Pick up your phone and let an application tell you where to park your car. Use it to get around the labyrinth of a public institution or a shopping mall. Or, for the time being, let Ifinity develop the technology you need to do all that.
By Kamila Wajszczuk
Poland has been known as one of the world’s IT powerhouses. Over the past two years, it has become home to several innovative companies in the location-based services segment, selling beacons and beacon-based technologies. One of them is Ifinity.
The company’s founders Adam Jesionkiewicz and Michał Polak have been doing business together for years. They first went into internet technology, in the case of Jesionkiewicz – as early as in the mid-nineties. Then came mobile solutions. Their firm dealing with mobile apps was called Inventica and it was there that they first came across the need to use a form of location service in closed spaces.
“It was in a tender for a shopping mall that the need to implement micro-location appeared. We had found that there was no such technology available on the market, so we decided to focus on its development,” Jesionkiewicz said.
After Apple released its iBeacon standard for micro-location devices, a lot of support was made available. That is when Inventica created the first jobs focused exclusively on beacons. “In February 2013, we made the decision to use all of our energy on developing location-based services,” Jesionkiewicz said.
The decision was preceded by months of research. “The problem we encountered at the time was the lack of technology for this type of service. There were QR-codes used by other companies but of course they are very inconvenient for the users,” Polak said. It took them several months to develop a system that used bluetooth connections instead.
More time had passed before the present company was officially registered in July 2014. It was named Ifinity to bring up associations with “infinity,” but also “affinity.” “We see an infinite number of uses for our technologies,” Jesionkiewicz explained.
Shortly after registration, Ifinity received a seed capital injection from SpeedUp Group. After several tranches of financing, the fund will own up to 32 percent in the company. Its capitalization at that point should be at about PLN 38 million.
Negotiations with the fund took nine months. Over that time, the founders invested their own money to make sure their project maintains the right pace.
They like to stress they are not just a beacon distributor. “We are one of a few, if not the only, company that wants to offer complex, tailored solutions,” Jesionkiewicz said. “We come up with the solutions ourselves and we implement them ourselves.” Other firms in the segment usually just sell the hardware. Ifinity does everything from the idea, through implementation to evaluation.
The company’s first spectacular project was the first stage of a bigger project with the city authorities in Warsaw, dubbed Virtual Warsaw. One of the capital’s offices for the disabled was equipped with a system that helps people, including the visually impaired, get around the place and solve their problems.
This is just one of three pilot projects that Warsaw’s authorities want to carry out. The second one will focus on public transport. The idea is for the application to suggest routes based on location, allowing passengers to forget about timetables and network maps. The third one will be used in culture centers, such as museums, galleries and national heritage sites.
Virtual Warsaw was submitted as Warsaw’s entry in the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge competition this year. It won one of the second prizes, worth €1 million, alongside Athens, Stockholm and Kirklees in the UK.
Cooperation with Warsaw was not an obvious choice for Ifinity and the company had earlier planned to first develop commercial solutions and only then approach authorities with the idea of using similar technologies in public space, Jesionkiewicz said.
However, the company’s founders came across city officials at a conference and it turned out that Warsaw authorities had already been thinking about a system of that kind, which they could use as an entry in the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge. That’s how cooperation between Ifinity and the capital’s authorities got started.
Far and wide
Jesionkiewicz and Polak also have scores of other ideas about where they could implement location-based services. They are working on apps that could help find parking spaces in the city center or locate children who stray too far from their parents in public places.
Beacons could also be used in the logistics sector, to help locate goods in warehouses and optimize their transport. In hospital wards, a doctor could see all necessary data about patients by making the rounds with his tablet.
“We are building a sort of intelligence for electronic devices, so that they know what to do at a given moment and predict some of our moves and answer our needs,” Jesionkiewicz said. For example, if we drive into a parking lot, the app should suggest where to park before we ask it to do so.
The company had planned to concentrate on selling its solutions abroad. The contract with Warsaw made Jesionkiewicz and Polak rethink that strategy and a lot of new projects are in the works. When it comes to foreign expansion, they are focusing on the United States and mostly the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. “Dubai has vowed to become the world’s smartest city in a span of four years and is absorbing all possible solutions,” Jesionkiewicz said.
Though formally young, the company is no longer at the start-up stage, Jesionkiewicz said. Since it was registered, it has been developing fast and employing new people. It will soon have to move to a bigger office.
Toward the spectacular
As for plans for the near future, Ifinity has to present what Jesionkiewicz calls a number of “spectacular implementations.” It’s important for the market to verify their ideas, he added.
The Warsaw public transport project will come soon, Polak added, and that should appeal to a great number of people using the system. Several others, in Poland and abroad, should follow, though it is too early to disclose the details.
They are also working on further increasing employment and on developing new products. One of the new products may revolutionize retail, Jesionkiewicz claims, allowing the customer to make an electronic payment and avoid queuing up in line.
“What we have done so far was really last minute stuff in terms of getting on the technology train that has already started its journey,” Jesionkiewicz said.
“The money-bringing stage of the company is postponed in our case,” Polak said. “We know that we have to invest large amounts in the coming months, in order to help it grow on the domestic market and abroad. Only then will we focus on revenue generation.”
“I am really happy to have a project that allows us to implement anything we come up with,” Jesionkiewicz added. “We aim to be the first globally visible Polish company associated with innovation and not simply imitation of existing technology.”
The segment will soon develop and the number of companies offering beacon-based solutions will grow, he added. But it’s the pioneers that win. “You should start your business at a moment when everyone laughs at your ideas. When the average Joe already knows that it’s a cool concept, it’s too late.”