Navigating their way to success
February 04, 2013— Calgary, Alberta
Global positioning systems (GPS) have made navigation a piece of cake for anyone with a receiver, providing location and time information anywhere on or near Earth—as long as the receiver is outside, with a clear line of sight to GPS satellites. Indoors, or in urban areas characterized by skyscrapers, it's a different story. Usually, it just doesn't work.
This gap in navigational technology has been a boon to the fortunes of Trusted Positioning Inc., whose technology integrates self-contained sensors with wireless systems to provide continuous, accurate navigation and positioning indoors—as well as outdoors in dense urban environments. The software is easily incorporated into existing devices, facilitating cost-effective navigation and positioning for consumer mobile, automotive and machine control applications.
Trusted Positioning came to life in 2009 as the outcome of geomatics engineering research by its four founders at the University of Calgary. It wasn't long before the founders—Naser El-Sheimy, chairman and chief Scientist; Chris Goodall, chief executive officer; Zainab Syed, vice-president engineering; and Jacques Gregory, vice-president of research and development (R&D)—decided it was time to spin off the company.
The first step towards commercialization was to find money for research and development (R&D). While working on their PhD defenses, Goodall and Syed concentrated on patenting some of their technology through the university. When they graduated, they assigned the patents out of the university and into the company in exchange for equity. Then they began to look for money.
Early funding arrived in the form of an NSERC Idea to Innovate grant for $125,000, enough to keep the founders going for nearly a year as they fine-tuned the technology. By 2010, the emerging firm had raised additional investments from family and friends, and made a pitch to the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) for a matching amount. Their proposal succeeded, and they began working with Hamid Sarreshtehdari, an Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA) with NRC IRAP.
"We were quite impressed by the management and staff's knowledge and dedication," says Sarreshtehdari. "Those elements have been key factors in the company's success."
With support from NRC IRAP, Trusted Positioning was able to hire its first employee, who ultimately became director of software—an important role to fill for a company looking to move from R&D to commercialization.
Next, an NRC IRAP-funded R&D project helped the firm develop a set of software libraries that could be embedded within mobile devices that have magnetometers, barometers, accelerometers or gyroscopes. The libraries use sophisticated algorithms to refine the results of the sensor readings to provide much more accurate positioning. The firm came to NRC IRAP with some of the base platform ready to go, and used the project to adapt it for consumer applications.
"NRC IRAP funding allowed us to take a base platform that we had developed and adapt it for consumer applications, which is really our big market. The potential is huge."
— Chris Goodall, co-founder and CEO, Trusted Positioning Inc.
Selling to the competition
The most significant product to emerge from Trusted Positioning's innovative new platform is known as the Trusted Portable Navigator (T-PN), which has drawn interest from large players in the consumer mobile industry, including several Standard & Poor's (S&P) 100 companies. The T-PN uses existing hardware in mobile devices to provide continuous, accurate location and navigation in any environment, enabling applications like mobile advertising, augmented reality and location-based gaming, person or buddy tracking indoors, and Enhanced 911 (E-911), which automatically links callers with the appropriate emergency response by associating a location with the origin of the call. The T-PN is expected to be the firm's most significant source of revenue over the next several years.
Today, most of Trusted Positioning's competitors are also its customers, including its biggest competitor, an S&P 100 company. "I would say just about every potential customer of ours in the world is trying to build what we have, but most of them give up—usually after a year or two of trying—and look for external technologies," says Goodall.
By the numbers
Since NRC IRAP's involvement with Trusted Positioning in 2010:
- The company has grown from four employees to more than 20.
- Sales have risen from $50,000 to nearly $1 million.
- The company has attracted the interest of substantial (S&P 100) clients globally.
- It has also won its first multi-million dollar, multi-year contract.
"NRC IRAP support was fundamental in expanding our business in the mobile handset market vertical," says Goodall. "Our ITA helped us find an important initial contractor, referred us to other funding opportunities, and is now connecting us with NRC IRAP's international programs."
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