Partnerships and Innovation

Office of Partnerships and Innovation
Office of Partnerships and Innovation

GrindSpaceXL-K a fortuitous pit stop for BRAKERS

Story by Ian Coutts

The journey that led Tim Newman to GrindSpaceXL (almost) started with an accident.
Newman was driving along Highway 2 in Belleville one day in February 2010 when he noticed the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle behind him. He immediately pulled into the right lane – at which point a pick-up truck already in that lane decided to pull out around him, narrowly missing the emergency vehicle and his car.

“The emergency driver had an expression of pure fury,” says Newman. He guessed that this had happened to the driver before -- “You don’t get that mad that fast, otherwise.” 

Then he started thinking: how often does it happen? And how to prevent it? Sirens and flashing lights didn’t seem to be enough. Drawing on a career in automotive sales, a background in electronics from a hitch in the air force, and a temperament that seeks new challenges, Newman began working on a device he called B.R.A.K.E.R.S. Standing for Broadcasting to Radios Ahead Keeps Emergency Responders Safe, the name echoed the old CB radio alert, “Breaker, breaker.” The prototype device Newman created would notify a driver by the car radio when an emergency vehicle was near – a high-tech extension of the more traditional warnings that all too often get lost on today’s busy roads. Imagining a time when every car would carry one, Newman set out to sell the auto industry on his invention.

Only to hit a wall. Lucky enough to buttonhole the president of Ford at a conference, Newman says he was “kind enough to offer me insight into why I wouldn’t be successful.” At a cost of $2.50 a unit, which the manufacturers could not pass on to the public, it was simply too expensive. Other auto industry executives gave him the same message: not interested.

For Newman, part of what makes an entrepreneur is, “the willingness to just continuously pound away at the business.” Faced with the industry’s lack of interest in his product, “I basically asked, how can I do it without them?”

“My hardware solution become a software solution.” Newman decided to develop B.R.A.K.E.R.S. as a phone app, one which could be given away to drivers for free. His paying customers would be the emergency vehicle operators. He would sell them the software, and the dedicated hardware if they needed it, to run the B.R.A.K.E.R.S. program. “It would allow them to warn drivers in a number of situations – if they are on a call or by the side of the road, for example.” Drivers who have the app would get a warning via their phone’s speaker.

Since what he calls “his pivot” two years ago, Newman has worked carefully to nurture his idea, working with NSERC and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) – even appearing on Dragon’s Den, the CBC program for entrepreneurs. It was through his involvement with OCE that Newman met Michael Mann, CEO of Kingston’s Launch Lab, who told him about the GrindSpaceXL accelerator program offered by Queen’s University at Innovation Park. “I had heard about it, but thought I’d have to attend fulltime. Michael explained it was just one day a week for three months,” he says. Newman started GrindSpaceXL in fall 2015.

“I have to say that I really enjoyed it. I have been in sales a long time, but I wasn’t really confident as a business person. To have someone teach some of the proper aspects of business was really useful. And even though I am in sales, there was a lot in there about the sales process I wasn’t aware of.

“Because of that, I started rethinking the B.R.A.K.E.R.S. name. As clever as the old name was, it confused people,” he says. “When people searched for it in the app store, they would say, ‘Oh this is for first responders.’” Brainstorming with his family while driving to Disney World on vacation, he dreamed up the name MiSyren. (The company name remains Brakers Early Warning Systems Inc.)
GrindSpaceXL helped him refine his pitching skills too, and thanks to that he was selected to participate in the L-Spark boot camp, the Ottawa-based incubator that also focuses on pitching.

“Because of my experience with Grindspace and L-Spark, I now have the confidence to pitch to other accelerators.  I am actually going to be pitching for the title in one of four categories in the Global Automotive and Mobility Innovation Challenge in Detroit in April, and I feel extremely confident in that because of attending GrindSpace.”

MiSyren’s official launch is set of July 2016, but it is already being looked at by a number of police forces and other emergency responders, says Newman. “We are doing a pilot project with the city of Stratford. The Ontario Provincial Police are very interested in the technology and the price point, too.”

Says Newman, “As a result of my involvement with GrindSpaceXL there are many opportunities coming up that I wouldn’t have been prepared for before, but that I now have the confidence to pursue.”