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Investments in Timing Sports Events Has Paid Off for IPICO/Mercury Team

June 21, 2011
Investments in Timing Sports Events Has Paid Off for IPICO/Mercury Team

PEORIA – You can officially say that IPICO Sports is off to the races. But the track has had its twists and turns since the Mercury Sports Group was one of the first start-up companies hatched through the Peoria NEXT initiative in 2003.

Mercury, the developers of high-tech ways of keeping time for various sports events, was later acquired by Toronto-based IPICO Inc., a supplier of radio frequency identification equipment.

Now under IPICO President and CEO Gordon Westwater, in town over the weekend for the Steamboat Classic, the Peoria division is making good time.

„Sports wasn't something we saw as a big market at first, but now we see sports technology as a best of breed. First, we had to restructure the company and get the balance sheet clean,“ said Westwater.

„The 2008 economic crisis came at a very inopportune time for IPICO. Instead of focusing on a particular market, we were in survival mode. Now we're putting our energies into the sports market and growing that quite aggressively,“ he said.

Investments in IPICO by Brookfield Asset Management, Inc., the Toronto-based management company with its $150 billion in assets, means that the Peoria IPICO/Mercury team no longer has to worry about economic survival, added Westwater, born in Scotland and whose family emigrated to Canada in the 1960s.

The Peoria IPICO/Mercury team at 311 SW Water St. consists of nine full-time employees, said Glenn Latimer, one of the company's founders, whose title is now senior director of global business development.

Global developments are a big part of the company's focus with contracts – and contacts – in 44 countries, said Latimer, pointing to the Tokyo Marathon as the latest major race to sign up with the IPICO team.

Since its debut in 2007, the Tokyo Marathon has grown rapidly, he said. „In 2010, over 335,000 applicants entered the lottery for 32,000 available positions. Organizers of the Japanese race were painstaking in their due diligence in reviewing timing options, taking four years before committing to IPICO,“ said Latimer.

IPICO sports equipment also has been used to time other events such as the London Marathon, Bolder Boulder 10K in Colorado and the Olympic Trials Triathlon.

„London and Tokyo (marathons) are branding exercises that provide proof that our technology is the best so that when you go to Dunlap (High School), there's no question,“ Latimer said.

The company's updated timing system also is part of the state cross country meet held annually at Peoria's Detweiller Park, said Philip Lockwood, another co-founder and Mercury's former president who now focuses on marketing efforts for IPICO.

The marketing emphasis is important, said Westwater. „We've been in a missionary position in bringing new technology to market. We haven't spent a lot of marketing dollars before. It's time to broaden our reach,“ he said.

In the race to record race times, IPICO has succeeded with radio frequency identification technology, exemplified by a small tag that provides a „chip time“ attached to competitors' shoes.

As they pass an antenna, the low-frequency radio waves activate a competitor's tag. After the chip activates, high-frequency waves send out time-stamped identification information stored in each chip, allowing for immediate readings.

IPICO's RFID system isn't just for tracking runners on the track, however. „The sports brand will grow beyond running. We're looking at cycling and general fitness and wellness. With a fixed track installation (a track wired with IPICO equipment), the general public could time efforts,“ said Westwater.

Steve Tarter can be reached at 686–3260 or starter@pjstar.com

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