by Quinn Huynh
Every year at Techno, alumni come to share their experience in starting a business. This year, Arjun Mali, co-founder of iMerciv, was here to share with us their story and the journey of developing the BuzzClip.
The 4-year-old company has come a long way since Techno2014. Looking back, Bin and Arjun could not have foreseen the journey they have taken together. The first time Bin Liu walked into the Impact Centre it was to pitch an idea for a smart pack to help smokers control their smoking habit. And while Arjun had always wanted to create his own business, his plan was to work for several years to get experience before going out on his own. Four years later, they are changing the lives of people with vision loss across the globe with their simple navigating device.
And it all started with a simple idea.
It was the summer of 2014. Both Bin and Arjun were recent graduates, Bin with a Civil Engineering degree from University of Toronto and Arjun with an Economics degree from McMaster University.
When Bin’s father was diagnosed with inoperable glaucoma, he began researching the products and services available to those experiencing vision loss that would help his father maintain his independence and quality of life.
As Bin dove deeper into the vision loss space, he discussed his ideas for an assistive device with Arjun, a long-time friend with whom he shares common interests in poker, international business, and geopolitics. “It was early on that we established that, if you are looking to start a business, give me a call,” said Arjun. “That’s the way we left it, and then Bin called me.”
Arjun, whose family has been supporting an orphanage for the blind in India for decades, resonates strongly with the issues facing those experiencing vision loss. Seeing an opportunity to make an impact on the lives of the 140 students at the school, and many more around the world, he signed on to Bin’s team.
Through Bin, they connected to the Impact Centre and participated in Techno 2014 to develop their idea. Many teams come to Techno to identify the best market opportunity for their technology. But with Bin Liu and Arjun Mali, they already knew the market they wanted to impact, those experiencing vision loss. What they needed was a specific need and a technology to address that need.
As with any startups, it was not a straight path from an idea to viable product. Their first idea was a more comprehensive solution to avoiding obstacles. The “aha” moment came when, during a focus group with blind adults, one of the participants said that “if you could have one device that addresses things above the head for us, it’ll be awesome.”
“That’s when we knew exactly what to build. Right after that meeting is when we decided to start the business,” shared Arjun. They decided on a simple device to address head-level obstacles and iMerciv was incorporated that August.
“The first couple of months was a very tough period. You’re officially incorporated, but you don’t have anything yet. That time we had nothing but a plan, and a good network of people that supported us, even though we had nothing.”
They spent the most part of the first year getting to know the community by making house visits and volunteering with Courage Canada Hockey for the Blind. “That’s how we build our initial list of potential clients.”
iMerciv went through nine iterations of prototypes before finalizing the first BuzzClip model. A year after launch, they developed the second generation BuzzClip based on the feedback from the community. “Basically, our product is constantly changing to meet the market demands and needs.”
Since then, the BuzzClip has been sold across the globe, improving the daily life of partially sighted and blind people. Last year, iMerciv won the $100,000 TELUS pitch competition which helped them to scale up and expand globally.
While they continue to expand the business to global markets, they are also giving back by donating the BuzzClip to communities in developing countries.
When asked what kept them going, Arjun said, “once it starts, you can’t stop. Once you reach out, and talk to all these people, you can’t just turn it off and not respond.”
For students looking to start their own business, Arjun encourages them to get talking. “Communicating and talking to people is where you’re going to get the best information. That’s when you get all the insight that you need to make proper judgements and decisions. The more exposure to people and to different industries you get, the more you learn.”