STARTUPS TO WATCH: Amika Mobile

Elizabeth
Elizabeth Howell
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As gunshots echoed through Virginia Polytechnic and State University’s corridors in 2007, university officials sent out an e-mail to students warning them of the massacre happening on campus.

Amika Mobile CEO Sue Abu-Hakima. (photo by Mark Holleron)

Sue Abu-Hakima said she was saddened to see that message didn’t reach students until two hours had passed. With 32 people killed in the shootings, Ms. Abu-Hakima said she felt a faster response could have saved lives.

That was the impetus behind Amika Mobile, an emergency-notifications startup that provides instant broadcasts to cell phones, particularly aimed to university campuses, during emergencies.

“In 2008, we introduced an integrated Wi-Fi mass notification system, and we were the first company to do so. Today, we’re still one of the first companies with Wi-Fi,” said Ms. Abu-Hakima, who has one exit behind her and is currently Amika’s co-founder and chief executive.

Ms. Abu-Hakima’s first startup business, AmikaNow!, was spun out of the National Research Council’s R&D labs in 1998 and acquired by Entrust in 2004.

Amika sells enterprise software that auto-discovers devices on both wired and wireless networks before an alert is issued, explained Ms. Abu-Hakima. The company sells through a systems integrator network in the U.S. and has signed with the PSA Security Network, an electronic security co-operative with nearly 300 security system integrators.

“They then sell our product to the end customer, and we share the revenue with them. There are then support contracts with the customers for the servers sold, so we get recurring revenues that way,” she explained, adding that the software can support up to 100,000 users.

“It can also be licensed through an OEM agreement to a hosting provider for millions of users. We have such discussions underway in both Canada and the U.S., and those hosting providers would sell it through subscription agreements,” she explained.

But the company isn’t sitting on its laurels. Senior management at Amika Mobile has begun to weigh the possibility of being acquired, she said, and Amika is laying the groundwork to prepare for that eventuality. She said it could happen in the next few years.

My philosophy – I’ve been an entrepreneur for 12 years, which is hard for me to believe – you can’t rely on a white knight. CEO Sue Abu-Hakima

“We would probably be a target because of our IP; we have 12 patents pending,” she said.

“If the right offer comes around, the investors and the board would go with it. But it’s not good advice to tell a (business) to go and think about that on a daily basis, because then they’re going out of business.”

As for 2011, Amika is targeting more staff growth and some new customers, although Ms. Abu-Hakima said the details will need to stay under wraps for a little longer.

“We hope to have some announcements. We’re not to the point of closing deals yet, but we’re getting there.”

Year founded: 2007

Local head count: 12

Funding to date: Around $3 million from angel investment, some government grants and company founders

Product: Wi-Fi and SMS emergency mass notification alerts

Organizations: Amika Mobile, National Research Council, PSA Security Network

Geographic location: Ottawa, U.S., Canada

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