Colin Gillis, right, with Smarter Spaces co-owner, Dan MacIntosh

Creating Growth at Home

By Renée Hartleib | fall 2018

As a 14-year-old kid helping to run his family’s bed & breakfast in Cape Breton, Colin Gillis would have had a hard time imagining a future in 3D scanning. But that’s exactly where he is.

As co-owner of the fast-growing company Smarter Spaces, Gillis and his business partner, Dan MacIntosh, help companies, organizations, landlords, developers, and commercial brokers create detailed digital models of the inner workings of buildings. “We help our clients better understand their spaces,” says Gillis, adding that 3D scanning aids in renovations, by reducing change orders and saving time and money. Scanning can also assist in the creation of evacuation maps and fire safety plans. One client, a property landlord in downtown St. John’s, Newfoundland, had Smarter Spaces create a 3D rendering of one of their rental units for a prospective tenant. It’s incredibly lifelike and includes details like the placement of a computer keyboard at each cubicle. Gillis’ team also inserted actual photos of the view of the St. John’s Harbour into the rendering, which will undoubtedly be a selling point. The prospective tenant can actually “walk” through the space and feel they are in it. In a competitive rental market, where landlords need to ensure their space stands out, this is a big boost.

The Smarter Spaces team uses LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology—the same tools the military has been using for years—in a mobile unit that fits into a backpack and creates a meticulous record of what a space contains. “Rather than examining above ceilings with a flashlight and guessing what’s in the space, 3D scanning produces an accurate image,” says Gillis. It’s this accuracy that has clients lining up to work with his company. “It sounds simple, but one of the biggest causes of cost overruns in any building project are the ‘I didn’t know that was there’ moments.”

Smarter Spaces evolved from a company called IPECC, a project management and relocation company that Gillis and MacIntosh co-owned. A decade into business, a lack of growth and profit had them reconsidering their options. In 2016, they decided to shift gears, enter the new field of 3D scanning and name themselves Smarter Spaces. A Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) loan to purchase equipment gave them the jumpstart they needed to transform their business and bring 3D mobile scanning to Atlantic Canada.

Since then, they’ve been garnering international recognition while keeping the home base of the company right here in Nova Scotia. Over the last year alone, the company has doubled in size and their work has been recognized through the prestigious BOMA Pinnacle Award for Innovation. Their growing client roster includes names like City of Halifax, Jazz Aviation, and Innovacorp, Armco, Southwest Properties, Eastport Properties, Templeton, Crombie REIT, Acadia, MSVU, Dalhousie, SMU and Irving Shipbuilding.

For Gillis, Smarter Spaces is a marriage of two of his biggest loves – technology and entrepreneurship. Helping to run the family bed & breakfast allowed him to learn some business basics, which he later augmented at Saint Mary’s. The SMU grad studied a mix of marketing, human resources, and project management, graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1997.

According to Gillis, Saint Mary’s gave him the space to explore his love of entrepreneurship. “There were professors, like Dr. Ellen Farrell (Sobey School of Business faculty) who taught me that I didn’t need to gain skills working for someone else before opening my own business.”

While in Farrell’s class, Gillis and three classmates designed a plan for an indoor climbing gym. They took that project to the Queen’s Entrepreneurship Competition, placing fifth in the country. “That early success made me realize that my ideas were valid and that I didn’t need to wait to become an entrepreneur,” says Gillis. “Ellen was an incredible mentor and a role model for dedication and passion in entrepreneurship.”

Today, in addition to giving back through his own mentorship and guidance of young entrepreneurs, Gillis is working hard to expand Smarter Spaces’ reach right across the country. They have scored a few national clients, including Armco and Crombie, and just opened another office in London, Ontario.

Nova Scotia will always be their home base, though. Gillis and his team love the idea that they are working to make our province a centre for 3D scanning technology excellence. Most companies that do digital renderings have the work done in China or India, but Gillis is proud to say they are keeping jobs here.

“A big part of our mission is to create economic growth in Nova Scotia. We’re excited to be growing nationally and internationally, but our biggest motivation has been to create value here above all else.”

Campus Notes: “I give because I believe in Saint Mary’s University.”

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