Ottawa entrepreneur develops museum apps: Candice So, Centretown News: CATA Comments
January 25, 2012

When Centretown entrepreneur Chris McLaren stepped into the Louvre in Paris, France, three summers ago, he was taking in its huge exhibitions and famous works of art.

But McLaren wasn’t just another tourist. As a software developer, he realized there was a market for creating smartphone applications for museum-goers.

Six months later, he created Tristan Interactive, a small high-tech company located on Sparks Street. Although it employs less than a dozen people, it has developed multimedia apps for over 30 different museums, including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Last December, Tristan received the contract to create a smartphone app for the Louvre.

“I had just got my iPhone...and I was in the Louvre when I had the idea for this product,” said McLaren. “So it’s kind of funny that less than three years later . . . we’re building the product for the Louvre.”

The founder and CEO of Tristan will spend the next six months in Paris to work on the app. He said he expects it to be like “a diary of a museum visit,” complete with audio, video, maps and themed tours.

 “It will show you what rooms you visited, how long you stayed in them. It gives you a memory of what you walked through.”

The app would be free and available in seven languages, but extra add-ons for new exhibits would cost about a euro each, he said.

Tristan has created similar apps in Ottawa. The Canadian Museum of Civilization was the company’s first client more than two years ago. More recently, the Canadian War Museum released an app in November.

“We’ve had quite positive feedback,” said Tony Glen, an exhibition planner at the Canadian War Museum. He said about 900 people have downloaded the app since its launch two months ago.

“For someone who hasn’t visited the museum, it gives them an insight into the museum and the stories we tell.”

Beyond storytelling, John Reid, president and CEO of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance, said advancing into smartphone technology for museums and tourist areas is a good business move.

“Everything is now moving to a mobile device,” he said. “So (Tristan has) found the niche, which is quite attractive, which is quite unique."

McLaren said he believes Tristan is the “world leader” in a market that is still growing. But he said he has no plans to uproot the company and move elsewhere.

He said that’s because Ottawa has strong tax incentives for high tech companies, as well as a stable economy – and it’s also the place he calls home.