Businesses in transition

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Neck Tronics founder Bill Smith (far left) and his team of engineers and technicians: Lee Babin, Jonathan Kaye, Hady Sarhan and Dyn&#8217;se Burton.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Tilia Builders owners Michael Mandale and Liam Finney on a job site at the Skipper Hill residential development in Chester Basin.</p>

Neck Tronics flexes its muscle

The Bridgewater-based start-up Neck Tronics Inc. is strengthening its position as the developer of a groundbreaking device for the assessment and treatment of neck injuries.

Since it was established two years ago by Bridgewater chiropractor Bill Smith and engineer Peter Haase, Neck Tronics has received more than $250,000 in government funding and is on track to raise a further $550,000 in equity. The company, which Smith now solely owns, set up shop in offices on King Street in January and has hired four full-time engineers.

It launched its website last week and expects to take on more staff in the coming months.

After Smith and Haase presented the concept to the National Research Council (NRC) two years ago, the government institution gave the pair $50,000 to help offset engineering costs related to development.

"Now they're really impressed with what we're doing," said Smith, noting that on February 24 the NRC awarded the company a further $202,000. In order to access those funds Neck Tronics is required to contribute funds to the device's development as well.

According to Smith, the company needs about $1.2 million to get its product to commercialization. So it's selling 55 shares at $10,000. "And we're doing pretty good so far," said Smith.

"It was a long haul to get us to this January, but now the company is in a much better position," he said.

The Neck Tronics' engineering team is fine-tuning its prototype, the design for which Smith has patented virtually around the world. Working with independent Nova Scotia Community College researchers, the team will be testing the unit for safety and functionality to ensure it complies with guidelines. The company expects to go into commercial production in the middle of next year.

The intention is to manufacture the product in Bridgewater, but the company is looking at distribution agents to help with international markets.

"At this point it's a bit of an arduous undertaking to take a small company like this and invest $25 million to get into multiple markets, especially in the U.S. and Europe. If we can partner with a larger firm for the marketing and distribution, but we still maintain the production here, it's the best of both worlds," said Smith.

Looking to the future, Smith would like to see the operation develop as an "intellectual hub."

"We have a gifted group of individuals sitting at this table here. So we're going to try to utilize that to maybe even build more technology. Our patent covers us not only for the neck but for every body part."

Build it and they'll come

Liam Finney and Michael Mandale have come a long way since they took the leap less than two years ago, when they approached Municipality of Lunenburg council armed with little more than a Power Point presentation and business cards.

Last week, the pair of twenty-something construction workers and their company, Tilia Builders, walked away with the New Business award at the Lunenburg Queens Business Excellence Awards.

According to Finney, they've laid the foundation for a solid reputation in the local construction industry, as well as doubled their revenue and assets.

And the company is paving the way for other young workers to make a go of it in the county.

Finney says neither he nor Mandale self-nominated the company for the award, which many do, and he's not sure who put Tilia's name forward.

"But I think the strength of our reputation and our brand has really grown since the beginning," said Finney. "We're a recognizable name. We've now got two trucks with the company information on, and from what we've heard anecdotally people seem to see us around a lot and recognize the brand."

Tilia is currently working as sub-contractors, handling all the carpentry work for Barry Taylor's CrossRidge Construction, on a high-end home at the Skipper Hill development site in Chester Basin.

"So we framed the house, installed all the windows and doors, and we'll be doing all the interior trim, floors and the siding and all of that."

Finney says the company expects to be doing more work with CrossRidge in the future.

"We will have at least two more fairly sizable projects this year, as it stands now."

Last year at peak season, the company employed seven people full time and it is looking to add another two to that this year.

Whenever possible, Tilia gravitates toward local, young talent.

"Anybody we've brought in sort of fits the image that we were getting at in the sense that they are young people that are coming with an eye to settle and start careers," said Finney. Tilia has also been looking at the Nova Scotia Community College as a source of workers.

"I've already gotten one new employee who will be graduating from the community college within the last month and he'll be starting with us full time in May. And I'm awaiting right now on some resume packages from some other people in the program."

While Finney says he and Mandale are "not ageist," they're pleased that they can provide an opportunity for graduates in the county to get their foot in the door of a local industry.

"Sort of use our example to help train them up, and give them the opportunity to stick around on the strength of their own skills," he said.

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