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SME Nanoleaf scaling upward and onward

July 20, 2018 By: Carissa Consoli

Toronto startup Nanoleaf is changing how people customize living spaces. The company’s innovative, energy-efficient lighting systems are founded on the principle of complete personalization – modular, triangular light panels that can take on various forms and connect to the Internet of Things. The panels are aware of where they are in sequence to each other, allowing users to create moving effects where light travels from one panel to another.

When Nanoleaf was created in 2012, its founders had a simple mission: make green tech a more desirable product. In 2013 the company appeared on Kickstarter and soon became a legal entity. Then, in 2014, Nanoleaf raised its series A and in 2016, landed its first retailer customer, creating the opportunity to break even. “That was the point when we could go from a startup to a scaling up business,” says CEO and Founder, Gimmy Chu.

It’s clear that Nanoleaf to-date is well beyond a startup. The company has 50 employees with offices in Toronto and Shenzhen. It has achieved mass distribution in North America with products being sold in over 800 Best Buy stores and hundreds of Apple Store locations. And they’ve expanded into Europe. Currently, Nanoleaf is working closely with Apple, Google and Amazon to push for voice assistant compatibility with their lights. The company has even worked with influencers (Canadian musician Deadmau5, for example) in cross promotion strategies.

Support from the innovation community

When Nanoleaf set up its office in Toronto, the company met with MaRS advisor, Jon Dogterom, to grow its knowledge in process and infrastructure. As Nanoleaf was a fast-growing company, needs had changed dramatically over time.

“When you scale, you’re looking to evolve into a more corporate enterprise – that requires relationships with peers, governments, banks, etc. Jon has connected us to all of the contacts we need,” Chu explains.

Chu meets regularly with MaRS to discuss direction and strategy. The MaRS talent team has been particularly effective in alleviating Nanoleaf’s feeling of being understaffed.

Hiring for results

Nanoleaf often competes for talent with the United States market, particularly when securing technical employees for research and development.

In 2017, Nanoleaf applied to the Ontario Scale Up Vouchers Program (OSVP) with the goal of hiring a marketing data analyst and a digital producer. Nanoleaf needed to create a repeatable process to run digital advertising and then track that performance as a way to drive new insights and to create efficiencies.

Access to Capital

In a scale up company, access to capital is always top-of-mind. There is much more on the line: as the business grows the space gets bigger. Firms need money to compete with the large, global competitors without diluting other shareholders. For Nanoleaf, cashflow became crucial to fulfill large orders and finance in-store displays.

“The OSVP really helped us,” says Chu. “With the capital, we were able to bring on additional staff and de-risk the hiring process as an employer.”

Direct Results

Since being awarded its OSVP voucher, Nanoleaf has filled its desired positions, with both employees contributing significantly to the company’s growth.

Nanoleaf has increased its channel sales four times over, and because of this, its three largest retail partners are investing in in-store displays to further drive revenues. Currently, Nanoleaf has displays in Best Buy US, Apple Retail Global and Home Depot. From this, they’re predicting an additional increase in sales in Q3 and Q4.

In addition, the company’s data-driven approach to marketing decision-making has improved cost per acquisition. Also, data on purchasing patterns and geographic distribution has helped refine logistics operations and decrease costs.

“We can clearly connect the dots between this voucher and meeting our business objectives,” Chu explains. “We’re very grateful and proud of what we have done.”
Nanoleaf plans to expand its product line and ecommerce operations through strategizing and tailoring their market strategy based on their new findings and processes.