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Nancy Knowlton & David Martin

Location: Calgary, AB

Award: Innovation Award

Category: Communications

Year: 2002


Through their company SMART Technologies, Inc., developed the first interactive whiteboard system to provide touch control of computer applications, annotation over top of standard Windows applications and the ability to save these notes. Read the News Release and Media Backgrounder for additional information

News Release

Interactive Technology Enables Collaborative Work, Learning;

Pioneering Calgary firm wins prestigious Manning Innovation Award

Calgary, AB - SMART Technologies Inc. revolutionized the concept of distance collaboration and interactive learning with the world's first interactive whiteboard, enabling people to work and learn in a "shared space." Now the co-founders and principal officers of SMART, David Martin and Nancy Knowlton, have won a prestigious $10,000 Manning Innovation Award.

The husband and wife team started their Calgary-based company in 1987, based on Martin's vision of an interactive whiteboard system. He described the innovative system, which fused the best from television, computers and the Internet, in detail during a 16,000-kilometre road trip the couple took.

"The idea itself was totally novel in the world," says Knowlton, who has an MBA in marketing and finance and is a former Chartered Accountant. "Out of that novelty came the opportunity."

Martin, who has a degree in applied mathematics, says: "We invented a product category, and invented the products for that category, and found our way through a market education phase to get people interested in the product in each of the vertical markets. And we continue to innovate."

Martin and Knowlton have won the $10,000 Manning Innovation Award sponsored by The Westaim Corporation. Since 1982, the annual Manning Awards program has encouraged and recognized leading Canadian innovators with more than $2.9 million in prize money. This year's four winners will share a total of $145,000.

SMART's interactive whiteboard was the first to provide touch control of computer applications, annotation over top of standard Windows applications and the ability to save these notes. The SMART Board™ interactive whiteboard introduced the world to interactive technology in classrooms, group meetings and presentations.

A "who's who" of SMART customers includes Procter & Gamble, Ford Motor Company, M.I.T., University of Western Ontario, Prudential Insurance, NASA, Bell Canada and Intel Corporation.

"We found that SMART Technologies' presentation products have had a definite impact on the way learning occurs in our classrooms," says Brent Hay, manager of technology and innovation at Master's Academy & College in Calgary. "Not only are the students more engaged, but teachers are incorporating more multimedia, research and interaction into the lessons ever day."

Along with its patented interactive whiteboards, SMART Technologies' award-winning collaborative products now include mobile multimedia cabinets, whiteboard cameras and meeting productivity software. SMART installations range from a White House Situation Room to the Los Angeles Lakers' locker room to kindergarten-to-post-secondary classrooms around the world.

SMART's revenues have grown by at least 43 per cent annually during the last five years, and the company projects sales of about $100 million for fiscal year 2002. More than 400 employees now work in Calgary, Stittsville, Washington, D.C., New York, the Los Angeles area, Bonn and Tokyo.

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation will announce all four of this year's award recipients, including the $100,000 Manning Principal Award, throughout September prior to the annual awards gala Oct. 4 in Ottawa.

For more information about the award-winning SMART Technologies products, contact Michelle Maingat, Public Relations Specialist, at 403-802-2595 or e-mail: MichelleMaingat@smarttech.com

For more information about the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation, contact Donald Park, Executive Director, at (403)-645-8288 or e-mail: Don.Park@encana.com

Media Backgrounder

$10,000 Manning Innovation Award Sponsored by The Westaim Corporation David Martin and Nancy Knowlton, SMART Technologies Inc.

On a 16,000-kilometre car trip, David Martin and Nancy Knowlton started talking about how to fuse the best of television, computers and the Internet into a collaborative, "shared space."

Martin had been mulling over the idea for a couple of months, ever since ITT Corporation had offered the couple an opportunity to buy a liquid crystal display development and manufacturing operation. As they drove from Calgary to ITT's headquarters in New York, Martin, who has a degree in applied mathematics, began describing in detail his vision of how the LCD products might be used.

"We weren't looking at what other people were doing and trying to copy or improve on it," recalls Knowlton, who has an MBA in marketing and finance and is a former Chartered Accountant. "We were looking for something radically different . . . a brand-new idea that didn't exist anywhere."

Martin's idea included a large whiteboard on which people could write. Whiteboards like this were already in use. But he envisioned a whiteboard that would also function as a large display screen. It would be connected to a computer running integrated programs that could be projected onto the whiteboard. And the people using the system would be able to control the entire operation from the interactive whiteboard itself, which would function as a computer monitor and mouse.

Moreover, users of this interactive system would be able to link with others via a communications link. They could collaborate, in real time, with other people learning and working in this electronically created shared space - whether it was in the same room or in different places across the world.

