Small business, big tech

Small business, big tech

< Back to Articles | Topics: Spotlight | Contributors: Emily Bednarz

Cover Image: Preston Mulligan and Huijing He (Image Credit: Maritime Robotics, CBC News Nova Scotia)

For the past 43 years, the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) has organized Small Business Week, an annual celebration of entrepreneurship in October. To promote the hardworking small businesses in our community, we spoke with five local, innovative small businesses in the technology industry. Their products, services, research, and software have all impacted how (small) business is done in Halifax!

Maritime Robotics

maritimerobotics.ca

Maritime Robotics is a start-up tech company that was first established in 2018. The company was founded by a female entrepreneur and is led by a female researcher, says Huijing He, Director of Maritime Robotics. “I spent a lot of time working from home during the pandemic, which gave me a whole lot of new ideas,” says He. “My friends encouraged me that women can do well in technology sector too.”

Maritime Robotics specializes in robotic software solutions for retail, food services, and events. “We came together with a shared vision to provide a solution for businesses to reduce the human workload by using our intelligent robot,” says He. “We simply put all the best local intelligence together and serve local businesses who need it.”

The company currently builds two types of robots: the delivery robot and the guiding robot. You may have seen their delivery or “server robots” in local restaurants like Upstreet BBQ Brewhouse and May Garden, where food is delivered from the kitchen to tables. Their guiding robot provides navigation and promotion services in the retail and hospitality industries.

The Maritime Robotics team can make modifications to their robots, based on the needs of a business. “We’re not simply selling the robots,” says He. “We’re providing local on-site service and training service through the entire automation process to help our clients stay competitive.”

Part of staying competitive means helping their clients find solutions to the current labour shortage. “The pandemic made the labour shortage worse in industries like hospitality,” says He. “Restaurants and retail stores rely heavily on the labour, and under labour shortage pressure they have maximized productivity — one solution is automation.”

He addresses the anxiety those in the workforce may feel about robotics and automation. “There is growing social acceptance of robotics since the global pandemic,” she says. “A lot of countries have applied service robots in restaurants, malls, and airports. Atlantic Canada is still early in the overall adoption of automation.”

The overall benefit of robotics and automation, according to He? “The combination of human work processes and technology automation can offer improved reliability and capability,” she says. “It frees up people from simple tasks and allows them to handle a more complex workload.”

Enginuity

enginuityinc.ca

Twenty years ago, Ben Garvey, a mechanical engineer at Dalhousie University, started a business from his basement. With the first contract, Enginuity began delivering creating engineering to local communities, particularly in the harsh environment sector, fishing industry, and marine science.

Enginuity has continued to grow its team and talents ever since, with a focus on problem-solving and solutions. “We help clients understand the challenge they’re facing and discover solutions,” says Alastair Trower, Director of Business Development.

Their staff of 50 boasts expertise in mechanical engineering, controls, AI, manufacturing, design, and electronics. “If you wrap up all of those skills together, it’s a bit of a Swiss army knife,” says Trower. “Once you understand the challenge you’re working with, you can pull out the right blade and assemble the right team.”

That begins with a formal discovery process. “We wrap a team of engineers around a challenge,” says Trower. “Say you have an idea for a new product. We break the idea down and ask: who's going to buy this product? Where and how would they interact with it? Those questions steer the design direction and qualify the scale of the challenge.”

The result is a clear path forward. “We now understand what you want to achieve, and we have a clear understanding of how much money will take you where you want to go. We are the steppingstones you need to get this working in a commercial environment.”

For established companies, Enginuity helps evaluate strategies for improvement. “We work through the entire production process, and we identify steps where we can make improvements,” says Trower. “We determine what it’s costing you and the potential value that can be gained by fixing the problem.”

Trower provides an example: “Production machinery lasts for a long time, but they need adjustments,” he says. “The problem with manual checking is that you may pick a defective product off the line, but you don’t know when the problem happened in the process. With AI, you can start flagging issues earlier, reducing the amount of lost and recalled product.”

Beyond the product line, the team at Enginuity are inspired by making an impact. “We’re motivated by curiosity and by wanting to be part of the solution,” says Trower. “In segments like the environment and renewable energy, we’re able to assess new technologies to solve big problems. We love being in a position where we can push those initiatives forward.”

ImmediaC

immediac.com

When John Leahy, Founder and CEO of ImmediaC, begins speaking about his business, he says: “I’m the luckiest guy in the world.” The ImmediaC team first started building web-enabled databases in 1998. “Once upon a time it was me writing code in my basement,” says Leahy.

The company’s services have grown to include web and app design, with the help of their innovative team. “We have 20 people — almost all under 40 — who are all doing that work,” says Leahy. “They’re bright, brilliant, motivated, and their standards are off the charts. That’s why I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”

From conferences, to registration, to membership management, to voting software, Leahy is proud to help businesses and organizations get online. During the pandemic, ImmediaC worked with local breweries like Big Spruce and Spin Drift to build online stores for home delivery. “Together, we helped our clients earn $1 million during the first few months of the pandemic,” says Leahy. “We weren't unique — everyone figured out how to do it — but we were in a position to help a few of them.”

