By Ariel Visconti
In December 2013, young entrepreneurs Colin A. Pritchard and Patrick Millward began collaborating on a digital signage system to help visitors navigate the halls of Ottawa’s Queensway Carleton Hospital. Fast forward three years, and the duo’s start-up company is ready to break into markets worldwide, thanks in part to a recent six-month stay in Hong Kong supported by Ontario Centres of Excellence’s (OCE’s) GlobalStart program.
Leveraging their respective backgrounds in graphic design and programming, Pritchard and Millward co-founded InteractiveStudios Inc. in 2014. The start-up’s smart and interactive digital directory system helps visitors in notoriously confusing places such as shopping centres, hospitals and post-secondary institutions find their way while also providing useful information on events and promotions. For property management companies, the system provides detailed and valuable data on user demographics and behaviour.
Both Pritchard and Millward are graduate students in Carleton University’s Technology Innovation Management (TIM) program. The team is incubated at Lead To Win, a Carleton-based accelerator supported by OCE’s Campus-Linked Accelerators (CLA) program, where they work closely with Tony Bailetti, Director of TIM and Executive Director of Lead To Win.
“The talent, passion, judgment, and resilience of Colin and Patrick stands out,” says Bailetti. “They understood the importance of global sales from day one. They secured a client in the first month after incorporation and have continued growing their client base each day.”
InteractiveStudios’ potential for global success led Bailetti to nominate them for OCE’s GlobalStart Voucher program, which helps youth-led start-ups enter emerging markets by placing them with a host incubator/accelerator in their chosen market outside Canada or the U.S. for between three and six months.
The co-founders successfully applied to GlobalStart and chose Hong Kong’s Cyberport as their host accelerator. The main goal of the trip was to initiate the sales leads and solidify the supply chain that will enable the company to scale up.
“Before I left for China, we had a few customers and installations, but the hardware wasn’t ready for global distribution,” says Pritchard, COO of InteractiveStudios.
The trip came at a critical time for the company. Shortly before Pritchard left for Hong Kong in April 2016, InteractiveStudios finalized a contract with massive Toronto-based commercial real estate company Cadillac Fairview, which owns more than 38 million square feet of leasable space at 73 properties in Canada alone. Until then InteractiveStudios had one kiosk in Ottawa’s Rideau Centre as a nine-month pilot project. The new contract ordered seven additional kiosks slated for installation in summer 2016, bringing a new urgency to sourcing suppliers in China.
While in China, Pritchard visited the factories of 20 current and potential suppliers, which helped validate and expand the supply chain for each component. He also met suppliers and gained product exposure by exhibiting at two trade shows and participating on a panel at the KPMG InnoTech speakers series hosted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Through Cyberport, Pritchard was able to attend networking events, gain access to mentorship, and form lasting business relationships with contacts at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Consulate General of Canada in Hong Kong. And, as a personal highlight, Pritchard had the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on his first official visit to China.
“Having our feet on the ground in China was invaluable for fostering relationships and negotiating with suppliers,” says Pritchard. “The trip was a game changer for us, and we wouldn’t have been able to go without the GlobalStart funding.”
Pritchard’s entrepreneurial success was recognized with a Young Entrepreneurial Achievers Under 35 award from the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Hong Kong-Canada Business Association (HKCBA). The award celebrates the achievements and contributions to the entrepreneurial communities in Hong Kong and Canada.
The new connections Pritchard forged in China allowed InteractiveStudios to install the seven kiosks in the Rideau Centre in August, marking a major milestone for the start-up. If all goes well, Cadillac Fairview could roll out the kiosks in its other shopping centres across Canada, representing potentially millions in revenue.
Other current Canadian customers include Carleton University, Queensway Carleton Hospital and UBM Global. With their sights set on rapid global expansion, the InteractiveStudios team is now pursuing sales opportunities throughout Southeast Asia and India, and they plan on entering the U.S. market in the near future.
“Patrick and Colin are, to my mind, the best-in-class of young entrepreneurs who continue to demonstrate courage and commitment to grow their company in Ontario with determination and hard work,” says Hindal Mirza, Senior Business Development Manager at OCE and the point person for InteractiveStudios.
The co-founders want to keep operations in Ottawa, where they recently moved into a new office for the growing team. They’re currently hiring four engineers, increasing the number of employees to 10 before the end of 2016.