Vision Science entrepreneur impresses Dragons' Den with postal packaging technology

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What can shippers and couriers save by shaving off a minute from every package they prepare for shipment?

Billions according to Chau Phan, a former Vision Science PhD student from the School of Optometry and Vision Science at the University of Waterloo. Well worth the price of a single, easy to install Tricolops DIM-100 parcel dimensioner.

That was how he convinced two investors – finance phenomenon Michael Wekerle and tech titan Michele Romanow – to invest in his company when he appeared on the popular Dragons' Den TV show last week.

The packed panel also included Minhas Breweries co-owner Manjit Minhas, fashion mogul Joe Mimran, franchise king and original Dragon Jim Treliving, and marketing guru Arlene Dickinson.

Chau Phan recorded the Dragons' Den pitch last May when he was CEO of Tricolops. He’s since switched from the top job to the advisory board while he completes his post-doctoral fellowship at Waterloo's Centre for Ocular Research and Education (CORE). But keeping quiet about the outcome has been hard.

“Keeping secrets is never easy, but it’s part of the job,” says Phan.

Phan started Tricolops two years ago in the Velocity Garage, part of the University of Waterloo’s  entrepreneurship program Velocity, with two other students and alumni from the University of Waterloo: Debbie Wu (Nanotechnology PhD ’16) and Mengxi Zhu (Mechatronics Engineering BASc ’14).

They designed the affordable parcel dimensioning system around the concept of structured light which instantly detects three-dimensional changes in an infrared pattern projected on the Tricolops platform. Even non-cuboid shapes can be measured in milliseconds to within 5 mm, which he demonstrated live on the show.

Although the technology sounds intimidating, the team succeeded in making the set up and integration aspects of the shipping process fast, robust and user-friendly. It can be used with scales, rollers, or conveyors, and is integrated with most Windows and web shipping applications.

Currently valued at $2M, the company started selling units only four months ago. Phan was hoping to sell a $150K for 7.5% of the company to the Dragons, which he received in a climactic shared deal from Dragons Wekerle and Romanow. Watch Tricolop’s full pitch on the Dragons' Den online.