June 2013

Manitoba Chamber of Commerce

Issue link: http://publications.winnipegfreepress.com/i/141831

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protunity Protunity CEO Wadood Ibrahim offers businesses a new way to network online. "We have developed our social systems over many, many years — they're very effective ways of building relationships and connecting with other folks. Now we've developed a technology that can enable that to happen 24/7, but in a very similar way to how we build relationships in real life." The idea for Protunity was first sparked in 2010, when Protegra took part in Winnipeg's inaugural Centrallia, a two-day global networking forum aimed at connecting businesses with potential partners from around the world. Centrallia attendees are prescreened and matched with likeminded businesses. Ibrahim says the Protegra team was particularly impressed by the lack of "noise" at the event, and left wishing they could harness the same networking capabilities year-round. "The problem (with Centrallia) is it's only two days," says Ibrahim. "Then you have to wait for another two years … or you have to travel somewhere else to attend another event. "We said, 'How can we do this 24/7 and 365 days a year? Basically, how can we put this on the Internet?'" After partnering with Centrallia and the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, the Protegra team set out to assess the needs of other like-minded companies, including 17 businesses that had taken part in Centrallia in 2010. The main challenge was to develop a platform that allowed users more privacy than existing models — most of which focus on signing up as many users as possible in order to generate page views for online advertisers. "As a business owner, you want to be able to find contacts that can help you with your business — and only deal with them on your own terms," says Neal Curry, general manager at Winnipeg-based Westland Plastics Ltd., one of the companies that took part in the early consultations. "You don't want to have things wide open so that as soon as someone gets your name or your email address, you're fair game to them." The Protunity model gives users exclusive control of their personal information, allowing them to retain 100% ownership of their data, connections and communications — all of which is stored on secured computers on a hardened site. The company is contractually obligated not to share sign-up data with outside parties, and Protunity users can only access the information of others after gaining permission from the party in question. A prescreening process requires organizations to be approved by Protunity or one of its authorized affiliates — world trade centres and chambers of commerce, among them. And, in a particularly quaint touch, members must be "introduced" by a mutual party, even after being vetted. "When people are actually searching for organizations, it's still two degrees of separation," Ibrahim says. "You can't contact anybody without an introduction by someone they have in common with you." Protunity members pay monthly fees in return for the ad-andspam-free platform that provides opportunities for increased efficiencies and better business development strategies. Since launching in April, the network has already drawn members from as far away as the U.K., Hong Kong and Argentina. Its search-and-match technology spans the globe to connect businesses with compatible partners, while enabling members to expand their market reach by adapting old-school networking techniques. "As a business, you get bombarded with the need to be somehow involved in social media, and I can't always get my head around it," Curry says. "They've come forward with this idea of trying to replicate the real-world experience of how you connect with people. You meet a contact and your contact says, 'You should call so-andso, he's into that.' To try to do that on a bigger scale — on the Internet — that's what I found interesting." www.protunity.com SUMMER 2013 MBiz June 2013_final.indd Sec2:m 'peg BIZ | 13 6/21/13 4:48:41 PM

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