While the oil and gas downturn rocked many Alberta start-ups, Calgary's VizworX Inc. has made it through this difficult period and emerged stronger than ever. Their solution? A pivot from being a solution supplier to the energy industry to a solution developer for diversified markets globally.

VizworX was created in 2012, spinning off from two research labs at the University of Calgary and aiming to commercialize advanced technologies. A product for the oil and gas industry met with initial commercial success but the 2014 downturn was a huge blow to the young company.

"The market for that product dried up overnight, and we had to go back to supporting ourselves through custom solution projects," says Zabin Jadavji, Lead for Human Resources and Operations. "As it turned out, services like custom solutions became the base for the rest of the business and allows us to build new IP that we are now turning into new products." VizworX uses technologies such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI) and data visualization to help clients derive better business value from their data.

As VizworX grew the service side of its business, development began on a product called Panoptica. This engineering design and review tool uses augmented and virtual reality to help engineers, architects and other professionals spot design mistakes before a project is built. Instead of looking at blueprints or a 3D model on a 2D screen, Panoptica users can literally walk around a building design and see it on a 1:1 scale-in a virtual sense. The insights from this perspective allow them to catch design errors at very early stage, saving hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per project.

Support from Alberta Innovates' Industry Associates program has been critical to creating a solid footing for both the service and product sides of VizworX. Advice and workshops, such as business model canvas, from Alberta Innovates' Technology Development Advisors (TDAs) proved extremely valuable in surviving and thriving from the 2014 turndown. In addition, two Industry Commercialization Associates were hired; one with expertise in finance and business planning, the other with expertise in business development, sales and marketing.

"Solution companies like VizworX naturally focus on delivering value to customers, which involves building up their solutions delivery capabilities, and often struggle to expand their business development capacity," explains Jadavji. "The Industry Associates program allowed us to build this capacity much more quickly that we could have done on our own."

VizworX has also had a longstanding relationship with Alberta Innovates' TDA Michael Kerr. He has played an important role as a sounding board for the new company. "Michael helped VizworX integrate in the innovation ecosystem," adds Jadavji. "As a result, we've also received support from IRAP, TECTERRA and other organizations. As the company matures and grows, we give back to the innovation ecosystem through participation and support for a variety of initiatives that are moving the ecosystem forward."

And grow they have. VizworX employs about 30 people today, up from six in 2017. Custom solutions continues to be a thriving market and the company is pursuing exciting opportunities for Panoptica in the global construction industry.

AR vs. VR: a primer

Augmented reality (AR)

The real world is changed and augmented through the overlay of holographic images. Through the use of goggle-type headsets or mobile applications, users are able to still fully see the real world, while also being able to see 3D models placed into the real world.

Virtual reality (VR)

Users are completely immersed in a virtual world. This usually means wearing a full head set, and holding a set of controllers. When using virtual reality, one is not able to see the world around them, instead only seeing the virtually created environment.

*Courtesy of VizworX Inc