Fredericton-based Smart Skin Technologies has closed a $10.7 million round of funding led by BDC Capital, and intends to double its staff with the new financing.

BDC Capital’s Industrial Innovation Venture Fund led the round, which was joined by existing investors including Schott AG, East Valley Ventures and the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation. Schott, a German glass manufacturer, first invested in the company in 2017.

Smart Skin uses industrial internet of things applications to help improve the efficiency of production lines in the bottling industry, and its business has grown strongly during the pandemic. Now it plans to increase staff in both business development and technical teams to support further growth.  

“We’ve been growing strongly but this really allows us to scale up,” said CTO Kumaran Thillainadarajah in an interview. “Right now, we’re at 50 people and our goal is to get to 100 by the end of the year. . . .  We looked at all the skills we need and we need about 50 people to get us where we want to go.”

The 13-year-old company has developed a product called Quantifeel, which unlocks productivity gains in supply chain and packaging operations. The system provides actionable insights about the forces that containers experience during packaging, warehousing, and shipping. Its customers include virtually all the world’s major bottling companies, such as Coca-Cola, and 18 of the world’s 20 largest pharma companies.

“Smart Skin’s success in deploying their technology and delivering quantifiable return on investment to some of the world’s leading corporations is what originally attracted us.” said Joe Regan, Managing Partner of the BDC Industrial Innovation Venture Fund. “We are excited about the opportunity to play a role in accelerating Smart Skin’s expansion in this important market.”

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Smart Skin has been quiet since it received a grant of more than $3 million from the federal government’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, or IRAP, in 2019. Thillainadarajah said in the interview that sales were going really well, doubling each year, until the pandemic hit in March 2020, and all customers paused their buying.

Then the beverage customers discovered people were still drinking their products, but they were doing so at home (from bottles and cans) rather than at bars and restaurants (from soda fountains). That meant drink producers had to ramp up production of bottles and cans, and Smart Skin helped them to do so.

Then the pharmaceutical customers had to produce the vials for COVID-19 vaccines, and again Smart Skin played a key role.

“Pharmaceuticals are a rewarding sector because obviously it’s a good business but these products are life-saving vaccines and every vial we help produce means someone’s being protected, and we take a lot of pride in that,” Thillainadarajah said.

He added that Quantifeel is helping manufacturers to improve their sustainability. By avoiding jams on a production line, manufacturers can reduce the amount of glass or tin needed in their packaging. Though it’s a small saving in each container, the impacts across entire organizations can be significant, said Thillainadarajah.

Smart Skin received the “Best Manufacturing Innovation” prize at the 2020 PharmaPack Awards in Paris and back-to-back Supplier of the Year awards within Coca-Cola’s bottling network.

“Smart Skin’s solution gives pharma companies a powerful lever to prevent breakage on their filling lines and boost productivity – and it is a great enhancement to our portfolio,” said Fabian Stocker, Vice-President Global Strategy and Innovation for Schott’s pharma business. “We are more than happy to increase our close cooperation with Smart Skin.”