Mimio Global Press

Mimio Likes Its Corporate Life

As a unit of Newell Rubbermaid, Mimio has traded the freedom of its startup days for access to resources and funding.
by Steve Rosenbush
October 25, 2010

United States - Mimio Interactive Teaching Technologies looks like the work of a big corporation.

The Mimio website features pictures of a new generation of slick gadgets that turn regular whiteboards into large computer screens that students in a classroom can interact with using handheld devices that look like game controllers. The site explains that Mimio's next-generation products, some of which are shipping for the first time today, are owned by Dymo Office Systems, a unit of corporate giant Newell Rubbermaid of Atlanta.

It didn't start this way, however.

Mimio was created 14 years ago at the heady height of the dotcom era. It was the inspiration of Yonald Cherry and other students at MIT, recalls co-founder Manny Perez. They were frustrated by the process of taking notes, which diverted attention from the classroom itself. So with the proceeds of a $50,000 school award, they launched a company called Digital Ink, which brought Mimio to life. In 2000, it won a gold IDEA award from BusinessWeek, sharing the honor with Apple's Cinema Display.

Yet by 2006, the company was having trouble raising money, and decided to sell the Mimio line to Newell Rubbermaid. "It has worked out well," says Perez, now director of research and development for Mimio. "We could have never developed our new products on our own. It was clear we weren't going to get any more money from our venture-capital investors."

The new products feature a sleek white device that looks like a large remote control and sticks to a standard whiteboard. The device uses infrared and other technologies to establish a wireless link with a nearby computer, turning the regular whiteboard into a giant, interactive touchscreen. The board can capture images beamed from a projector or written with a regular dry-erase marker placed into a special Mimio stylus. The $3,000 to $4,000 system also includes "voting machines" that students can use to answer questions displayed on the whiteboard.

Newell Rubbermaid won't say how much it has invested in Mimio or reveal details of its finances. But the Mimio business is profitable, Perez says. And Mimio expects to train 5,000 users around the world this year, reflecting its growth.

The deal has helped Newell Rubbermaid too. It is expanding from its signature line of Rubbermaid containers to products such as Calphalon cookware and Sharpie pens. Mimio has pushed Newell Rubbermaid deeper into the realm of technology and research, where it sees more growth and opportunity.

While its days as a freewheeling startup may be over, Mimio and Perez have resources and support within a larger corporation that they wouldn't have had otherwise. And Newell Rubbermaid has a product that it likely never would have developed in-house. "The partnership is working," Perez says.