FREDERICTON – A New Brunswick startup that uses the Microsoft HoloLens to connect experts with technicians in the field is seeing its business inquiries more than triple since the COVID-19 crisis took hold – many from the healthcare sector that’s on the front lines of fighting the virus.

“At first, we were quite scared,” says Yan Simard, CEO of Kognitiv Spark. “It’s probably fair to say that we’re trying to figure out what was going on and what’s going to be the impact on our business.”

Kognitiv Spark’s product, RemoteSpark, uses holographic visualization, collaboration and connectivity tools, powered by the Microsoft HoloLens, to connect subject matter experts with technicians on the ground trying to solve a problem on a work site or make a repair on a piece of equipment.

Kognitv Spark has seen a few deals it was hoping to have signed in the spring put on hold due to COVID-19. But the virus has also led to a huge increase in inbound business inquiries for the company.

“We’re experiencing about three times the normal volume of inbound requests and that’s a direct result of the COVID-19 situation,” says Simard.

“There are lots of requests coming from all over the world and companies are essentially just trying to figure out ways to maintain their operational capacity in a no-travel world. When travel is part of their normal operations, what do they do now to keep running? Our tool, RemoteSpark, is one of those ways to maintain some operational capacity in remote environments.”

Kognitiv Spark’s “bread and butter” customers are in industrial sectors, including defence, aerospace, energy, utilities, manufacturing and engineering. They were already getting inquiries from these industries, but coronavirus left a lot of those companies scrambling for remote work solutions.

“The difference is that there’s a level of urgency, if not desperation, that we just didn’t see before,” says Simard.

“They’re a bit more panicked than before and they want to move fast and they want to make sure they’re making good long-term decisions as well, but there’s that willingness to move faster than before.”

But what the company didn’t expect was an uptick in inquires from a completely different industry — the healthcare sector.

“Healthcare organizations, which are typically not our prime market, are reaching out to us, trying to find ways to deliver within a healthcare environment that has constraints that it didn’t have traditionally,” says Simard.

For example, they need to provide support to healthcare professionals using equipment located in a restricted area in a hospital.

“These are constraints that those organizations didn’t necessarily have to deal with before, so we’re starting to see a big uptick in that kind of situation as well.”

With most hospitals restricting access to certain areas and departments due to COVID-19, they would be able to utilize a product like RemoteSpark to solve problems or fix equipment without putting more people at risk.

“If you need to send somebody there that is not a part of authorized staff, how do you make that happen? One of the ways is that you make sure a HoloLens unit stays within that restricted area while the expert or the resource person you have is outside of it,” says Simard. “Presumably, someone within the restricted area wearing the HoloLens and RemoteSpark is able to do the work with the guidance of the expert being outside of that area.”

Since mixed-reality technology is still very new to most industries, Kognitiv’s Spark’s biggest challenge has been educating its market about the technology and how it can improve business outcomes. With the coronavirus pandemic forcing so many industries to embrace remote work, Simard says it could help companies like Kognitiv Spark even after it ends.

“I think we’ll see remote work being managed differently going forward,” he said. “Organizations may be trying to use technology in a better way so they don’t have to send people on-site as much as they used to. I would not be surprised if we have a trend where there’s less travel than prior to the crisis.”

Now, Kognitv Spark is focused on turning the many new inquiries into customers.

“We’re trying to determine what our year is going to look like. I’m confident that we’re going to end up growing during the crisis as a result of what’s going on,” says Simard.

“At the same time, I just want to see that become reality. How we’re able to translate that big uptick in inbound request volume to actual contracts and work. We’re still at the beginning of that curve I guess, but the signs are looking good so far.”