The company’s product – an antenna hidden inside a slender black plastic box slightly longer than a pen – allows users to capture high-definition broadcast television signals out of the air. In Ottawa, that means anywhere from six to a dozen stations, including CBC and CTV.
The company’s founders wanted to tap into the trend of “cord cutting,” as growing numbers of TV watchers cancel their cable subscriptions, with a goal of building a device that captured a combination of Internet video streams and over-the-air signals. However, they found that most antennas on the marketplace were large, unsightly and didn’t work very well. So they set out to build one that was smaller in size and delivered strong signals.
“Our benchmark was always whether our wives would let us put this antenna in our living room. It had to fit with the modern home entertainment environment,” jokes company president Spenser Williams.
By 2011, NorthVu had developed a prototype with the assistance of several local firms, including Fidus, Design 1st and NPS Labs, as well as researchers at the Communications Research Centre Canada at Shirley’s Bay.
After a successful demonstration at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the company landed a distribution agreement with Canadian retailer The Source, which started stocking NorthVu’s amplified antennas in more than 300 stores across the country last November. Company officials won’t disclose exactly how many units the firm has moved, but say that as of late last year it was “in the low thousands,” with approximately 90 per cent of sales coming through The Source.
While online sales continue to grow – the other 10 per cent comes mostly through Amazon – Northvu still sees bricks-and-mortar retail as an important channel.
“A lot of people still like to shop in a store and physically get their hands on a product, see what it looks like, talk to an educated salesperson (about) whether the product will work for them,” says Mr. Williams.
NorthVu signed a distribution agreement with Home Hardware late last year and has its sights set on expanding into the United States. Down the road, company officials say they’d love to see NorthVu antennas in larger and larger retailers, including Walmart.
First, the company needs to scale up its capacity to ensure it can supply the growing demands of its current retail partners. But the company is clear in its ambitions.
“The bigger, the better,” says Mr. Williams.
Head count: Two
Funding: Undisclosed amount from Toronto-based private equity firm
Product: Indoor digital TV antennas