ARCHIVED - Pitching NRC Technologies in Texas

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May 05, 2005— Ottawa, Ontario

Spring training in Texas always involves talk of players, money and the competition, but this year it included two NRC teams trying to make it to the big leagues. Technology industry big leagues that is. The two NRC teams were pitching at the World's Best Technologies 2005 (WBT05), a two-day event that invited 75 of North America's hottest new technologies to vie for the attention of 100s of companies and seed and venture capital investors.

World's Best Technologies 2005 (WBT05)

The World's Best Technologies is an annual U.S. showcase for the most innovative pre-commercialization technologies developed at top universities, federal labs, and private companies in the U.S. and internationally. Each year up to 75 exhibitors are selected by a distinguished screening panel of investors and commercialization experts looking for technologies that have the potential for major financial success. Along with the 75 trade booth exhibits, the top 25 exhibitors get the opportunity to make a 12-minute public presentation describing their technology and the market opportunity.

The NRC technology teams were at home on this Texan high-stakes business turf. The event reflects NRC's aggressive entrepreneurial approach to gain the most benefit for Canada from the knowledge and technologies NRC produces. The NRC teams were two of only seven Canadian groups chosen to attend WBT05. And by the time he arrived in Arlington, NRC's Stacey Nunes had honed a blistering elevator pitch.

"What we're going to do is take waste material from industries and convert it into value-added products for the construction industry," says Nunes, a technical officer with the NRC Institute for Research in Construction. Nunes is also the business point person for EnDur Products, an NRC spin-off company that's aiming to revolutionize the concrete admixture industry with a series of low-cost, high-performance technologies.

First-up on the company's roster, and the focus of Nunes 12-minute formal pitch at WBT05, is a state-of-the-art water reducer. Concrete's strength and durability is inversely proportional to the amount of water that's added to make it flow, so concrete makers use a variety of water reducing materials to increase its flow with less water. However, existing water reducers are either very expensive or only reduce water use by five percent. EnDur's proprietary water reducer cuts the water required by more than 30-per cent. Even better, the raw material is the inexpensive tar that's a left-over from the petroleum refinery process.

Nunes says that numerous investors were impressed with EnDur's business plan, the strong financial history of NRC spin-offs, and above all the existing $1 billion market for concrete water reducers. In the following months, he expects follow-up discussions with several potential investors. "They appreciated that we were focused on how this cool technology is going to make money," says Nunes, who was in Arlington with NRC's Noël Mailvaganam, a guru in the field of concrete materials.

Michael Stinson and Heping Ding
Michael Stinson and Heping Ding

When Heping Ding's chance came to pitch from his NRC teams event booth, he made it clear they had the technological stuff that a development partner could turn into a major telecommunications play. "There's an enormous amount of energy and money spent in the telecommunications industry to combat echo and undesirable noise, and we've developed a better technology to do just that," says Ding, a senior research officer in the NRC Institute for Microstructural Science. Echo is a common problem in telecommunications, causes feedback with hearing aids and interferes with biomedical signal processing. Echo occurs when sound is repeated back to its source, for example when a speaker hears her voice returned from a speaker phone at the other end of the line.

Ding's technology is known as advanced adaptive filtering, a sophisticated way of cancelling out unwanted sounds. The proprietary technology is based on a number of algorithms, or mathematical commands. They tell a digital processor chip how to identify and cancel out the echo in an imperceptible fraction-of-a-second, a major improvement over existing techniques. Ding demonstrated sound bytes of the impressive technology to a number of potential investors and corporate partners and says their three person NRC team, including business leader Sadiq Hasnain and research group leader Michael Stinson made numerous telecom industry contacts.

Both NRC teams have reason to be optimistic their Texan trip will help commercialize their technologies: WBT has a strong track record of post-event deal making. In the four months following WBT04, exhibiting technologies signed more than $19 million in investment deals.

"We've proven the technology works. So when we find a development partner we'll be able to put this into a product within a year," says Ding, whose perspective is informed by two-decades of research in academia and industry. As for Nunes, he's spending the spring and summer travelling across North America lining-up suppliers, manufacturers and distributors so that when the venture capital call-up comes, EnDur will be ready to quickly move from pitching to product.

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