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Commercialization: A Success Story to Watch

By Julie King |

Thirteen years ago, Liz Dickinson came up with the idea for a strapless heart monitor.

Now the MIO Alpha – a smart looking, strapless watch that can monitor your heart rate and send data to your smartphone – is redefining the way athletes can monitor their performance caloric burn rate.

The MIO Alpha's reception and results are impressive.

Media reviews have raved about the products reinvention of its category and its sales have been meteoric. Last year alone Dickinson's company, MIO Global, saw sales increases of 600 per cent.

"People all over the world have been waiting for this type of product and the fact that we are the first has been creating a lot of word of mouth buzz,” Dickinson said.

While her story is now one of incredible success, it didn't happen overnight and Dickinson had to navigate many challenges before her product would transform its industry.

A challenging start

After graduating from business school in 1984, Dickinson explains that her initial challenges had more to do with gender and race than technology.

"There were jobs I just couldn't get because I was a woman and I was told so bluntly to my face. And, I was definitely passed over for promotion because of gender," said Dickinson. "Lack of diversity - not just gender - but also racial - was a reality in the boardroom for the first 15 years of my career."

Her solution was to start her own company and then surround herself with talented women.

From idea to market

While Dickinson first came up with the idea for MIO in 1997, her first product, a touch heart rate monitor, was brought to market in 2001.

When she reflects on what things helped her close the "commercialization gap" and successfully bring her first product to market, she lists getting the right people on your team as a top priority.

"Where you are weak, you should hire people around you to fill those gaps," says Dickinson. "No one can do everything really well.  If you are an outstanding technologist - hire an outstanding sales person ASAP."

In terms of her top challenge in business, Dickinson minces no words: her key challenge has always been a lack of funds.

"Cash flow management is the biggest issue facing any fast growing company," said Dickinson. "Look at your most realistic business plan and for planning purposes, cut the revenue in half and raise twice the amount of money you think you need."

She also recommends looking at alternate types of financing beyond equity, such as purchase order (PO) financing and factoring.

A sales success story

It is not uncommon for Canadian companies to have great technological innovations, yet fall into the "commercialization gap" identified by research done by Sorin Cohn and CATA Alliance.

MIO Global has broken this mold to achieve successful market penetration in both Canada and internationally.

While the company does not reveal its annual revenues, Dickinson confirmed that they are in the double-digit millions.

Part of her success stems from her successful penetration into the US market.

"I think it is really important to remember we have very easy access to one of the world's largest markets just to our South," said Dickinson.

"From the very first date we started selling, we began to focus on American media, and American retailers. The buzz generated from exposure in the US market serves to fuel international growth - including domestic growth in Canada. "

Advice for other start-ups and inventors

When asked to reflect on MIO Global's success, Dickinson emphasizes that the idea of overnight success is a myth.

"I came up with the idea for the MIO in 1997 and didn't commercialize it until 2000," said Dickinson. "It is really a question of perseverance.  You have to accept you are likely in it for the long haul and you need to be creative, flexible and, most importantly, resilient."

 Her advice for other start-ups echoes her own experience: persevere.

"Don't give up.  Hang in there," said Dickinson. "If you really are passionate and believe in your business, you can always find a solution."


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