Sudbury·Audio

Northern Ontario companies maneuver the 'tricky' business of pitching products during a pandemic

While the economy is generally under the weather with COVID-19, some northern Ontario businesses are trying to pitch new products. 
Ionic Technology Group of Sudbury is marketing a new product during COVID-19 that can scan workers for increased body temperature. (Ionic Technology Group )

When the pandemic hit, the team at Ionic Technology Group in Sudbury got together to see what they could do to keep their clients in business.

"If the customers keep their doors open, we can keep our doors open," says president Andre Dumais.

They thought of a research project they did a few years ago for the World Health Organization during an Ebola outbreak.

Ionic quickly turned it into application working off an industrial cellphone that scans employees as they come into work and determines whose temperature might be running high.

"All we're doing is screening out who should go and get their actual temperature taken," says Dumais. 

In the few weeks since COVID-19 locked down most of North America, Ionic has sold about a half-dozen units and has interest from northern Ontario mining companies, global retail giants and the U.S. Air Force.

Dumais says it's "tricky" to market a new product in the midst of a public health crisis, so he's been clear that once he sells 50 systems and recovers the development costs, the price will drop to the cost of supplying the hardware.

"Our goal in this case is not to make money. I make money building equipment and machines," he says.

"This is just a technology we were able to mobilize very, very quickly to help our customers keep their doors open."

The Pontiac Group says COVID-19 is a good opportunity to show how its drones can deliver goods to remote First Nations and those isolating themselves during the pandemic. (Drone Delivery Canada)

The Pontiac Group is seeing the pandemic as an opportunity to "show off" its delivery drones to remote First Nations in northern Ontario.

The Indigenous-led firm first pitched this idea back in 2010, and has been working to set up a permanent delivery system along the James Bay Coast.

"We're moving just as fast as any other country," says co-founder Jacob Taylor says of drone regulations in Canada.

"Crawl, walk, run, you know: the evolution of it."

With First Nations closing their borders during COVID-19, this could be a chance to speed up that evolution.

Taylor says the northern Ontario communities they worked with in the past have been contacting them during the pandemic to see if food and other supplies can be delivered by drone.

He says they are working closely with First Nations on Manitoulin Island, Sheshegwaning in particular.

Taylor says in making the pitch, he has had some push back from those who think he's trying to capitalize on a crisis. 

"And I totally agree with some of those sentiments, but we're not looking to profit right now. Right now we're looking to prove concept, looking to get it out at a break-even cost to us, maybe even a loss to us right now," he says.

Pontiac Group is currently awaiting approvals from Transport Canada for some of its longer range drones and trying to figure out the financing for shorter range aircraft. 

Taylor says most of the "red tape" around drones involves concerns about flying over populated areas, which is less of a concern in northern Ontario. 

"In the future there will be a railway in the sky and we really want First Nations to be the leaders and be a part of it," he says. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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