It has been an unprecedented long and wonderful summer of an economy that embraced big box stores and publicly traded companies that returned shareholder value. But winter is coming. The economy is changing and the result is a resurgence of the startup company. This change in climate has been enabled by the existence of new technologies that provide collaboration capabilities through tools that are readily available without a major capital investment.
Eight years ago, I moved to Alberta (that's Canada, folks) in an effort to further my career. With a reputation for fast-paced growth, Alberta was known as a great place to be for people with a strong career focus. While the economy was experiencing a bit of a slump, I knew that things would never change in my current environment and it was definitely time to take action.
The location change worked in my favor. The new opportunities presented were exciting, challenging, and lucrative. I loved driving into downtown Calgary in the morning and marveling at the dozens of tower cranes that were always busy changing the face of the landscape. Driving home in the evening presented beautiful mountain views. For a short time, it was the best of all worlds. When the price of oil dropped, I was commuting between two cities in Alberta that are located three hours apart. My first instinct was that the slump would pass. After all, Alberta is infamous for its fluctuating economy and the slumps had always passed before.
In the meantime, I was paying much less for a tank of gas, and with all of the driving, I truly appreciated the savings. I was happy. But then a friend lost his job, and then another, and then another, and my commutes started to take me across not just the province, but the country.
The economic downturn has indeed resulted in massive job loss within the oil and gas industry as well as related peripherals, but human nature is to survive--and somehow we do. Today, we are witnessing a resurgence of both creativity and innovation as people learn different ways to survive. Over time, I have developed a rather strongly opinionated point of view that for the past two decades personal creativity has been suppressed by the mountains of administration employees have been forced to maneuver in order to complete even the most menial of tasks. Some call it progress. Most call it frustrating.
Armed with this opinion along with an under-developed thesis statement somewhere along the lines of a Gloria Gaynor song, I set out to prove my thesis that people have embraced not only their lost creativity, but also the latest technologies available to them in order to achieve success in spite of the new economic climate. I am very happy to report that indeed, we will survive, because I did not have to look very far to witness first-hand the human ability to leverage these tools. Move over, growth through acquisition. I predict a resurgence of the startup company.
There was a point in time when starting a company meant incurring substantial cost for the purposes of a brick and mortar location. After all, how else can management enable the ability for people to collaborate? How can startups in today’s economy deal with this challenge? To answer this question, I spoke with Keith Rach and his partner Ben Crowe. What happens when an industrial designer and an industrialist partner up? In this case, the result is Kendric Projects (KP).
KP was created with an idea to design safety apparel such as jackets and vests meant for emergency medical services (EMS) personnel. But KP is much more, and they have taken it to another level. Rach and Crowe have designed and manufactured a high end technical flight medic vest specifically designed for the storage and transport of medical supplies while ensuring the safety of the wearer. The vest is so well constructed that it is currently being used by STARS Air Ambulance, an organization that has been providing specialized emergency medical transport for critically ill and injured people since 1985. These brave flight paramedics inject themselves without hesitation into some of the most remote and dangerous situations that I can possibly imagine, and I have personally lived through both teenagers and 1970’s architecture.
One of the challenges in a partnership is collaboration and more specifically, being able to collaborate while respecting that a startup company needs to be extremely cost effective. In order to collaborate on design, KP uses Microsoft’s OneDrive to store and share their files. This cloud solution gives the user the ability to log in from anywhere to access and share files. To add to the cost effectiveness of this tool, if you are an Office 365 customer, you get unlimited OneDrive storage--a far cry from the large footprint, incredibly expensive storage solutions offered in the 90’s. Not that I’m complaining. I largely survived the 90’s on the commissions earned by installing these solutions.
For communication channels, Rach and Crowe collaborate via a shared virtual office that is hosted by Skype. They use Skype’s text, voice, and video capabilities to brainstorm, problem-solve, and to build. In addition, screen share capabilities allow them to visualize each other’s ideas while conversing in real time. This combination of Skype and OneDrive allow Rach and Crowe to collaborate on a daily basis without the need to invest in expensive office space and transportation costs. This is their cloud solution, and as an added bonus, it returns a reduced carbon footprint, allowing KP to do their small part to save the planet.
Startups evolve, as do ideas and opportunities. As KP leveraged OneDrive’s Cloud to share ideas and resources a new opportunity presented itself. Enter the Propaq. The Propaq is a medical monitor with wireless connectivity. During their discussions with medical professionals, Rach and Crowe found there existed the need to design and manufacture a case for this device. Their dilemma was how to develop a case for a medical monitor that costs around fifty thousand dollars. Would it really be practical for a startup to purchase a $50,000 device to use for development and testing purposes?
They decided the answer was no and the discussion moved on to 3D modeling. To do the 3D modeling, Rach used an off-the-shelf 3D printer armed with SolidWorks to 'print' out an exact prototype for Crowe to use at his location. Crowe was then able to build the anchors and attachments with accuracy and precision without a $50,000 investment.
The great thing about innovation is that it is driven by the existence of tools that enable the ability of the truly intellectual to build and to create. Today's Windows technologies are built to enable these efforts and to provide the backbone to build and to succeed while being both environmental and cost conscious. While we might be conditioned and somewhat manipulated to assume that evolution means investment, today it seems more likely to mean researching and utilizing available technology, because the technology already exists. It’s not always a brick and mortar presence that designates a startup as a potential growth opportunity. Sometimes it’s just a couple of Steves in their parents' garage.
Photo credit: Kendric Projects, STARS Air Ambulance