As Martin and Knowlton motored along the road in 1986, they realized that people were using computers to generate more and more information - from text to spreadsheets to slides to computer-assisted diagrams. "That was an idea that once we caught hold of it, we couldn't let go of it," Martin says. "It was compelling. It made sense to us."

By the end of the car ride, the husband and wife team had conceived the SMART Board.™

In 1987, Martin and Knowlton founded their own company, SMART Technologies Inc., to develop their system and bring it to market. They faced considerable technical challenges.

The product had to integrate a touch technology that would enable a person to use his or her finger as a computer mouse, then pick up a stylus and write notes, without having to pause and reconfigure the board in any way. Also, because the board would be used to control computer applications, its resolution had to be accurate enough for the user to work with complex interfaces.

Also crucial was for the SMART Board to be very simple to use, especially since it was designed initially for the educational market, for use by both adults and children. "Unless a product is 'walk-up-and-use' friendly . . . then users are going to reject that product," Martin notes.

SMART Technologies overcame every technical hurdle, culminating in six patents on the technology embodied in the SMART Board. And in 1991, the company shipped the world's first interactive whiteboard.

But at first, the world's reaction was merely: 'Huh?'

The SMART Board was such a new concept, Knowlton says, "that so often, people would say to us, 'It's a what?' and 'Why would I want it?'" She and Martin spent many a long hour educating the marketplace and explaining to potential customers what their unique product could do.

"We got rejected a lot in the early days," says Knowlton. The 'Nos' came from everyone: skeptical investors, prospective customers, potential dealers and distributors, and even possible employees who preferred in those days to work at a fast-growing telecom firm named Nortel.

SMART Technologies was barely afloat financially in 1992 when the firm got an unexpected call from giant Intel Corporation, which saw the company's software potential and wanted to invest in it.

Along with the financial boost, Intel's encouragement gave the couple confidence. "It reinforced for us that we were on the right track, and had been on the right track for a while," Martin says.

Building on its SMART Board, the company went on to develop its award-winning SMART Notebook™ software. It creates a comprehensive record of materials and ideas discussed during meetings, presentations and lessons. Notes written on the whiteboard - including those written over top of applications projected onto the whiteboard's surface - are saved as objects so all notes can be edited and arranged. SMART Recorder software enables users to capture and save synchronized data and audio, so briefings and strategy sessions can be played back or viewed online.

Another product line, SMART Expression,™ consists of multimedia furniture that puts easily accessible and integrated multimedia tools into pre-configured, user-friendly, secure cabinets.

A product introduced in 2001, and improved with higher resolution for 2002, is the SMART Camfire™ whiteboard camera. Using mega-pixel cameras, the system captures, enhances and displays colour images of notes written with dry-erase markers on any whiteboard surface. Images can be printed immediately, or saved to a local area network and retrieved with a standard Web browser.

Since 1996, SMART has introduced 103 products or upgrades. "We're still out there pioneering," says Knowlton, President and Chief Operating Officer. "We're adding lots of new features and functions to our products," including online resource centres for meetings, conferencing and teachers.

The ISO 9001 company sells its products in 65 countries and, within the past two years, has opened offices in Washington, D.C., New York, the Los Angeles area, Bonn, and Tokyo.

SMART Technologies' revenues have grown by at least 43 per cent annually during the last five years, and the company projects sales of about $100 million for fiscal year 2002. SMART will ship its 100,000th interactive whiteboard by year-end, which is "a good milestone" of success, Knowlton says.

Martin, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, says SMART continues to maintain the largest market share by far in interactive whiteboards, on the strength of its products' functionality and ease of use.

"The SMART Board interactive whiteboard is a tool that is very relevant to the way we communicate and work in an office today," says Helma Gansen, President of Gansen Lindsay Design Consultants Inc. in Ottawa, Ont.

SMART's numerous awards include Canada's 50 Best Managed Companies for six years running, Alberta's 30 Fastest Growing Companies for four consecutive years, Canada's Exporter of the Year in 2000 and, honouring Knowlton, Canada's Top 100 Women Business Owners.

Martin, 53, and Knowlton, 48, have also founded the SMARTer Kids Foundation,™ whose programs include Connections, which equips selected Grade 5 and 6 classrooms with leading-edge technology, provides teacher training and promotes collaborative electronic projects.

"We have a lot of people approach us at trade shows and sometimes on the street and tell us that we've made their work and their lives better," Knowlton says. "That's a pretty powerful statement."

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year, Manning Innovation Awards presents $145,000 in prize money distributed among four leading Canadian innovators, as well as $20,000 among eight Canada-Wide Science Fair winners. Since 1982, the Foundation has awarded over $2.9 million to recognize Canadian innovators.

Media contacts (photos available):

Michelle Maingat, Public Relations Specialist

SMART Technologies Inc

Phone: (403)-802-2595

Website: www.smarttech.com

Donald Park, Executive Director

Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

Phone: (403)-645-8288

Website: www.manningawards.ca