Connecting the world through sustainable desktop computers
A single PC supporting multiple users
September 15, 2011— Calgary, Alberta
Launched in 1999 by president Tim Griffin, Userful Corporation now employs more than 50 people, is achieving dramatic revenue growth, and has offices in Johannesburg, Chennai, Mexico City and Victoria, BC. In 2006 it was named Alberta’s 10th fastest-growing company under $20 million, and it has won numerous awards.
Userful’s name speaks to its core products, which revolve around the central idea of technology that “multiplies” the number of end users a single PC can support. The result is a standard PC that can deliver up to 10 computer stations simply by plugging in extra monitors and keyboards, saving significant hardware, maintenance and energy costs. Userful’s Linux-based software is now used for this purpose in more than 100 countries by schools, libraries, hotels, Internet cafés, call centres, the military and more.
Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) John Sher first encountered Userful in 2001, when he began consulting with Griffin on a business plan. The first project funded by the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP)—research to develop Userful’s desktop multiplier technology—began in 2002. Over the years, Sher has been instrumental in helping Userful secure more than $560,000 in NRC-IRAP funds.
Userful’s technology used in a rural school in Brazil
Capitalizing on connections
According to Griffin, Sher’s most significant contributions to the firm’s development have been tied to support and advocacy within NRC-IRAP. Sher also connected Userful to AVAC Ltd., an Alberta-based, private, not-for-profit company that invests in promising early-stage Alberta businesses, and to CETAC West, which helps SMEs develop and commercialize new environmental technologies.
As well, Sher put Userful in touch with Innovate Calgary for help with management and marketing issues, and with the NRC Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (NRC-CISTI) for assistance with patent and literature searches.
NRC-IRAP support pays off
Userful first took its pioneering desktop multiplier technology to market in 2003. “Having help from NRC-IRAP to offset some of our initial R&D costs really helped in terms of our ability to take on the necessary risks in developing new technologies as a small company,” says Griffin.
Today, the company’s core product, Userful MultiSeat Linux 2011™, is a computer software bundle that turns one Linux computer into 10 independent computer stations by attaching extra monitors, keyboards and mice. Userful Desktop™, another core product, is a complete public computing solution that enables anyone to manage, monitor, and multiply PCs in a secure setting that includes over 40 applications supporting more than 30 languages. Both products are widely used around the world, with over 750,000 seats deployed.
Making great gains
Since Userful’s first NRC-IRAP project in 2002:
- Revenues have increased at a compound annual growth rate of over 100% per year.
- The company’s share of the market in its niche has grown to 75%.
- The firm has created some 50 new jobs.
- It has gained access to four key new markets: education desktops, deskless worker access kiosks, public access computers and telecentres.
- The company’s productivity has increased substantially, as evidenced by increased platform support, reduced number of support calls, and innovations in approaches and technologies used to embed Userful’s technology into third-party products.
It’s conceivable to me that there might not even be Userful if there hadn’t been NRC-IRAP programs to help get us going on R&D. NRC-IRAP really helps companies afford to do original and compelling research.
Userful Corporation President and CEO
Userful has begun partnering with top computer original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to increase its reach. Schools and developing regions are the company’s primary markets, and within the developing regions, Brazil and India are particularly large markets for Userful's software, as is the whole of South America. The firm continues to invest heavily in R&D, but its biggest challenge is getting the word out about its ground-breaking technology.
“Once people are aware of our product, there’s no shortage of demand,” says Griffin.
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