Nymi inventors and co-founders Karl Martin and Foteini Agrafioti were two-thirds of the way through their program at the Rotman School of Business’ Creative Destruction Lab incubator in Toronto in 2011 when they had a couple epiphanies surrounding what to do with their biometric, heart-recognition technology.
It had already been two years since they had developed it and their initial plan to license the tech to other companies for use in security applications had yet to pique much interest.
“Our first epiphany was that the technology was so new and different that we couldn’t depend on another company to bring it to market,” explains Karl. “And the second thing was when we were looking at the whole space around authentication and identity we realized the gap in the market was not around a better password or better fingerprint technology, the problem is that the tools we are using today – passwords, pins, etc… – aren’t scaling well with the modern world.”
So they took it upon themselves, creating the Nymi band in 2013.
“We quickly shifted to 100% focus on the concept of a wearable authenticator, recruited a hardware lead and raised $1.4 million in financing,” he says. “The sales took off from there.”
Shortly after, they launched a successful partnership with MasterCard enabling contactless payments from the wristband via tap and pay. In mid-2014 Nymi raised $14 million.
“We are very much a startup spawned in Toronto – myself and my co-founder are U of T grads so we consider this company a spin-off of the university and all our talent is local,” he says.
For Karl, it’s a special time in Toronto where awareness is shifting beyond the typical corporate and financial sectors, which formerly dominated Toronto, towards the next generation of startups.
“What I find is that the community support is extremely strong,” he says. “What’s so valuable as a founder is to be part of an ecosystem where you have examples of both successes and failures and if you’re in a smaller city that maybe doesn’t have this structure, you don’t know what that looks like.”
But here, he explains, he can see what the big mistakes are and learn from them.
“Toronto today is this extremely fertile ground,” says Karl. “I’m part of a founder group that meets every couple of months and get’s together to discuss visions – you can’t do that everywhere but in Toronto you have people in every stage of their business and that kind of community is really important to help you make decisions.”
Over the last few years Karl has noticed a shift in the Toronto startup ecosystem from businesses just looking to grow and become self-sustaining to entrepreneurs setting their sights on world domination.
“The level of the overall game has risen because of this kind of culture shift. We’re in the midst of it but it’s definitely happening,” he says. “There’s an aura that you can go big here and this is the place to grow your dreams.”
It’s an inclusive community, one the Nymi co-founder is proud to call his own.
“By coming here you don’t have to have grown up here, just show up, keep your eyes and ears open and you’ll find ways to build your network,” he says. “We’re at a time and a place in Toronto where the opportunities are here – you just have to reach out and grab them.”