The venture started with some sharp conversation.
Rory Bochinski, who taught courses on entrepreneurship, ran into high-school football teammate Jeff Quail, who had a background in police work and SWAT-team training. Mr. Quail mentioned he was developing a prototype for a stress-inducing “weapon.”
Both men realized the idea had business potential, and together they now operate two Winnipeg-based companies, Shocknife and Setcan, that are on the leading edge of reality-based training. “To learn the best defences against a knife attack, trainees like soldiers, policemen, and security officers need more than the usual plastic knife props,” Mr. Bochinski explains. “The training needs to instill the ‘fear factor,' adrenalin, more of the stress and terror of the real thing.”
Joining forces, they refined the product and created Shocknife: a device that delivers an electrical jolt to simulate a slashing sensation to the flesh. The charge is adjustable, creating a feeling as minor as a paper cut all the way to a severe laceration. Fear of pain causes trainees to react authentically, preparing them for real-world encounters, minus the injuries.
After launching Shocknife in November, 2004, Mr. Bochinski and Mr. Quail anticipated a high demand for training with their device and in 2006, they founded Setcan (SET stands for Stress Exposure Training), the umbrella company under which they sell both the training and the props. Since 2008, Setcan has seen a four-fold increase in revenue from instructor-level programs, with Winnipeg becoming a recognized centre for this specialized market.
“Within our network, organizations interested in the training and equipment have approached us to market their products as well, not just our own,” Mr. Bochinski says.
Setcan now sells an innovative, collapsible training baton that fits easily into a holster, developed by Clive Milligan, a use-of-force instructor and member of the Vancouver Police Department. “We're very selective,” Mr. Bochinski points out. “We have a responsibility to offer our clients only the best.”
Unlike a Taser, the Shocknife was not designed for use as a weapon. “When it comes to our voltages and amps,” Mr. Bochinski says, “they are so far below what a Taser is that (law enforcement) trainers have no concerns about potential harm.”
Law enforcement and military trainers across North America have readily adopted Shocknife's new standard for edged-weapon self-defense training. Sales have extended to 15 countries, including the United States, Britain, Australia, France, Mexico and Germany.
“Shocknife is a revolutionary product that adds a level of realism we cannot replicate with traditional weapons as training devices,” says William R. Daniel II, a major in the U.S. Army.
Mr. Milligan says Setcan has become an international leader in the field of officer safety. By branching out beyond its initial product and into reality-based training, it is teaching what he calls “the measuring stick of police/military training tactics.”
“Research has shown that under acute stressors (facing life-threatening critical incidents) officers that have ‘been there before' ... can kick into auto-pilot, which has been noted to cause them to be successful in resolving the conflict.”
After five years in business, starting with Shocknife, combined revenue for the two firms in 2009 was more than $1 million, with 60 per cent of that represented by Setcan, which has two full-time employees in addition to the founders, and eight part-time instructors.
“We targeted a niche market and branded our product effectively,” Mr. Bochinski says. “Networking with key players, especially at trade shows, we have put great emphasis on client satisfaction and rapid response to any inquiries. We are attentive to all potential buyers. We find that the sales of the training and equipment are naturally symbiotic; the training acts to help market the reality-based props, and vice versa. Growth opportunities are always waiting.”
Setcan also supplies training certification for other organizations. In the late 1980s, Quebec-based SNC Technologies was a pioneer in reality-based training, having trademarked Simunition, which allows trainers to use their own or similar weapons to fire special marking cartridges while delivering a painful sting. By 2007, worldwide sales of Simunition had reached $34 million. When SNC was about to be sold to General Dynamics Corp., Mr. Bochinski and Mr. Quail flew to Montreal, met with senior management, and inked a distribution deal where Setcan would conduct Simunition training and issue certification.
Combining Simunition and other courses, Setcan instructors often travel around the world and the company has certified nearly 500 law enforcement instructors in places such as Spain, Switzerland and Singapore.
In 2009, Setcan and Shocknife moved into a 10,000-square-foot site, the largest private law enforcement training facility in the country. Last October, Setcan used the facility to teach a group from the Canadian Navy.
And Mr. Quail, who last year won a prestigious Manning Innovation Award, is writing an instructional work, to act as a reference on human performance under stress, particularly as it relates to survival.What began as an attempt to market a training prop has expanded into making Canada a world centre for a growing industry. And there's more to come. Mr. Bochinski is vague on the concept but his company has a new firearms training product that is set to debut in April.
“We are working with a few U.S. companies in development but it is our product, which we hold the worldwide rights to.”
Special to the Globe and Mail