Talk to Mike Allan about the origins of his company, Calgary-based software company Routeique, and he’ll tell you it was “born out of a warehouse.” And he means that literally. Five years ago, then a startup, Routeique’s team worked out of a tiny corner space in a Calgary warehouse.
“We were just learning how to be a tech company in a much larger ecosystem,” says Allan, Routeique’s president and CEO.
Fast forward to today: Now in a 5,500-square-foot office, Routeique is developing and marketing revolutionary cloud-based solutions to warehouse distributors, manufacturers and others across the supply chain in Canada and globally.
How did Routeique make this rapid transformation?
Allan ascribes Routeique’s success in large part to early business partnerships, constant innovating as well as help from agencies like Alberta Innovates.
Early business partnerships key
To tell Routeique’s story, we have to go back to 2016, when Allan received a call from Scott Birkby, president at local food delivery company Birkby Food Services.
“His distribution firm was facing pressures to digitize and drive up efficiencies in his supply chain,” says Allan, who has decades of experience as a successful entrepreneur and tech innovator.
In August that year, Allan and Birkby founded Routeique, with the immediate task of creating a mobile digital tool to enable the food company’s staff to more easily capture and manage sales orders remotely. Then, when a prototype was shared later that year with executives at several food services companies, Routeique’s early efforts attracted interest. Nestlé Canada especially was intrigued and asked Allan to come in and make a pitch to their Board.
“At the meeting, Nestlé shared some of the challenges it faced across its distribution network, and said, ‘We think there’s a larger application for your technology,’” Allan says.
Suddenly a new opportunity was opening up: Nestlé offered to leverage Routeique’s unique approach to connect their direct store delivery network from coast to coast if Routeique would more fully develop its technology. With this commitment, the Routeique team set to work.
Technology platform takes shape
To build out their technology, they explored ideas through local innovation hubs like Calgary Technologies (now Platform Calgary) and ACAMP, an industry-led product development centre. They also consulted with R&D experts at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT).
Over time, a larger integrated system began to take shape. Routeique’s new platform would create logistics solutions for every step of the supply chain, right from order and inventory management to routing and delivery to asset tracking and settlement.
A mobile app, for example, leveraging sensor data and machine learning, would allow warehouse workers to better manage the process of receiving, stocking or prepping orders to be sent out. Another app would enable drivers to optimize delivery routes or collect payments. Office staff at the client company would be able to track inventory and manage everything in the supply chain through an administrative portal or digital control tower.
“It would connect Nestlé with all its partners in the supply chain, like one cohesive unit, to create new efficiencies, lower costs and improve service,” Allan says.
As the technology evolved, Routeique grew its organization. It hired technical graduates from SAIT. It added expertise by acquiring sdmg, a local software company specializing in digital solutions for retailers.
Support from agencies like Alberta Innovates
At the same time, the company built strong relationships with key innovation-focused agencies. Allan secured project funding through the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program. He also reached out to technology development advisors at Alberta Innovates for business advice and support, working first with Michael Kerr and later Stephan Zuberec.
“They asked the hard searching questions we needed to think about as a new business. I found this invaluable. We received a lot of great advice from Alberta Innovates,” Allan says.
With Kerr and Zuberec helping to guide Allan through the application process, his company received an Alberta Innovates product demonstration program grant in 2018. With the funding, Routeique had what it needed to successfully pilot and complete its system for Nestlé.
“We’ve focused on solidifying our system for their national network as well as making it compatible for Nestlé’s global network,” says Eric Moon, Routeique’s vice president of operations.
Increasing profile leads to surge in growth
From here, it’s clear the experience of working with Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, has boosted Routeique’s profile at home and worldwide. In January 2020, for instance, the company was recognized at the national Nestlé Distributors Conference in Toronto for making daily operations more seamless.
This increasing profile in turn has led to a surge in growth.
The company has been busy signing deals, with customers now across North America and in the UK, Germany and Australia. In addition to Nestlé, its client roster includes such brands as Unilever, Canadian Tire, Big Rock Brewery, Sargento and Groupe Lactalis. For 2022, it plans to intensify marketing efforts, building on opportunities in Nestlé’s global network as well as partnerships with other supply chain and technology companies. To keep pace, its head count has increased from just four people four years ago to 30 today.
Meanwhile, Routeique has continued to innovate relentlessly. It’s collaborated with artificial intelligence firms, like MotionMiners and adiutaByte in Germany, to improve its route and warehouse optimization systems. It’s also introduced a contactless yard management system to help distributors, manufacturers and retailers enhance safety in response to COVID-19.
It’s been a rapid success story — one in which, Allan says, Alberta Innovates has played an important supporting role.
“Through advice and funding, they’ve given us the leverage and extra validation we’ve needed to de-risk and grow our business. They’ve been a great partner to work with.”