A Conversation with SIX Safety Systems from the District Ventures and IBM Innovation Space Cohort I

SIX Safety Systems delivers evidence-based solutions that address the dynamic challenges of reducing worker fit-for-duty risk associated with drugs, alcohol, and fatigue in the workplace.

Check out the conversation below with SIX Safety Systems’ Marketing Director, Emily Overes, to learn more about how they are saving lives by reducing risk in the workplace.

Q: Can you explain what the gap in the market was that prompted the company to start?

A: Our founder, Rich Robillard started SIX Safety Systems in 2007 after just coming from a career in the energy industry, where he worked heavily in risk and safety. From this experience, Rich identified that companies needed someone to go to, a trusted partner, when they had fit-for-duty concerns, especially around substance abuse. At that time, no other company was offering comprehensive fit-for-duty services, which inspired Rich to push the development of our fatigue management product named ‘LUCI’.  

Q: Can you describe the products in layman’s terms?

A: Fit-for-duty means that the employee is ready to work safely and SIX Safety Systems is able to measure that based on an individual’s physical, mental and emotional state. The drug and alcohol products we offer use oral fluids to screen for abuse of these substances – so that is fairly straightforward. ‘LUCI’, our fatigue detection product, is an infra-red sensor that measures your eye movements 30 times a second. ‘LUCI’ then correlates these movements to our scientific algorithm of what people’s eyes do when they’re fatigued. If a match is made within the database an alert will be sent out to the company, with suggestions of actions that a company might elect to take; along the lines of ‘this operator is getting drowsy, time to take a break’. In addition, it has first level for the person who’s actually driving, as a gauge. An audible alert will sound if the operator starts to show symptoms of getting drowsy, bringing their awareness to focus on the situation.

Q: How is your company unique from other fit-for-duty companies?

A: We’re unique in that we offer the whole comprehensive solution, for fit-for-duty. If someone has substance abuse we can help them there, but then we can also take a look at what’s going on as far as their scheduling. Are they setting workers up to fail with fatigue because of the way they’re scheduling? We don’t just implement the technology, we have consultants that would go in and help the companies create a whole program around substance abuse and around fatigue.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge for the company so far?

A: It’s been challenging in the start-up space, especially as a hardware centric company. Just trying to raise capital to manufacture the hardware, to get it into the field. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle – investors want to see commercialization and deployment, but it’s hard to gain those when you don’t have the capital to actually manufacture the hardware. In addition, in order to get good pricing on hardware, you need to make runs of thousands, which is difficult when we don’t have the capital to do that or the sales to support. Plus, in hardware it’s always changing, we don’t want to order a thousand if down the road we find a better module that’s going to improve the product and make it cheaper.

Q: What do you wish you had known before starting?

A: Probably just knowing that it wouldn’t be as easy to raise capital later as it was in the beginning. I think there were a couple of opportunities that kind of fell into the company’s lap, and it wasn’t managed as carefully, thinking that ‘oh we’ll just get the next influx and the next influx.’ But then with the economy it’s been a little bit more challenging.


Q: What has been the best thing that’s happened since launching?

E:  Just the feedback from the few customers that we’ve started commercializing with. That they like it and they want to add more products. We have a couple of multi-global customers in rail, transport as well as mining that are installing product, so that’s really exciting.

Q: What are the company’s short-term and long-term goals?

A: The goals are just to pretty much overtake the competition in the marketplace. We know that they have some weaknesses, and we know that the timing is right for us to place more units than them. So basically, just to grow exponentially as much as we can as well as become the trusted name in fatigue management - I think we can do that in the next year or two. As far as long-term, we want to take the fit-for-duty model, and converge the drug and alcohol as well as the fatigue management side of the house. We want to optically, by means of eye movements, not only know if someone is fatigued but also know how that corresponds to substance abuse.

Q: How would you define success?

A: Success for us would happen when we can see our product out in the world making a difference. We’re already having success, but we want to be able to drive down the highway and see a truck or a bus of some sort and know that our product is in that vehicle. Just to have more visibility, not only in the B2B space but amongst consumers as well. That people would be familiar with our product and know it’s saving lives.

The District Ventures & IBM Canada Innovation Space brings big enterprise and entrepreneurs together to solve Canada’s biggest business challenges. We support Canadian entrepreneurs by giving them the tools they need to succeed in the form of leading edge and disruptive technology, and a supportive and stimulating environment. We connect entrepreneurs to large enterprises with innovation project opportunities or challenges that need to be solved. The District Ventures & IBM Innovation Space is not simply an accelerator – it is platform for a smarter, more efficient and more entrepreneurial business environment in Canada. For more information please visit www.dv-ibm-innovation-space.com. 

If you have any questions please contact Alex Davoli, Community Coordinator for the District Ventures and IBM Innovation Space, at alexandra@districtventures.ca.