[Written as Economic Development Intern with Ignite Fredericton]
Kumaran Thillainadarajah, CEO & Founder – Smart Skin Technologies
Not only is Kumaran Thillainadarajah’s startup keeping him in the province, but it is attracting other former New Brunswick dwellers back as well.
Thillainadarajah grew up in Sri Lanka before arriving in Canada to study Engineering at the University of New Brunswick. Since arriving, he has seen the growth of Fredericton’s entrepreneurial community first hand.
“I could only think of about four or five startups in Atlantic Canada. Now there are numerous right here in Fredericton… That whole ecosystem has really taken off in the past few years,” says Thillainadarajah, who is the Founder and CEO of Smart Skin Technologies.
Founded in 2008, Smart Skin is a Fredericton-based startup creating pressure-sensitive skin technology with a variety of applications. The product was first designed at the University of New Brunswick while Thillainadarajah was a student.
Thillainadarajah and his team were successful in business plan competitions, which in turn gave them the money to build a prototype, which went on to win engineering competitions. Eventually in 2009 the Smart Skin team found themselves the winners of an award at the Canadian Engineering Competition and the recipients of a $50,000 investment after taking home several awards at the NBIF Breakthru Competition.
Since 2008, Thillainadarajah and Smart Skin have been improving the technology and searching for the right market opportunities. The initial application of the technology was an attempt to create a sense of touch in prosthetics. Smart Skin also explored the video game and mobile phone industries before commercializing with applications in golf and packaging in 2013. Smart Skin is completely staffed by the University of New Brunswick’s talented alumni.
“I didn’t start out thinking I wanted to start a business. I was working on this really cool technology and I thought there was a lot of promise for it. I realized that if I didn’t take the steps to identify or investigate, no one else would,” says Thillainadarajah.
“The entire packaging market is a $400 billion dollar market and we’re focusing on 11 per cent, which is glass,” says Thillainadarajah, who added that they plan to advance in the industry by exploring plastics and cardboard. Smart Skin Technology’s application in glass packaging works by inserting drones into a high-speed packaging line and measuring exactly how much force is being applied to the surface. From there the results can be used to regulate manufacturing lines based on pressure.
The process reduces waste, saves millions of dollars for customers in the beer and soft drink markets and is giving Smart Skin Technologies brand recognition.
“I don’t know if that would have been the same had I tried to start this business in Montreal or Toronto. It would probably be very hard to get any attention at all,” says Thillainadarajah. Even with Smart Skin posting five sales and customer engineers outside of New Brunswick in other regions of Canada, the United States and Germany, Thillainadarajah intends to run all of the development work and research out of Fredericton.
“The benefit of conducting your business out of Fredericton is that we have some world class mentors. I’ve been very fortunate to work with some really smart people who imparted their wisdom on me and guided me through the ups and downs of starting a business and commercializing it.”
Overall Thillainadarajah says good mentorship was equally as helpful as the startup capital they received, including a 20,000 SEED loan from Ignite Fredericton that got Smart Skin started while they waited for their investment from NBIF.
Smart Skin Technologies remains to be a proudly UNB-born company maintaining good relationships with the university’s faculty, who tip them off about up coming talent. They have 15 alumni working for the company.
Like many other entrepreneurs, Thillainadarajah greatest piece of advice was to find a mentor in your field.
“People fell over themselves trying to help us, to see us succeed and make progress.”
BY: Nicola MacLeod, 2014 ED Intern