You see the perfect pair of shoes in a photo on a website, but have no idea who sells them. You could try to Google a description of the shoes or spend some time searching through retailers’ websites to find them, but wouldn’t it be great if you could just click on the image and be instantly connected with the retailer?
Thanks to MaRS client HOVR.IT, a visual search of your coveted item can now be accomplished with a simple click of the mouse or snap of a picture. The Toronto-based company was formed by a team of four entrepreneurs who wanted to make it easy for consumers to purchase what they see both online and offline through image recognition technology. The startup was recently acquired by Slyce, a Calgary-based visual search company.
HOVR.IT’s founders—Adam Jarczyn, CEO; David Williams, director of sales; Steve Seguin, chief technology officer; and Vick Mehrotra, director of product—received advice and mentorship from Nathan Monk, an advisor with the MaRS ICE practice.
“Nathan walked us through a couple of really helpful exercises: one called the Business Model Canvas and another that helped us to understand our sales funnel and which areas to perfect before growth,” says David.
They also enrolled in VentureStart, a program funded by the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario). VentureStart received $7.5 million in funding through the Scientists and Engineers in Business initiative, and provides emerging entrepreneurs in the science, technology, engineering and math fields with training, mentoring and seed financing to develop their ideas, commercialize their products and grow their companies (note that advisors in VentureStart are known as entrepreneurs-in-residence).
Co-ordinated by the RIC Centre in Mississauga, VentureStart is delivered through 13 provincially funded Regional Innovation Centres in southern Ontario, including MaRS. Through FedDev Ontario’s support, VentureStart is helping program participants increase their business and management skills, and their capacity to create successful companies and career opportunities.
David Williams, who supplemented his science degree with a master of business administration and a Certified Management Accountants designation at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business, was impressed with VentureStart’s online course.
“It forced us to think critically about every area of the business in a stepwise fashion, while ensuring we didn’t get too carried away in any one area. The program advocated a very balanced approach to building a business,” he says.
With VentureStart funding, HOVR.IT hired a community manager to get the word out and a much-needed front-end designer to build out the vision that the team had worked so hard to develop. Ultimately, funding enabled the entrepreneurs to get a minimum viable prototype of HOVR.IT into the market.
“HOVR.IT’s innovative visual search technology is making both the online and offline shopping experience better and faster,” says David.
The team’s efforts in developing effective visual search technology are paying off. Within 15 months, the entrepreneurs worked alongside one of the leading machine vision departments in the world, discovered product-market fit and raised proceeds exceeding $300,000. Although the terms of the Slyce’s acquisition have not been released, HOVR.IT’s technology will be integrated into Slyce.