Let’s start with a brief into. Please tell us who you are and what you do.
My name is Brad Pommen, President and Founder of SMRT1 Technologies in Nelson, BC. I’m a technology evangelist, having helped thousands of students and community members adopt new technologies through tech clubs and makerspaces over the past decade.
I’ve spent 25 years in the software development world providing development, client support and technology innovation for a wide array of industries. I enjoy building robots and programming automation to make everyday life better for those around me.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve been able to weave my passion, skills and project management expertise into my business and provide the support to grow a robust team that believes in our company vision.
Where did the idea for SMRT1 come from?
SMRT1 is a technology company that was created to help dispense electronic items to kids at makerspaces. Once we built the first proof of concept, we were able to make the technology accessible to any other retail applications.
While we spent the first two years building the raw technology prototypes, the second two years were in lockstep addressing the industry needs and building the relationships with multiple stakeholders to ensure we were building a meaningful product that could be easily adopted.
SMRT1’s goal is to modernize the outdated $23 billion vending machine industry. How do you plan to do it?
We can communicate with vending machines, computers, touchscreen and many different IOT (Internet of Things) peripherals that provide a much more engaging experience than traditional vending machines.
Since it’s a bolt-on solution, both new and existing hardware can be used with modern software, which benefits retailers in multiple ways, by focusing on the retail and customer needs.
How come no one has done this before?
Touchscreen vending machines are not a new idea, but because the technology was being provided by the existing industry brands, there was very little incentive to build out the user experience.
Big vending brands want to build a mass-produced, cookie-cutter hardware, which is great, but since the only customers are the snack and soda companies, there wasn’t enough return on investment with the low margin products to push the technology forward. The creation of these new technologies will enhance the retail industry for self-service and automated retail.
What do you see as the main barriers to your success?
Adoption of the technology prior to COVID was an uphill battle. SMRT1 has taken many of our best features and highlighted how we can solve the retail problems in today’s health-focused environments, which are now everywhere.
Contactless purchases, electronic payments and retail social distancing practices highlight some of our best features. We believe that we can provide an efficient, economical and safe retail alternative.
We in turn have built our platform so that it can scale to millions of locations quickly with our distribution partners and democratize the antiquated vending industry, opening many new opportunities for retailers to adopt new technologies for everyday retail needs.
Facial recognition software is used by some vending machines to remember user preferences, or even to suggest a drink based on the mood you’re in! What other ways do you see this industry developing in the next five years?
We pride ourselves on leading the pack. There are many opportunities to weave machine vision, artificial intelligence, edge processing and big data into the retail journey. By providing accessibility options, you can use personal devices, such as cellphones to bridge the gap to finding, interacting and dispensing products seamlessly with our product. In addition, we remove the technology hurdles normally faced by retailers by providing a Software as a Service model.
How will SMRT1 leverage these developments?
SMRT1’s small but extremely talented development team has already broken ground on new technologies that will leverage 5G and mesh networks, providing distributed retail opportunities to place retail services in new remote locations. Building a platform to connect the existing automated retail technologies which supports the existing hardware, along with the new modern web technologies, is key to our success.
Covid-19 has impacted everyone on the planet, and in a number of different ways. Do you see this disruption as a threat or as an opportunity?
The global pandemic is the perfect catalyst for this technology shift. With social distancing rules and concerns for both employee and customer safety, our technologies will provide the services needed now and transform retail into the future.
Have you tried to raise money before running a campaign on FrontFundr? How did it go?
This is our first FrontFundr campaign, but we were already raising our seed investment prior to that. Without being able to travel and get in front of investors, we embraced the online platform to bridge the gap and bring new investors normally not available to support our company - in other words everyday Canadians!
What appealed to you about equity crowdfunding?
Investment is in a crazy state with today’s “new normal”. When your RRSP is nearly flat or your investment portfolio, returns are virtually non-existent, so many investors are seeking out new opportunities with potential. Connecting with local, provincial and national everyday investors is very exciting and we wanted to share our opportunity with more than just Angel or Venture Capital groups. This is a chance for anyone to be a part of the future of automated retail.
What’s most surprised you about this process so far?
FrontFundr has provided us more than just equity crowdfunding. The platform helped us compile the next stages of business documentation needed to take our company to the next level. The platform has also been a great PR tool that has provided connections to a global audience which included new customers that didn’t know about our product and services.
What do you like to do when you’re not at work?
My passions are technology and motorcycles. When I’m not riding my Harley or tinkering with a robot, I’m doing art projects and playing with my two daughters who are 5 and 7 years old. Spending time in our beautiful city of Nelson, BC is like camping every day, except with fibre internet to the door and no outhouses. Living here is a dream come true, even better that I can run a technology company that has global reach from a rural location.
What would you say to someone who is considering investing in SMRT1?
We have been building our momentum for nearly 4 years. We’ve developed and proven our prototypes, secured technology, production and distribution partners - now we are signing the contracts to bring revenue through the door.
With crowdfunding support, we can ramp up our sales, marketing and internal resources needed to support the clients that are signing on across North America. Whether it is a small investment or a larger equity stake we’re working hard to bring returns for all our investors in the near future, and we’re excited to welcome everyday Canadians to join us on this journey. FrontFundr investors are the extended friends and family we would like to invite to join us and we are excited to share this opportunity with them!
SMRT1’s campaign is now live on FrontFundr. Head over to their campaign page for more information on how you can get involved!