Pioneering interactive collaborative products for classrooms and corporate meeting rooms has turned homegrown entrepreneurial venture into a global powerhouse
Starting as a distributor of projectors in 1987, SMART Technologies redirected early revenues into the development of the world’s first interactive whiteboard — a large display that allowed touch control of computer applications. It was a pioneering effort that ultimately led to 2010’s $660 million Initial Public offering (IPO), the largest IPO by a Canadian technology firm in more than a decade.
Since those early days SMART has remained the leading provider of interactive whiteboards worldwide. Now, from its 200,000 square-foot world corporate headquarters in Calgary, and a 260,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art assembly and distribution facility in Ottawa, SMART remains on top. According to Futuresorce Consulting’s 2010 Q2 report they have a 50.4% share of the interactive whiteboard product category.
The company has also expanded to include wireless slates, interactive pen displays, several software products, interactive response systems and related learning resources. In addition to winning many product and corporate awards, SMART Technologies maintains a broad portfolio of patents, with numerous other U.S., Canadian and foreign patents pending.
It took 17 years for the company to sell a million of its interactive whiteboards. That milestone happened in 2008. Now, just over two years later SMART is closing in on the two million mark.
One of the company’s early milestones occurred in 1992 when it formed a strategic alliance with computing giant Intel, resulting in joint product development and marketing efforts, as well as an equity investment. “It showed us how to build Intel-branded world-class software that met their quality standards,” said David Martin, Executive Chairman, who co-founded SMART with CEO Nancy Knowlton, his wife. “In turn, that gave us the confidence to grow globally.”
With companies like SMART, Calgary is now among the top research communities in Canada. In 2006, the city placed 6th among Canada’s Top 20 Research Communities, while the University of Calgary ranked 7th among Canada’s Top 50 Research Universities. Over half of the Province of Alberta’s fastest growing companies are in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector. This growth has been felt in the Calgary Region, now home to the largest number of technology start-ups per capita in Canada.
With the highest levels of broadband penetration and the lowest overall communications costs of almost any country in the world, Canada has become a leading destination for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) investments.
Its booming ICT industry is a key driver of national growth, having generated revenues of more than $155 billion in 2008. Spending $5.7 billion in R&D annually, over 572,000 employees work in 32,000 ICT firms across Canada. More than 70% of ICT products manufactured in the country, totaling $22.1 billion, are exported.
Firms such as SMART are attracted to newer Canadian ICT clusters — such as Calgary — which offer some of the lowest costs in advanced ICT development on the continent.
SMART developed some of its first products in Ottawa, and by growing its production and distribution capabilities there, keeps a major presence in two major large Canadian cities — Calgary in the West of the country, and Ottawa in the East.
Future growth plans
SMART Technologies aims to be known as more than a whiteboard supplier, and has branched out to supply a suite of products for interactive learning. Continuing penetration of the business market, which today generates 15% of sales, is also a priority as SMART continues to develop products to make collaboration and meetings more effective.
To increase its international reach the company has developed a broader management structure, to better serve areas such as Asia, Central and Latin America and EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa).
After its successful IPO, SMART is also continuing capital investments to boost productivity and quality. Asked about what he believes the next frontier will be for the company’s technology, Executive Chairman Martin said, “It’s personal devices and learner-focused devices. Imagine a classroom that has lots of devices and they are all interacting with each other in a very obvious, friendly way. That’s a trajectory that just makes sense.”
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