While all the attention is focused on the athletes, many small businesses are also capitalizing on the 2012 Olympics. Here are four Canadian firms that are also playing, and cashing in on, the Games.
Saringer Life Science Technologies Inc.
Just a few weeks ago, Canada’s five-member Olympic triathlon team – including flag bearer Simon Whitfield – was training at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., when they spotted someone in a campus restaurant with an unusual gizmo strapped to his calves. It was the Venowave, a battery-operated medical device that pumps the legs and helps improve blood circulation.
While the patient was using it for medical reasons – it’s designed to help manage diabetes, circulation problems and blood clots – the athletes saw it as an ideal tool for upping athletic performance.
The team was already using a large plug-in machine to massage their legs for short periods, but the Venowave could be worn non-stop before and after events and even on the plane to London.
In short order, the team’s physiotherapist contacted Venowave developer Saringer Life Science Technologies Inc., a Stouffville, Ont.-based startup running with funding from McMaster that has been selling the device for clinical purposes since 2009 and more widely since 2011. It sent over four of the units for the team for free.
Saringer founder and chief executive officer John Saringer, an engineer who’s developed medical products for most of his career, had no idea the device he first created back in 2001 had athletic uses. He’s been growing his eight-employee company through traditional channels by networking at medical trade shows and making contacts with health-care professionals. “We’ve already saved a few feet for people with diabetes,” says Mr. Saringer, who wears a Venowave himself while flying.
The fact that Mr. Whitfield wore two of the Venowave devices, which sell for $499 apiece, while carrying the flag at the opening ceremonies surely won’t hurt Mr. Saringer’s aspiration to more than double the size of his company over the next few months through his usual channels and by expanding into this new market by reaching out to athletes. “For us, it’s a bit of a breakthrough,” Mr. Saringer says.
“The word hasn’t really gotten out yet,” Mr. Saringer says, but to further develop this new niche, he plans to introduce the device to the athletic world at a Toronto conference this month, at which Mr. Whitfield will be the keynote speaker.
“We have the product, we have the approvals, now we just need to develop some contacts in this market.”
PV Labs Inc.
When James Bond and the Queen made their spectacular virtual entrance into the Olympic Stadium by helicopter during the opening ceremonies, the footage didn’t wobble and shake. That was thanks to a Canadian-made camera stabilizing system called Eclipse, made by PV Labs Inc.., a Hamilton, Ont.-based company that launched in 2004 as a spin-off of a longstanding Canadian imaging company, L-3 Wescam.
Its 85 employees knew only bits and pieces about the super-secret film. “It was all very cloak and dagger,” says PV Labs president and chief executive officer Ty Shattuck.
The company has supplied the Eclipse system, which combines hardware and software to keep a camera stable in the air, on water or on a ground rail, as well as technical staff for shoots around the world, including many major Hollywood blockbusters such the new Spider-Man and Batman movies.
The entertainment division makes up 25 per cent of PV Labs’ revenue, and 10 per cent of that is from the sporting industry. Eclipse is helping to film rowing events in London, and also did cross-country skiing in Vancouver in 2010.
The rest of the company’s business is from imaging products and services for the security and surveillance industry.
PV Labs began with just six employees eight years ago and has seen growth of 300 per cent over the past five years, Mr. Shattuck says. That’s thanks mainly to the launch of the Eclipse system three years ago. Hollywood directors fond of dramatic aerial shots for action movies love the technology, which won an Oscar for best engineering achievement earlier this year.
The opening ceremonies shoot – and those smooth shots of rowing – will inevitably trigger even more interest in what PV Labs has to offer.
“If you can bring a director’s vision to life, then that gets out,” Mr. Shattuck says.
“The next director for the next motion picture for the next big event, if they know you were a part of it, if you were the guy that created something special, that’s good for us.”
Look closely at athletes Adam van Koeverden, Simon Whitfield, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams as they compete. If they’ve got colourful pieces of tape in unusual shapes stuck somewhere on their bodies, that’s tape that has been supplied by Toronto-based SpiderTech Inc.
