Startups to Watch: Proximify helps to make smart connections

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Diego Macrini was working in a lab at the University of Ottawa when he noticed that the person beside him was reading a paper he wrote.

Diego Macini is the founder and CEO of Proximify.

By Jacob Serebrin

Despite being in the same department, Mr. Macrini, then a post-graduate researcher, and his colleague had never formally met.

“You have a guy who could be asking questions to the guy who wrote the freaking paper and he has no idea,” says Mr. Macrini.

He decided to change that.

While the university had a directory of experts, it wasn’t a “smart” system – it couldn’t make connections on its own and it wasn’t always up-to-date.

Proximify’s solution enables “real-time mapping of connections,” Mr. Macrini says, “that changes when you change your profile.”

The process is similar to what happens on social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook. Users fill out a profile but, unlike those sites, the software makes the connections by itself.

Mr. Macrini says the system is particularly useful in universities, where “academics are usually working in their labs and offices and they don’t have time to connect.”

But he notes it was still a hard sell as professors were busy with grant applications and didn’t want to spend the time it took to fill out another form.

That’s when Mr. Macrini saw another opportunity. He knew that the federal government was planning changes to the Canadian Common CV – an online form that all researchers have to fill out when applying for federal grant funding – so Proximify began asking users for the same information required by the government, allowing them to submit grant applications with a single click.

While this meant “(Proximify’s) main product was on the sidelines,” the company had also developed the “only private solution” that was compatible with the government’s complex new website, Mr. Macrini says.

In large organizations, there are people who should know each other based on their skills and interests. Diego Macrini, founder and CEO of Proximify

The University of Ottawa and McGill University have adopted the program, which uses a software-as-a-service model and is licensed to entire institutions, and it will be implemented at the University of Toronto this spring.

Now, Mr. Macrini says the company wants to take its product beyond academia. He says it could be used by almost any organization “where people have different needs and skills.”

One other application he’s currently thinking about is within large law firms, where lawyers could use the software to find a colleague who has a specific area of expertise, even if they work in a different department or in another city.

Large charities have also expressed interest and he says the Ontario Centres of Excellence could use the program to match graduate students with industry, something he says the OCE still does by hand.

“There are many opportunities,” he says.

“The good thing about the technology is that we can take it in many different directions.”

Founded: 2012

Head count: Five full-time, plus one freelancer

Funding: Initial seed funding from the University of Ottawa’s Startup Garage; has also received support from IRAP and Ontario Centres of Excellence.

Clients: Universities, large organizations

Product: Real-time social mapping and grant application software

Organizations: University of Ottawa, Canadian Common CV, Ontario Centres McGill University University of Toronto Startup Garage

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