Nureva open house shows off new product

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A Calgary tech firm with strong ties to Ottawa is hoping to transform the sticky note, its co-founder and CEO said recently.

Nureva co-founders Nancy Knowlton and Dave Martin

by Stephen Karmazyn

Nancy Knowlton was in town for an open house at Nureva’s research and development office in the Kanata Research Park, where the company displayed its new Span ideation system.

“The sticky note is one of the last areas that is in need of a digital facelift,” Ms. Knowlton said.

Essentially a wall-mounted projector, the Nureva Span ideation system can be installed in any room and is able to cast images on any flat surface.

The result is a 40-foot horizontal scrolling touch-sensitive “screen” projected on the wall. The software enables users to move content around the projection, zoom in on specific areas and take notes, with all information saved to the cloud. Through interactive apps, it also allows workers in different places to work on the same project at the same time.

Ms. Knowlton plans to target both the business and education sectors with Nureva’s product. Sales are still in the early stages, but several schools and NASA have made purchases.

Ms. Knowlton and co-founder Dave Martin previously created Smart Technologies in 1987. That company also makes an interactive white board, and while Nureva appears to be targeting the same market, Ms. Knowlton said she doesn’t believe the two firms are direct competitors. In fact, Ms. Knowlton still owns 23 per cent of Smart Technologies.

“When we started with Nureva, we started with people and figured out a business problem that needs to be solved,” she said. “Is there an open space where an interactive whiteboard is not solving a specific problem?’”

Nureva’s Span software differs from Smart Technologies’ signature product, Smart Board, in that it is more software-oriented, Ms. Knowlton said, and is designed to be used more at the early stages of a project, when teams are still brainstorming ideas. The Smart Board, she said, is better suited for the presentation phase after a project is complete.

Staffed largely by former employees of Smart Technologies, Nureva has taken a lot of the lessons learned from that company and applied them to its new product, Ms. Knowlton said.

“When Dave (Martin) and I started Smart, we really did it on a self-funding business, and literally out of the blue Intel Corporation came along and said, ‘Hey, do you need any money?’ and we were not exactly starving but we were, shall we say, on a diet at that time,” Ms. Knowlton recounted with a smile.

“Having a scarcity of resources forces you to make some good choices. We’re trying to apply that. I like getting my hands dirty and being out and engaged with customers even if they’re telling me that our product needs to be improved. That’s free input.”

David Popovich, a “senior imagineer” or product manager at Nureva’s Ottawa office, is a former Smart Technologies employee.

“Nureva has quite a bit of DNA from that former company,” he said. “A lot of us have experience in the company as it has grown from nothing to something substantial. We have a lot of people that are very mindful of what it takes to get off the ground.

“There’s a number of us that have worked together for over 18 years. We all know each other really well.”

At its peak, Smart Technologies had 500 employees in Ottawa. When the company left town in August 2014, about 100 people lost their jobs.

Nureva opened its Ottawa office a month later with nine staff, seven of whom had worked for Smart. Today, the company employs 15 people in the capital and about 75 at its Calgary headquarters, Ms. Knowlton said.

Nureva wanted to return to Ottawa because of the strength of the city’s education and technology ecosystem, she said, specifically singling out the Carleton University School of Industrial Design. Several of Nureva’s Ottawa staff are graduates of the program, including Mr. Popovich.

While Smart Technologies is struggling due to the growing popularity of tablets, Mr. Popovich said he has confidence in Nureva.

“We have very good, strong backing, so we’re not struggling from a financial perspective as typical startups do,” he said. “Now it’s about … let’s get that recipe as fast as we can and start cooking, making wonderful things that people want to digest.”

Ms. Knowlton believes the software’s versatility, connectivity to the cloud and ability to let workers interact in real time will help Nureva digitally replace the sticky note.

“There’s no secrets to business,” she said. “It’s getting out, listening to people, talking to them. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t see a straight line between what we’re doing now and success, but that’s also what we like.”

Organizations: Smart Technologies, Smart Board, NASA Intel Corporation Carleton University School of Industrial Design

Geographic location: Ottawa, Kanata Research Park, Calgary

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