Written by Andrew Seale
It was 2010 and Mauricio Meza had just wrapped up his MBA at Ryerson University. He and Jorge Silva, an inclusive technology researcher with a flair for cobbling together devices from disparate hardware, began swapping ideas for an assistive device that gives people with upper-body mobility impairments the ability to fully use smart devices and technology.
They brought the idea – which would eventually become the Tecla Shield, the flagship of Komodo OpenLab – to the freshly minted Digital Media Zone.
“We realized we were too early so we went back to development stage,” says Meza. Instead they found space at OCAD University’s incubator. “It was basically just a room with desks, no (real) systems but we were able to work through there and they were very supportive.”
For a lot of startups hacking their way through the foliage of Toronto’s early ecosystem days, a room with internet access and a chance to cross pollinate with a few like-minded entrepreneurs was all you needed. And it was out of that humble room that Komodo OpenLab made their first connections.
“That was when we first started talking to organizations that were supporting startups (like) Ontario Centres of Excellence,” recalls Meza. “They were the first organization that supported us with funds and that helped us with data testing.”
Through that, the fledgling assisted tech startup was able to build out the Tecla and get it in the hands of users. With prototype in hand, the startup returned to the DMZ (which had started to grow its own footprint) and joined the accelerator. They started going to the different startup events surrounding the city and meeting with early stage tech companies like Thalmic Labs and Nymi that were, in a small way, focused on the same sphere, the same goals.
“It was kind of a small community at the time – people like the 500px founder and Watt Pad would be there… the events were not massive like they are now it was like maybe 20 to 25 people,” says Meza. “And then it just started exploding – I now go to startup events and I don’t know anyone.”
Today, the company is prepping for the latest iteration of the Tecla Shield, which has a global clientele with the U.S. market a major focus for Komodo OpenLab.
“For us the Canadian market is interesting as a testing ground for the U.S.,” he says. “Here we have better support systems for people with disabilities… people can get our device funded by the assisted devices program.”
In the U.S. they have to pay out of pocket. But with sales running through Komodo OpenLab’s website and no duties or taxes on assisted devices in the U.S., Meza says customers from the south often don’t even realize they’re buying from Canada.
“It makes sense for us to continue working here, having access to development talent and resources like the SR&ED credits would otherwise not be available,” he says. “I think Toronto (and) Canada in general has much better support systems to startups then the U.S.”