Listening and being present for customers is also key to ImmediaC’s success. “What sets us apart? Support,” says Leahy. “We answer the phone — still! Your website or web app sits quietly most of the time until a change needs to happen. ImmediaC is about being responsive. We upgrade and update and keep our clients protected.”

When it comes to advice for small businesses, Leahy has two tips. “To solve customer problems, be careful and listen to what your clients are asking for and they’ll tell you,” he says. It also helps to ensure your customer support team is patient and understanding. “We don’t have a technical person doing frontend support,” says Leahy. “The person who answers our phone is empathetic and does triage for after launch support.”

While ImmediaC works with many clients in the United States, working with small businesses in Nova Scotia keeps their team energized. “There are lots of opportunities here locally,” says Leahy “We live here, we work here, and we want to do business here.”

Couryah

couryah.com

Halifax-based Couryah is a local courier service looking to bridge the gap between business and consumers. “Couryah launched in 2019 with a mission to improve the livelihood of our local community,” says Omar Soliman, Co-Founder and COO. “From our customers who want convenience without breaking the bank, to local retailers who are unable to afford and maintain an online presence or offer delivery, and to workers who are looking for fair pay and flexible hours.”

Couryah’s capabilities and impact have grown significantly since launching. “Three years ago, when technology was limited, we started with just a website as a storefront for our platform,” says Soliman. “After over 8,900 hours of planning, design, and development, we launched our new and improved platform. We delivered over 30,000 orders and served over 5,000 people throughout Halifax during arguably one of the most difficult times of our lives.”

Today, Couryah works with over 40 partner stores and their database contains over 17,000 grocery products. “Our partner business owners can fully customise and control their digital stores through our web dashboard,” says Soliman. “They can create unique and segmented promotions for separate audiences. Many of the features we now provide are designed specifically for local grocers and ethnic mini markets that have thousands of products and can benefit from the ease of creating weekly flyer deals and bundles.”

For local businesses interested in joining Couryah, the process is simple, according to Soliman. “We charge a small fee for orders placed through our platform; this fee supports our technology, couriers, and customer service,” he says. “We support local businesses in setting up their digital store online for free — we help them to get online with the right tools for increased visibility and to reach new customers throughout the city.”

When reflecting on his journey as a small business owner, Soliman highlights local impact. “As an entrepreneur, you embark on this perilous journey in the hopes of creating something valuable and beneficial for yourself and your community,” he says. “During the pandemic with Couryah, we saw firsthand the impact of our business on the people in the community. We received feedback from business owners about how Couryah was a life saviour for them and their families during a time of need. This kind of feedback fuels our desire to continue providing innovation and service to our community.”

Rafflebox

rafflebox.ca

In 2016, Matthew Broussard, Simon Cusack, Dave Cheung, and Jamie Archibald founded Rafflebox, a platform that helps local sports teams, charities, and non-profits raise funds through online and in-person raffles. “Thinking outside the box, we created a secure, online fundraising platform that streamlines the payment process for ticket buyers and simplifies the tracking process for organizations,” says Simon Cusack, COO and Co-Founder. “We’re increasing the organization’s ability to reach new donors within their target audience by simply sharing a link.”

Rafflebox has helped their partners raise millions of dollars in recent years. “In September 2020, we celebrated the first $5 million raised for our charitable partners,” says Cusack. “Flash forward to September 2022, we are currently celebrating the $100 million raised milestone. We’re humbled that so many charities trust our platform, but we are now pushing to make it to the $1 billion raised milestone. There’s still much more work to be done.”

To date, the largest fundraiser on the Rafflebox platform was hosted by the Nova Scotia Firefighters. Their 2021 50/50 Christmas Draw hit a jackpot of $1.76M, and they continue to host Canada’s largest weekly 50/50 fundraiser through Rafflebox. “This raffle program has helped over 268 fire departments across Nova Scotia upgrade their level of service and support other charities and community organizations in need,” says Cusack. “With over 120 weekly draws to date, winners across Nova Scotia have been going home with over $150,000 weekly.”

Rafflebox is also taking fundraising to your fingertips. “Our newest product, In-Venue Ticket Sales, helps organizations raise funds in-person using cash, credit or debit,” says Cusack. “This product is perfect for any event, conference, sports game, or festival. In some provinces, they allow both online and in-person ticket sales. This allows organizations to easily sell tickets to people at their event, as well as people who want to support their cause but couldn’t make it to the event.”

The Rafflebox team is made up of over 30 individuals across the country, with 22 stationed in their Halifax office. “Our community is made up of people who are passionate about making a difference, who are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work making their communities better places to live,” says Cusack. “Their dedication and passion drive us to continue building a fundraising platform that makes a difference.”


< Back to Articles | Topics: Spotlight

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