Calgary tech startups hit sweet spot with consumers

In the highly competitive consumer marketplace where big-box stores are king and “lowest price guarantees” require mass manufacturing, it is hard to believe that a small technology company could be successful. But there is still room for smaller innovators to come out with must-have products for both niche and mass markets. In fact, sometimes it takes the out-of-the-box innovation of a smaller company to satisfy the craving for big-box appetites.

Such is the case with Psyko Audio Labs, a Calgary technology startup and the innovator of the Psyko Killer Gaming Headsets. The breakthrough headsets, promoted as the unfair advantage for high-performance gamers, won the 2009 CES Innovations Design and Engineering Award, which recognizes the most innovative consumer electronics (CE) products in the industry’s hottest product categories.

The advantage of the Killer Gaming Headsets is that they provide gamers with the realistic and immersive gaming experience they crave. The headsets deliver precision directional audio that gives a gamer instant positional awareness to know exactly where their enemies are coming from. The sound is not just coming from behind them somewhere, the sound provides more precise location information, increasing reaction times, improving kill ratios and providing a more intense gaming experience. The speakers deliver a natural 5.1 surround sound without digital signal processing (DSP), eliminating latency.

In addition to the experience, the headphones do not require the difficult set up required with room systems where getting speakers in precise locations for optimal performance can be difficult. As soon as the user puts the headset on, the speakers are in the right position.

As we head into what may be the biggest economic downturn in recent history, Psyko Audio Labs are sitting in a consumer sweet spot. The Financial Times reported that $1.6 billion in gaming accessories were sold in the US by the end of November 2007, a 59-per-cent increase over 2006. Forecasts by Business Week magazine place expectations high for continued spending on gaming products for the 2008 Christmas season.

Last year, games that incorporate accessories as part of play exploded onto the gaming scene, making games a more sought-after leisure pastime for a wider consumer demographic. In 2007, Guitar Hero by Activision and rival Rock Band by EA were examples of how accessories were becoming integral to the gaming industry. Further, the popularity of Nintendo Wii with new games for the 2008 season is another example of the growing importance of interactivity to the casual gaming consumer market. And as trends in gaming continue to give users the power to customize, accessories like the Killer Gaming Headsets are sure to be an essential part of the gaming experience.

While the gaming industry has traditionally been a place where innovative entrepreneurs could get a foothold into the market, other areas of the electronic industry are also up for grabs. Despite the fact that Blackline GPS does not have the marketing resources of the larger companies like Garmin Ltd., they are getting good traction with their mobile tracking devices in big-box stores in Canada.

Blackline GPS is a Calgary company that engineers products that push GPS to its limits. They now have a line of GPS consumer devices, including GPS Snitch, which allows consumers to track their vehicles and other belongings with a portable device that combines GPS and wireless technology. Easy to use and requiring no installation, GPS Snitch not only allows consumers to locate their vehicles from their web browser in real time, it alerts them when their vehicle is stolen. Families can also find peace of mind by being able to locate loved ones on the road when a phone call isn’t possible. GPS Snitch is also growing in popularity with small business owners that need to track the proximity of delivery and repair vehicles.

Blackline has hit several sweet spots in the consumer market for GPS technology. While the average pricing for GPS devices is in the $400 to $500 range, Blackline’s products are priced attractively for the average big-box consumer at under $300. Further, their products are bringing GPS into an emerging arena with practical security applications for consumers. This includes their newest models, launching soon, that use a professional security monitoring service for enhanced recovery, all at affordable retail prices.

In an era where mass marketing too often dictates the success of products and the direction that technology takes in consumer markets, it is refreshing to see small innovators coming out with new product lines that hit home runs with consumers.