This Award-Winning New Brunswick Company Has the Right Formula for SuccessOpportunitiesNB chats with LuminUltra CEO Pat Whalen Jenny Keleher April 7, 2016
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Innovation, award-winning, and results are three themes that come to mind when you hear about New Brunswick-based LuminUltra Technologies, and with good reason. LuminUltra is changing the way we think and deal with the safe treatment and delivery of our drinking water.
We wanted to analyze this interesting company even further and were fortunate to meet with Pat Whalen, President and CEO. Despite his busy schedule, he took the time to provide us with some terrific insights.
ONB: Can you tell us a bit about LuminUltra and your own expertise?
Whalen: LuminUltra is in the business of revolutionizing the way the water sector thinks about microbiological control. We do this by providing water system operators—including those responsible for the safe treatment and delivery of drinking water, the treatment of wastewater, and sectors such as oil & gas—with a test that provides on-the-spot results in five minutes, whereas the traditional‘state of the art’ tests must be done in the laboratory, and require days to provide results.
The product, called an ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) testing kit, provides the hard facts and is complimented by our expert services and software solutions that help people get the most out of their data and answer a question that keeps them up at night: “Are we in control, or not”?
My background is in chemical engineering. I graduated from UNB and have been a registered professional engineer in New Brunswick since 2006. About 10 years before graduating I got involved with the development of the above-mentioned test kit with my father (also a chem engineer) and a microbiologist colleague of his. I worked on the development while getting my degree, and we launched the company shortly after I graduated. While the first five years were a tough slog trying to build the required market interest, since 2008 we have been growing by 40% per year on average. This has led to accolades such as being on the Progress Magazine fastest-growing company listing since 2008, as well as a Top 101 Company in Atlantic Canada. In addition, we have won a number of provincial awards centered on Innovation, Bioscience Excellence, and Export Achievement.
ONB: You won a KIRA Award for Export –Products and/or Service in 2014. Can you tell us about that? What was it like to be recognized by your peers?
Whalen: We have been honoured with a number of awards over the years, including Export Achievement (4), INNOV8 (1), local Chamber recognition, as well as those noted accolades from Progress Magazine. Winning the KIRA Award that year was very flattering; it was great to be recognized by our innovative peers as we spearhead new pillars in New Brunswick’s economy. All of this success would not have been possible without our hard-working and creative staff, our network of dedicated sales partners, and the loyalty of our growing, global customer base.
ONB: New Brunswick has a great entrepreneurial ecosystem with some great startups, and many mature companies with innovative solutions like LuminUltra. What is it about New Brunswick that fosters this kind of enthusiasm and innovation?
Whalen: I think that the main reason for the recent explosive growth in innovative entrepreneurship here is born out of necessity. Whereas we have an existing strong export-driven economy, much of the mature economy is based on older industries that rely on natural resources. Therefore, people have to look to innovation in order to sustain economic growth and maintain the evolution of our quality of life. Of course, this wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t have a strong education system and a curious, creative culture that produces people capable of that innovation, and we have that in spades. This is why we seem to see a new startup in sectors like information technology and biosciencespopping up every week around here.
ONB: Tell us about LuminUltra’s people and your commitment to customer service?
Whalen: LuminUltra would have never achieved its success nor would it be able to continue to grow without its people. We have never had to look beyond the confines of New Brunswick to find the people we need to maintain our position as a global leader in our field. We employ engineers, scientists, computer scientists, business majors, technologists, and we all share in a culture in which our customers are the most important part of our business. We base all of our research and product enhancements on what our customers want, and we recognize that our brand isn’t a reflection of what we want to convey, it is based on what our customers perceive us to be. We work hard to make sure that once you become a customer, you are a customer for life. This takes a lot of work, but it is worth it.
ONB: Tell us about LuminUltra’s R&D and what’s important to you in that regard?
Whalen: Research and development has been and always will be central to our business. We re-invest nominally 20% of our annual sales back into R&D so that we can improve our products and develop new solutions that keep us ahead of any potential competition. We are not so naïve to think that we have a solution that cannot be matched by others in a global market. We operate under the principle that if you truly have a great idea, you can be certain that someone will try to copy it and take some of your market share. That’s why we are always forging ahead, trying to find the ‘next big thing’.
Sometimes, the best ideas are small tweaks that enhance an existing product. In short, we operate under the philosophy that if you aren’t growing, you’re falling behind — we always want to be the former.
ONB: Are you originally from New Brunswick?
Whalen: Yes. I was born, raised, and educated in Fredericton.
ONB: What keeps you here?
Whalen: As a life-long New Brunswicker that has the luxury of doing quite a bit of travel around the world, I am lucky to have seen what New Brunswick has to offer from both perspectives. When I am in big cities and foreign countries, I can definitely see the quality of life that we have here from a multitude of perspectives — security, stability, and peacefulness. The high quality of life we are able to experience here for a relatively low cost is extremely appealing to many people outside our province.
ONB: Your company is being recognized more and more. How does that help with your sales and partner relations globally?
Whalen: The awards and accolades with which we have been honoured over the past six years certainly provide us with credibility and support our message of innovation amongst our sales partners, white-label customers and general customer base. More than anything, however, these accolades help spread the word about LuminUltra here in Atlantic Canada, which traditionally has not been a strong market for us. We’ve kind of gone about growing our business in reverse. We started outside of the region, gained traction, and now we want to come home so that we can bring our solutions to a local customer base.