Plain kinesiology tape has been sold in rolls for 30 years. The cotton tape helps to relieve muscle pain and aids in injury recovery.
But there’s a catch: It takes a skilled professional who’s taken a course to apply tape from a roll effectively.
Toronto inventor and entrepreneur Ray Arbesman found out about this catch in 2005, when he injured his knee right before a trip. His chiropractor, Kevin Jardin, taped up his knee and it felt great. But, Mr. Arbesman lamented, “I can’t travel with you the rest of my life,” and so the idea for SpiderTech’s tape was born.
Mr. Arbesman worked with Mr. Jardin over the next few years to create custom tape shapes for various parts of the body that can be applied by anyone who reads the instructions. In early 2009, SpiderTech launched 17 products for 17 different joints (including the shoulder, wrist and hamstring) at $6.99 apiece.
Mr. Arbesman promoted the line by running free courses for health-care professionals and attending trade shows and sporting events to talk up the product and give out free samples. “The elite athletes found the product through their physicians and their therapists and they told each other,” says Mr. Arbesman, whose company provides free tape to any athletes for the asking.
The company is also giving away free samples online. During the Olympics, 100,000 requested samples were given out in the first week alone.
That is bound to help its efforts to penetrate the consumer market. Last year, SpiderTech introduced X– and Y-shaped tapes – which are universal shapes that can go almost anywhere on the body – for consumers.
Sales to professionals such as physiotherapists makes up 98 per cent of the 50-employee company’s sales right now. That’s poised to change as SpiderTech’s universal shapes hit the retail market: They’re already selling on shelves in South Africa and the company is now in negotiations with major Canadian retailers (where they’ll sell two for $2.99).
To further build that consumer base, the company is testing TV commercials in the United States and is giving away those free samples.
Seeing those athletes on the screen using the product is already making a big difference. Mr. Arbeson says the company website normally gets 500 to 1,000 visitors a day. During the Olympics, that’s gone up to between 5,000 and 30,000 a day.
“When people see big starts like Djokovic or Serena wearing them, they want them. And we start getting calls.”
Hudson Boat Works
When the women’s eight rowed for a silver medal early last Thursday morning, staff in both Londons – Ontario and England – gathered to cheer for the athletes, and the boat they were propelling.
That’s because the boat was made by London, Ont.-based Hudson Boat Works. It was one of five shells used by Canadians that were supplied by Hudson, which also supplied boats for four other countries’ teams; in total, 10 Hudson boats are in London.
There are two other world-leading rowing boat manufacturers in the world, based in Italy and Germany, but Hudson leads in North America and is on the rise, says Craig McAllister, commercial manager for the 50-employee company, which manufacturers its own product at a newly expanded 60,000-square-foot plant.
“We’re the new brand that everyone is starting to see as the cool option,” he says.
The company dates back to 1981 when Jack Coughlan, who worked for a local boat manufacturer, struck out on his own and launched Hudson to focus on high-end, competition-level rowing shells.
Hudson has built its brand by pushing hard to be innovative. Its team of six engineers is focused on hull design, trying to make shells move increasingly faster in water. It also pushes its youthful, new reputation in the market by being very active in social media, Mr. McAllister says.
Company representatives are also on the road, their schedules revolving around international, national and collegiate racing schedules. Hudson provides repairs and transportation services for boats. As well, it has a large fleet of demo shells it carts around the globe to offer as testers for those interested in buying. Since shells start at $9,000 for a single rower craft, athletes, teams or schools considering buying need a test drive or two before they decide.
With a newly completed addition to its factory, the company is poised to push harder into the ultra-competitive European market.
Already, Hudson has been making inroads. The United States used to make up 90 per cent of its business and now a third is offshore clients, mostly in rowing-friendly Britain.
Right now, it’s all about watching which Hudson boats gain medals as they cross that finish line. Every time a boat wins, other athletes look on with envy and wonder if they should switch brands.
“The Games provide us the opportunity to put our brand on the map,” Mr. McAllister says.
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