Walking the talk with Matthew Saunders

From the retail sector to human resources and beyond, technology can boost companies’ powers of communication. Internally, organizations want software tools that help them recruit top talent and enable the free flow of ideas among employees. Externally, they’re seeking to better understand their clients by capturing a detailed picture of buying patterns and consumer preferences. But in-house development of such technology can be slow, costly and challenging. It can also drain already limited resources, thereby distracting a business from its core goals. Relying on an outside service provider offers more flexibility, and with entrepreneurship on the rise, companies can choose from an incredible array of innovative solutions.

At Canada’s largest incubator, the Digital Media Zone (DMZ) at Ryerson University, and the affiliated accelerator and seed fund program operated by Ryerson Futures Inc. (RFI), we help talented entrepreneurs achieve their goals faster. The DMZ and RFI deliver business development assistance, mentorship and networking opportunities to start-ups, plus access to funding and co-working spaces.

Since the DMZ officially opened in April 2010, it has incubated and accelerated 133 companies, fostering and creating 1,196 jobs through new enterprises and market-driven research. Three of these start-ups are reshaping how organizations connect with one another and the world.

Loud and clear

Some technology has a clear application to internal or external communication, but other solutions can serve both purposes. Toronto-based SoapBox Innovations Inc. provides a Web-based platform for turning ideas into action. SoapBox allows a community to suggest and prioritize ideas and then deliver that information to key decision makers. The result: less time figuring out what the community wants and more time to enact change.

Clients such as Accenture and Indigo Books & Music Inc. use the SoapBox platform to source ideas from employees and customers. The Coca-Cola Company, GlaxoSmithKline Inc., RBC Financial Group and St-Hubert L.P. turn to it to gather internal feedback. Justin Trudeau, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, uses SoapBox to connect with constituents.

Smarter shopping

In retail, brands pay for premium shelf space based on generalized market research about how consumers shop. Physicalytics Inc. saw an opportunity to leverage real-time insights into customer behaviour. The Toronto-based company’s plug-and-play sensors and software tap into cellular data so retailers can gather information on how many people visit their store, how many walk by, how long customers stay and how often they come back. All data is sourced ethically; it’s anonymous and heavily encrypted to protect shoppers.

Physicalytics is winning clients at home and abroad. Entrepreneur Melissa Davis uses the service at her Toronto designer sneaker and apparel boutique, Ugly Dukling. A South African department store has also deployed Physicalytics.

Keeping an eye on talent

In the human resources field, Toronto-based Kira Talent developed an award-winning online video interviewing platform that allows recruiters and managers to assess job candidates remotely. Users can set up the interface in minutes and navigate it without training.

Candidates answer preset recorded video questions. After rating and comparing applicants, employers interview only the most suitable candidates in person, saving time and speeding up the hiring process. Besides the Queen’s School of Business, the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, the University of Waterloo and Yale University, Kira Talent counts a major insurance provider and two prominent professional service organizations among its clients.

Bringing ideas to life

At the Digital Media Zone, the community fosters just-in-time learning. Entrepreneurs learn the skills they need to succeed while simultaneously growing their business. Part of this experience involves meeting regularly with industry leaders and potential clients, allowing teams to continuously iterate their approach. The formula is different for every company, but these successes share a common element: a solid understanding of the people their businesses serve.

This post was originally posted here at upfront.