2018 Finalist: Outstanding Commercial Achievement In Science And Technology
Visualization gives value to data
The Calgary-based company of developers and designers helps decision makers better engage with their data through technology solutions in a variety of domains, including augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, data visualization and the Internet of Things. VizworX provides innovative products that allow users to visualize and interact with data to solve real world business problems.
What problem did you see a need to solve and how did you solve this real- world problem?
Dr. Frank Mauer, Co-Founder, professor of Computer Science and Associate Dean of the Innovation Strategic Partnership at the University of Calgary: The fundamental concept underlying VizworX is we want to spin out innovative technology in the digital space. We work on augmented reality, virtual reality, AI, web-based systems and mobile systems. VizworX came out of a research network funded by NSERC. In that network, we did a lot of very fundamental work on multi-surface systems and on surface interactions. We worked with industrial partners and learned relatively quickly there is a limit to what you can do in the university context so we created a company to transfer some of the ideas that we developed in that network into practice. We started VizworX to work on software development tasks for customers, working with industrial partners, and finally zooming in on augmented reality, and AI–oriented applications.
Jeff LaFrenz, President and Co-Founder: We were seeing a lot of organizations collecting a lot of data but not necessarily getting good business value out of their data. We saw a challenge for most organizations in the intuitive understanding of what the data meant, turning that data into actual information and knowledge and then being able to make decisions around it. We saw this in a variety of industries as an ongoing and evolving need that we could address.
What has been the impact?
Jeff: We are developing a product for engineering design review to look at designs before they are built for people who are not trained in 3D modelling and construction. Design reviews are already happening with CAD drawings on the screen, but they are only easy to understand for people who are trained in 3D modelling and 3D construction. By finding problems before you build something, the result is substantial cost savings. We had people who approve designs put on the headset (to test it) and within two minutes they found the problem and said, “I would not have approved that design if I had seen it that way.”
Has being in Alberta helped you find success?
Frank: Alberta is a very entrepreneurial province. Calgary is probably one of the most entrepreneurial cities in in the world and finding an ecosystem of people that are willing to listen, that are trying to give a very small company a shot, is extremely helpful.
Jeff: One of the opportunities and challenges is that the oil and gas industry is a large part of the economy. We were doing very well before the oil and gas downturn and we got hit very hard. But we pivoted into other areas which started to take off at the same time as the oil and gas also started to take off. Now, we’ve got the benefit of both.
Being in Alberta, and going through the economic downturn, it taught us a lot of lessons around how to restructure and refocus to be a better organization overall.
Who have been your major supporters?
Jeff: We have a multiyear project with the National Energy Board of Canada to help them more effectively communicate the importance of what they do to the public. It’s also been a major opportunity for us to showcase our capabilities. We also work with several oil and gas companies who have some deep business needs. We can really help them improve the way they do business.
Frank: We work with many talented developers and designers. It’s their work that makes the research at the University of Calgary and the work at VizworX very successful. We couldn’t have done it without the team.
What are the plans for the future?
Frank: The work we do with our industry partners allows us to build intellectual property. We have a set of IPs in our company portfolio that, in the end, will allow us to create subsidiaries, focusing on specific technologies. Beyond engineering design reviews, we also have IP in biometrics and we are looking into immersive control centres.
Jeff: VizworX is growing rapidly. We’ve grown in the last year from six people to 35 people; our plans for the next year are to continue that rapid accelerated growth. We will continue to expand our team to support the business needs of our customers and continue to expand geographically in the markets we serve.
How does it feel to be an ASTech Finalist?
Jeff: ASTech is an amazing organization. I’ve been part of various events over many years and have seen the amazing companies and people who have come through as Finalists and award recipients. We are very proud to be one of those Finalists.
Frank: It’s a great feeling and validates a lot of the work that we’re doing at the university and at VizworX.