Smart Technologies founders' new company opens R&D office in capital

The founders of Smart Technologies have turned to the capital to open a research and development office for their new Calgary-based company, Nureva.

Co-founder Nancy Knowlton said she and partner Dave Martin never considered another city for the R&D office.

Like Nureva, Smart is based in Calgary, but the company has a presence in Kanata. Ms. Knowlton said Smart’s connection to the capital played a big part in their decision to make Ottawa the home of Nureva’s new office.

“I know a lot of people get really excited about the Waterloo area and with the downturn in prospects for BlackBerry, you might think that would be a great place to go to, but it really was the positive experience we had had with the Ottawa office that Smart had had for so many years that prompted us to look there first,” she said.

The office opened in early September in the Kanata Research Park with nine staff, seven of whom used to work for Smart. Ms. Knowlton said there could be as many as 20 people working out of the office within a couple years.

And while Nureva is developing technology products for the same education and enterprise markets to which Smart caters, Ms. Knowlton stressed the new company will not be a competitor.

She wouldn’t give specifics about the products being developed, but she did say they were software-based. Smart, which is best known for its Smart Board interactive whiteboard, has a heavy presence in hardware products.

“If you look at where a lot of the innovation is taking place in classrooms today and in businesses, it is really in the software tools that are available,” she said.

Ms. Knowlton said she’s confident the company has a “differentiated approach” to the line of education products they are developing for the kindergarten to Grade 12 space.

“We looked very holistically at the product. It’s not just the application itself. It’s everything we’ll wrap around the product as well in terms of training, service and support and things of that nature,” she said.

On the enterprise side, Ms. Knowlton said she sees nothing in the market that is similar to what Nureva is developing.

“We’re trying to take a fresh approach and look at the problem people have from the ground up and make it both useful and easy to use,” she said.

Nureva started just over a year ago, while Ms. Knowlton and Mr. Martin were still on Smart’s board but after they had left their management positions with the company.

“We did have a non-compete with Smart and we fully honoured that,” Ms. Knowlton said.

Ms. Knowlton said they seriously started to build their team earlier this year and were contacted by some former Smart staff who were interested in coming on board. That, as well as solid industrial design and computer science programs at the city’s universities, made Ottawa a natural choice, she said.

Ms. Knowlton and Mr. Martin are funding the company themselves and don’t expect to look for any outside funding. She said they expect to be profitable in a relatively short period of time.

“A lot of companies think about profitability much later. They want to go capture eyeballs,” she said. “That’s not the perspective that we have. We’re creating product we want people to pay for at the outset.”