A touching tale

When three university friends embarked on a research and development venture, aimed at exploring the possibilities of touch technologies, they probably had little idea that within ten years they would head an award winning company and become the focus of intense international interest. Anna Mitchell explores the Displax journey with company founder, Miguel Fonseca.

Displax Interactive Systems was founded in 2000 and began life as a research and development programme, run in conjunction with Minho University. One of the company’s three founders, Miguel Fonseca, explained that the original idea had been the creation of “an interactive shop window application”.

“We wanted to be able to turn holographic screens interactive. So we started research and development and, within a year, launched our first product – it was called the Displax Interactive Window,” he explains.

“There were only three of us at the time; myself, Miguel Oliveira and Alfonso Barbosa. We had met at college and university, where two of us were studying marketing management and one was studying computer science. So we were the company’s founders and we are all still running Displax.” About a year and a half ago a venture capital firm entered the company and provided a cash injection that allowed the company to reach the stage it is at now and prepare itself for the future.

With Fonseca, Oliveira and Barbosa at the helm Displax was steered through the first four years of its life, still mainly focused on research and development. Then, in 2004 it was launched into the marketplace. “Until then we were just working on web platform managing content,” explains Fonseca. “We’re still involved in that side but now it’s not the company’s core business.”

In 2006 Displax set up a global offering for multiple systems that had all been developed from the original offering in 2004. At this time Fonseca says the company was providing interactive windows and floor solutions. “I would say 2007 was a very important year,” he recalls. “This was when we embarked on our first major project. The Portuguese National TV station was celebrating 50 years and we were involved in its roadshow that travelled the country for six months.”

Then, in 2008 the company was approached by Portuguese telecommunications provider, Optimus, and asked to supply an interactive retail solution for the company’s flagship store. The resulting project, which was featured in the December 2009 issue of InAVate, picked up an InAVation award at the 2010 ceremony. Fonseca describes the project as one of his proudest achievements. “To have completed the Optimus project on time and as the customer wanted was a fantastic achievement. It was really big project, it was high end with hard requirements and we had to make the solution from scratch. We had to install the LCDs, the content and prepare the touch screens. It was really, really hard work.”

Now, in 2010 things have really stepped up a gear for Displax. The company has started to show off a prototype of its multi-touch solution based on projected capacitive technology. Fonseca claims this is a “breakthrough” in terms of what the market is currently offering and has been busy doing the rounds of the tradeshows with a prototype of the product.

He says interest in the product really started to take off when it reached ISE. “We were at CeBIT last year and also the Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas but, ISE was the best for us as it is completely focussed on the European audiovisual market.

“That show was the first time we saw so many industry people from so many countries and we developed lots of interesting contacts. We have had many, many people wanting to be Displax dealers in their countries and established many projects that we will begin working on.” At ISE the Displax stand was tucked away at the back of Hall 11 and could be easily missed. However, Fonseca says the word went round quickly. “Many people were interested and were telling people what they had seen so it’s spreading by word of mouth now as well. We’re expecting this to generate some very, very big projects for us.

“We’ve had to take a guy out of our marketing department simply to handle the leads,” he continues. “We are now 65 people but I think this will grow very soon, especially on the sales and production side.”

Fonseca says the product should be launched during the second or third quarter of this year and claims everything is going to plan. He is also confident that the company will be able to meet the demand he has been developing over the last few months. “The good thing that we have done is to show the prototype so we have started to understand the market, which is a new market for us. We need to understand the demand to prepare the company in terms of production. We have to prepare the logistics, the sales and the product development.”

For the future, Fonseca wants to ensure Displax remains committed to product development. He adds: “We are going to be very active in supporting dealers all over the world. Multi-touch will be standard in two years. I think that within two years nobody will want to have a single touch screen even if they’re still available. We’re bringing this product to the market before the others and we’re offering a reliable product so our future is going to be concentrated on our production and helping our dealers across the world to get the product installed.”

One thing Displax has always been strong on is the installation and integration of its own products. I asked Fonseca if he would leave this side of the business behind as the company became more involved in high volume production. The answer was an emphatic no. “I want to stay involved in the projects,” he says. “We have an end customer approach because the company thinks with two hats – one for products and the other for projects. [The projects] are still very important because you can test the products in real environments. Displax has bases in Portugal, Spain and this year we will open a company in Brazil. This is important because we will go directly to the end users in these countries and actively support dealers. We are very strong when working with end users and we have a great project team. We have people making content, knowing how to install and we have all that knowledge, which is still very important to us.”

Finally, I asked Fonseca about reports suggesting that there had been some kind of dispute between Displax and interactive foil developer Visual Planet. There are rumours that Visual Planet is displeased that Displax had used its ViP Interactive Foil in the prototype without crediting the company. Visual Planet is also developing a touch controller of its own so may start to see Displax as competition. Fonseca quickly discounted the fact that there could be a potential problem saying the company was still in talks with Visual Planet, as well as other foil manufacturers.

Having been with the company from its conception and steering it along a steady upward path, Fonseca is very much a part of Displax and an important factor in its success. It’s definitely a company to keep an eye on over the next year as it delivers a product, which carries massive expectations, to a market that seems to be clamouring for it.

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