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From the C-Suite: Bringing Hardware Innovation to the IIoT

Atlantic Canada is home to a growing number of companies supporting the manufacturing sector with innovative software and hardware offerings. New Brunswick in particular—with its history as home to traditional industries like manufacturing, and a world-class IT ecosystem—has proven a good fit for the burgeoning Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT). [Read our look at Eigen Innovations as one example.]

Moncton’s Masitek Instruments is supporting manufacturers with a variety of new hardware solutions. Launched in 2010, Masitek has built state-of-the-art real-time wireless detection and reporting sensors designed to instantly identify damage to food products and other fragile goods on the production line. Masitek technology isolates the location of the damage so operators, engineers, and quality control staff can target their maintenance crews and/or shut down times to those specific areas.

Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke to President and CEO, Tracy Clinch, to learn more about the product, leading her first company, and the benefits of New Brunswick.

ONB: Your tech patent is held by Technology Venture Corporation (TVC), who formed Masitek to commercialize it. How did TVC decide you were the right fit for CEO? 

manufacturing solutionsClinch: My background is in sales and marketing for major consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands, specifically two well-known New Brunswick food and beverage producers — Moosehead Breweries and McCain Foods Limited.

From my time with McCain in particular, I gained plenty of experience with international markets, and developed an ability to problem solve solutions for markets across the globe. That’s been valuable as we launch Masitek and export our solution to most of the world. Ninety-five percent of our business is outside of Canada, primarily in Europe, Japan, and Mexico.

ONB: You announced a new suite of products this spring, tell us about that.

Clinch: It’s an overhaul of the existing tech offered in our ShockQC™, PressureQC™, and VerticalQC™ products. We have upgraded the circuit boards, reduced the size, improved battery life, increased the sampling rates and repeatability, and made other small upgrades. These updates were based entirely on feedback from existing customers. We spoke with many line operators and engineers, and they needed a measurement device that could allow them to see when they had exceeded the threshold damage point for whatever container or food product they were producing.

ONB: What’s been the biggest challenge getting the company to this point?

Clinch: Awareness. We have a very strong technical staff in Moncton, and our business development team has done an excellent job selling outside of Canada. The problem is when you have a technology with very few competitors it’s hard to gain the right amount of awareness needed to sell to international markets, where your name alone doesn’t carry as much weight.

Much of what we did in the beginning involved teaching customers what the tech could do; that was more important than actually selling the product. We had to sell the concept itself before the product would move. Fortunately we have patient investors that have allowed us to work through that challenge.

ONB: What’s been the key to success in reaching markets beyond North America?

Clinch: Europe is a good case study. The success we’ve had there is due to the forward thinking of that marketplace with regards to sustainability and reduction of materials. Examples of this attitude include lightweighting projects, material reduction for PET bottles, and reducing damage to fruit and vegetables. The mindset is more aggressive in those European markets as it relates to reducing damage and waste.

ONB: You’re a lifelong New Brunswicker; what do you see as advantages of living and working here?

Clinch: With a small region we tend to think that finding the right people is a challenge. We’ve had a lot of success in that area, however. We’ve found people with not only the skills we need, but with strong ties to the province. They want to do it all from here, lead the world from Atlantic Canada. I wouldn’t live anywhere else myself, that’s for sure. New Brunswick has always been home to me and always will be.

The province’s higher education ecosystem has been a benefit. Our lead engineer for example is a graduate of the University of New Brunswick (UNB), and came to us via Mitacs. Without programs like that I’m not sure we’d be at the point we are now.

ONB: You’ve made the move from sales and marketing to leading your own company. What’s one trait you think a successful c-suite exec should possess?

Clinch: The most important thing I’ve learned so far—sometimes the hard way—is that a good leader needs to be able to stay the course. When you have a company that’s in its early stages it’s easy to get distracted by people telling you what you “should” be selling versus what you have. There have always been opportunities to do something just a little differently, to pivot in another direction. I would tell anyone leading a young business, or trying to grow one, that if you believe in what you’re offering don’t let others distract you from it, unless you truly believe that pivot is critical to your success.

ONB: As a startup what has Masitek’s support system been like?

Clinch: Entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity in New Brunswick, and the reason is our size. When you start a company in this region you’re not one of 50,000 companies launching that month, you’re one of maybe 10 or 20. The support ecosystem here for companies in growth mode is really strong.

Start with the public sector; ACOA, the NRC, and ONB. Those organizations stay with you all the way through, to the point where you’re a success story for them. Then you become a mentor for the region, and for their programs.

Then you have groups like Planet Hatch, Propel ICT, Venn Centre, Enterprise Saint John — partners that will do anything it takes to support you. It’s an incredible ecosystem you will not find everywhere.

ONB: Can you touch on ONB’s role with Masitek?

Clinch: We have had really talented people on our account supporting us from the beginning. It’s important for people to understand that it’s not simply about monetary assistance, though that is crucial for startups. What’s important is the support structure and mentoring; these Business Development reps have been through it before, and have seen what made successful companies here. They know how to help you grow.

Want to learn more about New Brunswick and how your business can grow here? Connect with an ONB Business Development Executive at the button below.

Connect With Opportunities NB

Cover image via Masitek