition, our core team has had plenty of experience working together in the past, so we understand our team dynamics well.
Having a solid cross-functional team that can work well together and a strong network for professional advice are crucial when starting out.
Also take advantage of grant funding and connections from organizations such as Mitacs, NSERC, TECTERRA, etc.
What made you choose to go down the path of entrepreneurship?
We were provided with an opportunity that was not only in line with our expertise, but also enabled us to work on solving a big industry problem. We had always been interested in the challenge and flexibility of entrepreneurship, and so jumped at the chance.
What are your thoughts on our startup community?
The community has been fairly good to us as we were able to get a client even before we started. The companies and organizations we have dealt with have been very supportive of startups.
What do you and your startup need help with?
We're looking for funding for some of the projects we are getting involved with.
We are also looking for advisers who are experienced in business planning and strategy. Check out copperstonetech.com for more information.
Byline: Lloyd Lobo, Startup of the Week by Boast Capital for the Calgary Herald