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Canadian tech firms on the pros and cons of the CES 2015

Canadian tech firms on the pros and cons of the CES 2015

Posted by Juan Gavasa on January 08, 2015

Is going to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas worth it for Canadian technology companies? “Oh my God, yeah,” says Russell Ure, creator of Piper, a home security and automation product.

“A lot of people warned me that we’ll get lost there and we shouldn’t waste our money, but fortunately, I kept to my own devices.”

Ure’s Ottawa-based company, Blacksumac, showed off Piper at CES last year. The system, which lets users see their home with a camera and control appliances remotely through their smartphone, impressed the show’s judges enough to win a design award.

That led to a healthy dose of media coverage. Investors who had previously ignored the company came calling soon after, as did potential suitors. In April, Blacksumac announced it was being acquired by Silicon Valley-based iControl Networks for an undisclosed sum.

Ure attributes the quick rise and success of his product to the showcase that CES provided. On the downside, the show also opened his eyes to how tough it would be to take Piper to the next level, which made the acquisition decision much easier.

“I left CES really elated that things went well, but also sort of, ‘Oh my God, there’s so many products there, how on Earth do we keep ourselves visible and noticed in this very large world of products?’” he says.

Staggering numbers

The biggest show of its kind, CES is a veritable jungle of technology that’s easy for attendees and exhibitors alike to get lost in. The numbers are staggering: two million square feet of exhibit space, 160,000 attendees, 3,600 exhibitors from 140 countries, 20,000 product announcements… all covered by 6,500 journalists.

It takes a lot to stand out, which is why many companies exhibit at the show once and never return. But others, such as Blacksumac, manage to hit it big. This year, there are 91 Canadian firms officially exhibiting, many of which are returnees, aiming for the same success.

Toronto-based Matter and Form is exhibiting for the second year in a row, albeit in a different capacity this time around. Last year, the company had just four employees showing off a prototype device that could scan objects in three dimensions.

Like Piper, the scanner attracted media attention, which led to a $2 million investment led by Sandstone Asset Management. The device launched in the fall and sold thousands of units, the company says. Matter and Form now boasts 15 employees.

This year, the company – which changed its name from Matterform because of another firm holding the trademark – is launching a new product called Cashew, an online network where 3D printing enthusiasts can share designs for free.

Founder and chief executive Drew Cox spent much of his time at last year’s show trying to get media attention. This year, with his main product already on the market, that’s a secondary concern. Cox is almost exclusively tied up in meetings with American and international distributors.

“The U.S. is our biggest market for selling our scanner, so we need to be where the people who are interested in using it are,” he says.

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