FREDERICTON– When Scott Everett started pitching his company, Eigen Innovations, more than five years ago, he was trying to explain to rooms of manufacturing executives and potential investors about the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT).
It was an industry that was going to be worth huge amounts of money, and he knew it.
“I remember some of the first pitches that I gave about how the Industrial Internet Of Things is going to be worth trillions of dollars and this is what’s happening, and how artificial intelligence and machinery is going to be such a powerful component of this,” says Everett, the company’s co-founder and CEO.
“There were just crickets in the room.”
But now in 2019, the industry is more than listening.
Eigen Innovations, which was found in 2012 out of the University of New Brunswick, creates AI business solutions that help its clients refine manufacturing processes, reduce costs, and improve their overall profitability.
The Fredericton-headquartered company now has clients all over the world and is now doubling down on its global expansion in the automotive industry.
Eigen’s solutions are used in a variety of manufacturing sectors, such as pulp and paper and food processing. But in 2016, the company started to shift its focus toward the automotive industry.
“Our technology is applicable in a lot of different sectors but in terms of that going-to-market, getting the scalability and repeatability of a product, we started to really lean-in on our domain knowledge in the field of plastics and really started to see the opportunity within automotive,” says Everett.
The company is focusing on the makers of what is called tier one parts. Those are the parts like headlights, which are sourced out to manufacturing companies by the big automotive giants like General Motors and Ford.
“There’s a lot of plastic parts on vehicles and if you look at the types of parts that we work with a lot, headlights and taillights and critical components like gas tanks. There’s an increased innovation pressure. The complexity of these parts is getting more and more,” says Everett. “Every time there is a new design it’s pushing those limits and boundaries. Getting the quality and getting the production rates that they can be really profitable and competitive is a challenge for manufacturers.”
That’s where the customer base has grown for the company globally, with automotive industry clients in Japan, Spain, and Mexico. Everett says a lot of their exporting comes when North American customers ask Eigen to take on their operations in other countries.
“The interesting thing about the automotive sector is that it’s global. When you start to scale within an organization the customers force you into exporting, which is great,” he says. “It actually a great pipeline for that. It starts to give you a base for expanding into those markets.”
Eigen recently received $708,067 from the federal government through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to help them with their marketing efforts to further expand into the Asian and European markets.
Leveraging AI and IoT technology can help manufacturing businesses stay competitive and efficient, so much so that companies are starting to create entire roles and structures dedicated to it. With the rest of the world finally catching on to the opportunities with AI, Everett says there is still plenty of room to grow.
“There’s a maturing now of the concept and companies are getting a lot more organized and deliberate about how they are going to adopt strategies for this type of disruptive technology in their organizations. We’re seeing chief digital officers and directors of IoT Innovation, specific departments and titles that are actively looking at these types of opportunities and that’s really helped a lot,” he says.
“So when we talk about our ambitions and where we’re heading, I think we’re seeing a shift in the industry which, even just the tier one supplier markets are around a trillion dollars globally.”
Thanks to a $3.5 million equity funding round last October, the company has grown to a team of 30. Though they have a few sales and account management staff working in the Windsor, Ontario/Detroit area to be close to the heart of automotive manufacturing, most of the engineering and development team is in Fredericton.
Their staff includes data scientists, data architects, front-end developers, mechanical engineering, and PhD students. Everett says he’s been able to build a world-class team at home in New Brunswick.
“I’m just really proud of the talent that is here. I think it’s been a really exciting journey and it’s been really exciting to actually go out into the global marketplace and go toe-to-toe,” he says. “The perception is that all technology is either in silicon valley or somewhere else and that’s just not true.”