VizworX: Solving unique business needs using advanced technology.
When I sat down with Jeff LaFrenz, I was excited to learn more about his company VizworX. As I reviewed his LinkedIn profile, and company site, I was again reminded that the Internet can only go so far when you want to get a sense of a person’s experiences and career. I was blown away by what Jeff brings to our tech ecosystem. Jeff’s interest in tech dates back to his childhood when he would take apart and rebuild toasters for fun and took computer science in high school. After studying electrical and computer engineering in university, Jeff started working with MDA, which meant very little to me as a company name until he mentioned “Canadarm”. While Jeff didn’t specifically work on Canadarm, he did have the opportunity to help develop cutting-edge software and hardware as it related to air traffic control systems for Switzerland, and remote satellite monitoring of farm land and the rain forest in Brazil. From there, Jeff joined Sierra Wireless and was part of a team that helped educate and expand the possibilities that surrounded public data. Keep in mind that when Jeff joined Sierra in the ‘90s, public data didn’t exist. The Internet was still young and cell phones were only for calls. Sierra Wireless, alongside other device manufacturers and Telcoms, was trying to figure out how to build public data infrastructure, how to use it, and how to encourage its use. For Jeff, already entrepreneurially spirited, MDA provided business experience in project management and technology, while Sierra taught him how to run a business and sell solutions. During these years, Jeff looked at multiple ways to launch businesses ideas and succeeded, but before he could really dig in, the Dot Com bubble burst. The following slow down in tech led Jeff to pursue another interest: a PhD in Bio-nanotechnology (interestingly during the SARS outbreak). Unfortunately while working on his PhD, Jeff faced a difficult decision. The co-founder of the business he was still involved with became ill, and he had to make a call as to whether to complete his degree or take over the business. He chose the business, which he grew and eventually sold. Jeff continued to look for opportunities to grow, including working with universities on education programs with NSERC Surfnet, which was a Canadian research alliance of academic researchers, industry partners, and government collaborators. Surfnet works to research, improve and develop advanced technology in Canada and move technology from research to business usage. All of this led to VizworX, a Calgary-based company that is focused on using advanced technologies to improve the human element of how we use data. Industrial companies have critical business needs that are not being met by existing technology and systems, and Jeff and his team partner with them to address those pain points. With a mix of virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and complex data visualization with mobile and web applications, they identify ways to address those issues and where possible, turn that into product innovation. A great example of how VizworX is helping clients is the work that it has done with Cenovus Energy. Cenovus was building infrastructure using a modular format where portions of that infrastructure were manufactured off site. The company occasionally encountered assembly issues once the infrastructure came on site, which was very expensive and time consuming to deal with. Using immersive augmented reality with Microsoft Hololens, VizworX built what would become Panoptica. It allows the designer of the modular units to visually model what they are building and see how it relates to other aspects. From how one module relates to the other, and how different elements work together in the building process, directly targeting assembly issues and rework costs and time. The team at VizworX identified that 5 to 30 per cent of typical construction project costs are related to rework. This is wasted money largely as a result of errors in the design process. Panoptica helps industrial and government projects to reduce those costs. Large-scale construction projects are linked to approximately $3 trillion dollars of economic activity annually on a global basis, a potential market which lead to them creating a new company to continue their product innovation in this arena called EnsureworX. Now as always, I asked Jeff why he chose Alberta, as he has worked in Vancouver, Silicon Valley, and travelled extensively during his early career. Jeff said it was due to his strong love of Alberta. Born and raised here, he appreciates Albertans’ “we can do it” attitude, and it was where he wanted to be. He saw a massive industrial base that could be leveraged to identify challenges on a company basis that are not unique and could be addressed globally. Jeff is passionate about the Calgary and Alberta tech ecosystems, and wants to grow both his company and subsidiaries. Big on community, he looks for partners with whom he can grow and network to build on the vast possibilities. His latest volunteer work is as the Digital Theme Lead for CRIN—the Clean Resource Innovation Network—an Alberta head-quartered network of networks focused on employing technology to help ensure that Canada is a global leader in producing clean hydrocarbon energy from source to end use. CRIN just received $100M from the Federal Government to support this focus. If you get a chance and want to share in Jeff’s enthusiasm, check out our full interview.