Bionym raises $14 million for heartbeat-sensing wearable to replace passwords, key cards
Alumni developed company through U of T accelerator, entrepreneurship supports
The Engineering alumni behind a wearable device called the “Nymi” – a bracelet-style product that eliminates the need for passwords, PIN codes and more by authenticating your heartbeat – scored $14 million in investment this week from key industry players including Ignition Partners, Relay Ventures, MasterCard and others.
“We’re establishing the Nymi as the de facto platform for persistent, trusted identity, and this round of financing is providing us with the resources needed to bring the platform to market,” said Karl Martin, CEO of Bionym. (Read more about Bionym)
“We’re at the forefront of a revolution in identity-based interactions with devices and services, and our momentum continues to grow with the support of our investors and strategic partners.”
Bionym began as research at the University of Toronto and developed through a number of the University’s startup supports.
One of the U of T experts who helped Bionym grow from early-stage to launch was Kurtis Scissons. He worked with the company to commercialize their research in his role as entrepreneurship manager at the Innovations & Partnerships Office (IPO), and also serves as co-director of the UTEST accelerator for early-stage software companies, a program produced jointly by U of T and MaRS Innovation. Bionym was not a part of UTEST, but Martin has helped the program’s young companies as a speaker and advisor. (Read more about UTEST; Read more about the IPO)
Jesse Rodgers, director of the highly competitive Creative Destruction Lab program at the Rotman School of Management, also worked with Bionym to help the company become massively scalable and gain equity value. (Read more about Creative Destruction Lab)
Brianna Goldberg of U of T News spoke with Scissons and Rodgers about Bionym's success.
What qualities of promise did you see in Bionym in the early days when they worked with you?
Scissons: Obviously they have a very interesting technology but more so it was the great balance of technical skill with business drive within the founding team. Coachability was a key personality trait for Karl and his co-founder, who both listened, respected and appreciated when others took time to provide advisory support.
Rodgers: Bionym is founded on research. The determination and dedication it takes to do that research is a quality that carries with them today.
What’s been the key to their success, from your perspective?
Scissons: A few things. Their technology was both created and proven out by world class researchers at U of T, which gave it credibility. Their timing was also impeccable. Wearable computing is a burgeoning industry and there is a growing interest in it in light of prevalent security issues and data breaches with current state of the art authentication protocols. Their ECG model is a novel approach.
Finally, they had a great team. The founders had the right mix of talent and passion for entrepreneurship. Today the team has continued to grow “organically,” meaning that the roughly 40-person Bionym team continues to find talent primarily from the University of Toronto. They are a great example of entrepreneurs that fully took advantage of the entrepreneurship eco-system here at U of T by engaging with the Innovations & Partnerships Office, the Creative Destruction Lab, Next36 founders and MaRS.
Rodgers: They have been successful at raising capital from great investors and building interest in their product. Those are great first steps towards long term success. They got there with a positive attitude, a desire to learn and be coached, and a vision on how their research can used by everyone.
What does the Bionym example say to the young companies you’re working with at UTEST and Creative Destruction Lab?
Scissons: This is not an overnight success. The technology was developed for years within the U of T Biometrics Security Laboratory. The team came up against challenges in the early commercialization days but overcame them. Their successful pivot is a strong example for current UTEST companies that may struggle. Karl Martin also continues to give back to the U of T entrepreneurship community, lending his time to speak with and advise current UTEST companies.
Rodgers: At the Lab we use their personal growth in understanding research alone isn't enough to build a company with; a product mindset is essential. That change in thinking towards product has helped the company grow to where it is now.
Brianna Goldberg writes about startups and entrepreneurship for U of T News; read more about entrepreneurs at U of T.