On February 23, 2021, Highline Beta announced its second cohort of the Safe x Connected Cities Accelerator in partnership with Aviva Canada. Since then, the three participating startups have been actively working with Aviva Canada, Highline Beta, and other supporting partners to design pilots and secure industry collaborators to kick off projects in-market that aim to make roads safer across Canada. The planning phase is officially done, and we are set to switch gears and go into execution mode to bring the pilots to life. Here is a conversation with Tenille Houston, co-founder of AutoGuardian by Smartcone, about their startup journey, program experience and future ambitions.
AutoGuardian by Smartcone is a company that focuses on providing intelligent mobility solutions to create safer, smarter streets through deploying technology, both on the infrastructure side and on the road side.
Highline Beta: Tenille, can you please start by explaining what intelligent mobility means within the context of your work at AutoGuardian by Smartcone?
Tenille: We use AI-powered sensor technology like cameras and radar to make it safer for vehicles to coordinate movement near vulnerable road users. I’m also very excited to announce that we've expanded into the autonomous vehicle space. We provide active alerting for autonomous vehicle routes, and actually operate autonomous shuttles ourselves.
Highline Beta: That’s exciting! Tell us a bit more about the origin story and how your solution makes roads safer?
Tenille: We are actually a spin-off of our parent company, Smartcone Technologies, which developed a multi-functional IoT device with a lot of potential applications. An opportunity came in 2017, when Ottawa launched a program to make a bike lane safer through technology, and we decided to tackle that challenge with Smartcone’s capabilities. There's a lot of smart city solutions, but there's nothing that does proactive and effective alerting of vulnerable road users while simultaneously collecting data. We quickly realized that there is a need for this in the city space. While city planners take back the data, they have to make informed decisions and answer a lot of questions. For example, ‘Do we need to widen the streets?’ ‘Do we need to paint a bike lane’? ‘How can I make sidewalks safer?’ And we help them get answers to these questions while actively alerting road users.
Highline Beta: That's very helpful context. What attracted you to apply to the program back in the Fall of 2020?
Tenille: When I heard about this program, I was really excited. I looked at the last cohort and saw what they were able to achieve in such a short period. I realized that this program is different. There are so many to choose from today. I personally find that for the most part, all they set out to do is ‘meet you to death’ [laughing] and overload with content. Not many actually put their money where their mouth is, help you cultivate relationships with the actual end user, and then act to help you fund the pilot. I think that was something that was really unique.
Highline Beta: That's great to hear. So we’re about half way through the program and during the first part, you were busy ideating, planning and scoping a pilot with Aviva Canada. What was it like?
Tenille: I've found a lot of strength in having both Aviva and Highline Beta as partners on this. It is obvious that a paid pilot with a large company is extremely valuable, but there’s more to it than that. In the last couple of months, Aviva and Highline beta have introduced us to various cities. Some of them could not engage with the pilot this time around, but I've still made those connections for future opportunities. That is huge. Secondly, on the business side, Highline Beta has really helped me a lot with my pitch deck, and positioning for future collaborations.
Both teams are with me every step of the way. They're on every project call. And they're really helping facilitate and drive this forward. So we've had a lot of great takeaways from this project already and really look forward to bringing the pilot to life.
Highline Beta: Can you share some of the takeaways or highlights? Perhaps there was something unexpected or surprising to you?
Tenille: I would highlight how attentive everyone has been. That's been surprising, because I feel like there's much more proactiveness than I've seen in other accelerators. I wish I had more time in my schedule to fully utilize the resources that are being offered to me. Being a co-founder/CEO is hectic and can be a lonely journey. So, I am grateful to have a multifunctional team that’s supporting me on so many different fronts.
Highline Beta: Thank you so much, Tenille. We are always amazed to see what can be accomplished when you bring people together who share the same goal. What’s next for AutoGuardian by Smartcone?
Tenille: In the short to medium term, my focus is on this pilot and a few other projects we have under development. This will allow us to validate the need, develop use cases that will hopefully encourage more cities to adopt intelligent infrastructure solutions. In the long term, we see great potential in the autonomous vehicle space. I believe we’re well positioned to leverage our experience and emerging technological trends to make a significant impact in this area. That really excites me!