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Why You Should Watch for Nancy Knowlton of SMART Tech and Her New Company, Nureva

Nureva, started by Nancy Knowlton, is a newcomer to the audio conferencing game. But Nancy believes they will soon surpass the competition with the HDL300.

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Why You Should Watch for Nancy Knowlton of SMART Tech and Her New Company, Nureva

Our sister publication, TechDecisions, recently interviewed Nancy Knowlton, Co-Founder and CEO of Nureva Inc., as well as Co-Founder of SMART Technologies Inc. The topic: her new company, Nureva, the interesting way they came to create audio conferencing equipment, and why Nureva’s HDL300 audio conferencing solution stands out from competition.

Nancy Knowlton is considered a titan of the AV industry, particularly in collaboration. Before Nureva, she built SMART Technologies. For those that are unaware, SMART Technologies is a staple in interactive displays, whiteboards, and software. It sold for a pretty penny to Foxconn last year.

With Nureva, she focused on the people developing it. She assembled a team of highly collaborative, highly respected industry veterans without any sort of product in mind. Her idea was that if you put the right people in a room they’ll come up with great technology.

Eventually, this team came up with a unique new audio conferencing device called the HDL300 — made to facilitate what Nureva calls “Active Collaboration.”

Tech Decisions (TD): Tell me about Nureva.

Nancy Knowlton (NK): Well Dave Martin and I started Nureva about three years ago. We had spent about 25 years prior to that building SMART Technologies. We took a bit of a breather from that, came back, and thought about what it was we wanted to do next.

The opportunity arose to rehire and work again with many of the people we had respected and enjoyed working with while at SMART, so we started up Nureva. We really didn’t have a set of product concepts in mind at that particular time. Our idea was that we could assemble a great team of people who had a depth of perspective from prior work experience, and who were very collaborative and easy to work with. We were pretty confident that we would be able to find some product ideas working with that group of people.

About two years ago we really had the core of the team that now is Nureva assembled, and we got down to the task of trying to think about what it was that we were going to tackle. We started first from the thorny problems that still remained after many years of technology in meeting rooms and increasingly found in workspaces. We started to ask, “What remains unsolved?” We didn’t want to come into the market with a collection of “me-too” offerings, rather we wanted products that were differentiated by their ease of use and the fundamental technology – and therefore ones that could create that enjoyable in-use experience.

TD: That’s a very interesting strategy you had right at the beginning, to build the team first and then figure out the HDL300. Could you tell me more about that process?

NK: A bit of our strategy was informed from our experience at SMART. When you’ve got a start-up, in a lot of cases it’s hard to attract those high-impact, experienced people. Dave and I were younger when we started SMART almost 30 years ago now. The people that we were able to attract were very bright, but very young and inexperienced. I would say that, collectively, we all learned together. Which in many ways was a strong positive – if we really understood the journey we were embarking on we probably would have heeded the conventional wisdom that would have repeatedly said to us at that time, that we couldn’t do what we were setting out to do.

With that in mind, we looked and said, OK, we’ve learned a few things, we’ve got some experience – and people had experience working with us, working within the markets in education and business – and the experience of rapid growth with global products. So it was starting from first principals again, based on a prior experience. When we saw the richness of the perspectives and experiences that we could hire with the core of the team from SMART Technologies, but certainly added to by other experienced people with different perspectives, it was just too tantalizing of an opportunity to pass up.

Yes, it is a different way than most companies are started, but we thought it would sit with our mindset that you have to be adaptive to the situation that presents itself and go with what looks like good opportunities.

Specifically, we were looking at addressing some of the corporate opportunities. From running a global business over a long period of time, certainly we had some perspective and experience of what worked and what didn’t work. To speak a little about the audio experience, I can tell you that no matter what we’ve spent on audio solutions to go into our meeting rooms, we’ve always had different challenges. Challenges with low talkers, people that momentarily turn their head away from a table speakerphone or audio conferencing system.

Nancy Knowlton’s new team at Nureva have engineered a new audio conferencing solution called the HDL300.

Because we’ve always viewed collaboration in a meeting room as involving large displays – first interactive whiteboards with SMART Technologies and now whole interactive walls – people were going to be moving around the room. The problem we saw in front of us was, how can we take that frustrating, distracting process of having to engage with people in an audio conference, and turn that into something where the technology disappears? Where it just works, picks up audio, and delivers it to the remote parties, and makes it a pleasurable experience.

TD: So how did the idea first come about and what was the process of creating an audio conferencing solution like the HDL300?

NK: It does tie into what I said about our fundamental belief that collaboration has a heavy element of creation. Therefore, we’ve created large, interactive wall systems to support teams and groups that need to create and contribute to the active creation sessions. When we said this is a fundamental for us, we asked how the audio is going to impact the experience that teams with remote members have.

There certainly are systems that are out there, and many of them have ceiling mounted microphones, and we looked at those systems. But those systems are at a price point with significant installation that, when you view the total outfitting of the room, we thought would be somewhat of an inhibitor to the adoption of our product.

Today, I’m speaking in a little breakout room and using a low-end system that’s sitting on the table. I’m sitting down. My mouth is about, let’s say, a foot and a half away from the microphone. Giving that I’m not moving, this is perfectly acceptable. But when we get a team together in room, someone is up at the wall, someone is sitting down, someone is moving away into a corner. Maybe there are other displays, maybe an interactive whiteboard, supplementing our wall systems in the room. We’re now into a much more challenging environment. We understand from our target users that there are budgetary limitations.

Even as they’re working on product lines and concepts that are expected to deliver tens and hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue, they still have budgetary limitations.

We wanted to bring a product that would address these particular challenges in the room as well as come in at an accessible price point to deliver that solution that would enable that highly collaborative work environment. We believe the HDL300 accomplishes that.

Listen to a full interview with Nancy Knowlton on our sister publication, TechDecisions.

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