Brad Pommen is the president of SMRT1, a local technology company building hardware and software that upgrades traditional vending machines and kiosks into an interactive automated retail platform.
SMRT1 is a client in KAST’s Venture Acceleration Program (VAP), which helps early-stage entrepreneurs grow their companies. Led by experienced mentors, this ongoing 6-12 month program offers a disciplined approach to growing and taking your business to market.
Brad and his team are currently looking to raise their $1 million Seed Round B at www.frontfundr.com/smrt1. BC investors are eligible for 30% tax credit. Check it out and support this amazing local company.
As you can see, we’re pretty big fans of Brad Pommen here at KAST as he’s done so much for the local and broader tech community. We sat down with this innovative and passionate entrepreneur and asked him a few questions.
Tell me about your business!
SMRT1 is a technology company that builds hardware and software that upgrades traditional vending machines and kiosks into an interactive automated retail platform. We can communicate with vending machines, computers, and many different peripherals that provide a much more engaging experience than traditional vending machines. Since it’s a bolt-on solution, both new and existing hardware can be used with modern software, which benefits retailers in multiple ways.
How did the idea for your business come about?
SMRT1 is a technology company that was created to help dispense electronic items to kids at makerspaces. Once we built the first proof of concept, we were able to make the technology accessible to any other retail application.
What has the journey been like so far for your business?
The first prototype was created at the Nelson Tech Club with an Arduino, and then the business was formed while I was lab director at MIDAS Lab [now Selkirk Technology Access Centre]. This allowed me to grow my business quickly with guidance from KAST and the VAP program very early on. It’s been an exciting journey every step of the way.
Tell me about your biggest challenge and your biggest win!
Our biggest challenge has been to tap into the investor stream, such as Silicon Valley, but for Canada. We’ve had good responses from Angel forums and conversations with private investors. But to scale our business we need to find additional partners from Canada. Our biggest win has been with our employees. Our team is rock solid and is all the areas I needed the most energy and help with. Their passion and dedication to the company mission and vision are unwavering.
What is your funniest fail in business?
I was doing a demo in Vancouver and realized that when I pulled up, there was no way to get my vending machine on wheels through the door, and there was no place to plug it in. I dug out a 100-foot extension cord, got everything ready so that I could plug it in down the street last minute when the client arrived to plug into a random electrical outlet. The client thought it was a pretty creative solution and the demo went perfect. Next time I’ll invest in a small portable generator to keep ready for remote sales trips across the country.
What sets you apart?
We are a technology company, with a physical hardware and software component. Our production and distribution partners are capable of accelerating our growth quickly. We in turn have built our platform so that it can scale to millions of locations quickly and democratize the antiquated vending industry, opening many new opportunities for retailers to adopt new technologies.
What brought you to the Venture Acceleration Program?
I was working with Don Freschi from FENIX in the same building as MIDAS Lab. I was also exposed to many VAP clients from Jason Taylor at Selkirk College, so it was a natural progression to find a fit with the program and the people most active in that area. Many of the services were exactly what we needed at the right time, we were able to use the tools outside of most companies’ reach.
How has VAP helped you in your business?
Both myself and two executives of my team have been a part of the program for several years. The VAP mentors were always very direct and approachable. They gave honest feedback and helped solve problems through their peers and connections to other programs. The lessons learned during early VAP sessions helped us prepare for non-dilutive funding, such as IRAP grants and coop students to further our product research and development (R&D).
What is your favorite part about being in the VAP program?
It’s a community of technology professionals, business leaders, and regional innovators which highlights the need for innovation and entrepreneurship. I’ve met thousands of contacts through the many events in the last decade and my company is a perfect example of “grown in the Kootenays”.
What is something no one would ever guess about you?
My favorite music is 1980s dance music and I have a weakness for slushie alcoholic beverages with little umbrellas. Life is too short to miss out on fun things like that, even when you dress like a biker and know how to code.