Waterloo technology creates the next evolution of keyboard and mouse

When you first look at Palette, you might think it’s a DJ mixing board. But look a little closer and you’ll realize it’s a customizable input device used for photo editing and software.

Partnering with several high profile companies like Adobe has turned what began as a 2013 fourth-year design project into a company that has since shipped to more than 40 countries. It’s a game changer for those who interact with the digital world.

Calvin Chu, CEO of Palette, says the traditional dragging of a mouse cursor and keyboard shortcuts can only take you so far.

“We looked at different types of interfaces in the world and saw that a lot of them had similar components,” says Chu. “We realized these tools were made for specific jobs.”

This caused him to ask a critical question – “What if we could make tools that are tailored for your work instead of a one size fits all keyboard and mouse?”

Palette’s physical sliders, dials and buttons that adjust brightness and control is making that possible. It doesn’t hurt that its magnetic sides allow it to be rearranged like Lego pieces.

A $60,000 AC JumpStart – University of Waterloo award is helping Chu and his team expand Palette.

Funded by FedDev Ontario and the University of Waterloo, AC JumpStart is delivered through the Accelerator Centre and provides early stage technology startups with the seed capital, mentorship, and market-readiness tools needed to build a business in today’s knowledge economy.

Joseph Qi (left, Palette’s hardware engineer) and Calvin Chu (right, CEO) at the Palette factory in China.

Joseph Qi (left, Palette’s hardware engineer) and Calvin Chu (right, CEO of Palette) at the Palette factory in China.

“Coming from a technical background, it can be difficult understanding the finance and sales side of things,” says Chu. “The mentors and their experience have been great for us.”

So far, the majority of business comes from the United States and Europe. Almost no one guesses where Palette actually comes from.

“Our customers – including our Canadian ones – always assume we’re in Silicon Valley,” says Chu.

AC JumpStart’s mentorship is helping Chu strategize Palette’s expansion into distribution and retail internationally. The most popular Palette kit across the globe so far is their Expert Kit.

Chu credits its success to balancing between the Starter Kit’s lower cost and the Professional Kit’s advantages. There’s also the option to customize your own kit from scratch or add custom pieces to any existing kit. No matter what customers choose, Chu says they all serve the same purpose.

“There’s a better way than dragging your mouse and using shortcuts, and we’re taking the steps to provide that for people,” says Chu. “We’re making people’s jobs easier.”