Digital directory startup pointed in right direction

After striking a deal with a major Canadian property manager, a fledgling Ottawa startup could soon have its digital directory technology installed at shopping centres across the country – and is already looking at expanding into foreign markets, too.

Interactive Studios, founded by current Carleton University students Patrick Millward and Colin Pritchard a little more than a year ago, makes digital information kiosks meant to help visitors to shopping malls or other large complexes such as hospitals not only find their way to their destination but also obtain more information about each shop and get alerted to nearby events and special promotions.

The firm also sees huge potential in the touchscreen technology’s collection of customer data that allows clients to gain an in-depth understanding of visitors’ shopping habits.

Mr. Millward and Mr. Pritchard have been working closely with Carleton University’s business accelerator and Lead to Win incubator programs while enrolled in the school’s technology innovation management program. They have been in talks with property manager Cadillac Fairview for roughly a year, launching a paid pilot program involving one trial kiosk that has been operating at the Rideau Centre since August. By this summer, Interactive Studios will add seven more units throughout the downtown mall.

Cadillac Fairview owns 23 malls across Canada. Mr. Millward says the Toronto-based company’s intent is to hire one provider to be responsible for the digital information kiosks at each of its shopping centres across the country. Interactive Studios’ chief executive says that looks very promising for his young firm.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” Mr. Millward says. “They knew that we’re a startup, so they’ve been testing us throughout the entire process.”

If Cadillac Fairview does extend the contract Canada-wide, Mr. Millward says it could lead his company to “upwards of $10 million in revenue.”

Interactive Studios is already profitable and on track to generate at least $1 million in revenue by next April, the company says. The startup also wants to make a strong push into the much larger U.S. market soon.

“We’ve proven that we can deliver, we’ve proven that clients do want to buy what we’re offering, so the next step is to go where the money really is,” says Mr. Millward. “We’re trying to go global very quickly.”

Still, the company’s biggest selling point might well be its products’ data collection potential.

Everything a user touches while using one of Interactive Studios’ digital information screens is recorded in the background and used for detailed analytics. The kiosks also use facial recognition technology to determine users’ average age and gender, and the company employs Wi-Fi to detect where people are moving in the mall after using the signage.

That means it can tell if a person who searched for a particular store actually ended up there, or if they went somewhere else. The data can also help indicate whether on-screen promotions are having a significant effect on people who use the info signs.

Clients see “huge value” in this data, which they can resell to tenants, says Mr. Millward. And as the technology expands into more parts of the Rideau Centre and then into shopping malls across Canada, “we’re going to learn a lot more,” he adds.

Because Interactive Studios always lands a sale before building a product, low overhead has allowed for early profitability. The company has also received financial support from the federal government’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.

Mr. Millward says the firm is already working on an extension to the current technology that will greatly speed up the design and implementation process for each new client.

“I don’t think our competition is ready for this yet,” he says.