North lays off a reported 150 employees, government suspends investment

FocalsbyNorth

North, the creator of Focals smart glasses, reportedly laid off 150 of its employees on Thursday.

The layoff represents a substantial portion, close to a third of North’s current employees, which stood at more than 400 people according to reporting by The Verge, which first broke the story.

North had just started shipping its smart glasses at the end of January after opening physical showrooms in both Toronto and Brooklyn, New York. Not long after this announcement, North revealed that it was dropping the price of Focals by almost 40 percent, from $1330 CAD to $799 CAD.

BetaKit was the first to report in September 2018 that North, then called Thalmic Labs, had been issued multiple patents pertaining to a wearable device using holographic technology. North had reportedly been working on the product for years. BetaKit then provided additional details on the glasses, including the need for users to have the device fitted to their face, and North’s plans to operate physical retail outlets to facilitate this process.

The Kitchener-Waterloo-based company received $24 million from the federal government in December through the Strategic Innovation Fund to help the company scale its product.

At the time, Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development said “North is the kind of fast-scaling technology company that’s only beginning to deliver value for Canadians by pioneering in the field of wearable technology and developing and retaining intellectual property in Canada.”

He also noted that the government’s investment was set to help create hundreds of jobs at North and contribute to economic growth in Canada. The funding was supposed to help North expand its existing facility, support product development as well as implement advanced testing, assembly, and production systems.

Now, the Canadian government has announced it has suspended its investment in light of the mass layoff.

“Our government’s investment in North remains a repayable contribution and all future payments have been suspended. We are currently in discussions with the company to establish the best path to repayment, while protecting existing jobs,” Bains told The Logic. Bains noted the government is “concerned and disappointed” by the layoffs.

To date, the company has raised $159.6 million to help with the launch of its smart glasses, which included the investment from the Strategic Innovation Fund, as well as iNovia Capital, and Hedgewood.

Today’s announcement appears to hint at a swing and a miss for North, which launched its smart glasses to much media fanfare in October. Similar products, such as Google Glass have also struggled in the industry. Google developed and released its pair of smart glasses in 2013, and put the product on the market before the announcing it would stop production of the Google Glass prototype in 2015.

RELATED: North is Thalmic’s secret smart glasses play

North’s CEO and co-founder Stephen Lake told The Verge that yesterday’s layoffs were necessary to continue the development of its smart glasses but he did not confirm the actual number of employees that had been laid off.

“In order to succeed long-term, we’re faced with some tough decisions,” Lake told The Verge. “We decided to lay off a number of employees yesterday in order to focus our resources and ensure we have sufficient runway to execute on our upcoming milestones over the next 18-24 months. This was a difficult decision, but a necessary one to ensure long-term success.”

In December, North also announced that it acquired Intel’s Vaunt AR glasses patent and technology for an undisclosed amount.

In a statement to The Globe and Mail, Lake suggested that North has over-invested in its growth. “Over the past several years, we grew quickly to bring Focals to market,” he said. “In the lead up to their launch, we made big bets across R&D, manufacturing, retail and more. Those risks were the right choices at the time, and helped us create a product that set a new bar in our category of everyday smart glasses.”

A Reddit post about the layoff suggested that a number of the lost jobs were in manufacturing but Lake apparently told The Verge that it plans to continue growing its Kitchener-Waterloo headquarters.

BetaKit has reached out to North for comment.

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Meagan Simpson

Meagan Simpson

Meagan is the Associate Editor for BetaKit. A tech writer that is super proud to showcase the Canadian tech scene. Background in almost every type of journalism from sports to politics. Podcast and Harry Potter nerd, photographer and crazy cat lady.