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Sunday, August 26,2012

OU Innovation Center ventures into world of digital startups

By David DeWitt
Photo Credits: Photo by Dustin Franz.
Photo Caption: Sicong Li takes a sip of water during the meet-and-greet portion of Monday’s Innovation Engine Accelerator Open House.

Ohio University's Innovation Center has already made a name for itself helping launch companies in the advanced-energy world, and now a program has launched an entrepreneurial push in the digital world as well.

The OU Innovation Engine Accelerator program was a 10-week boot camp for digital media startups in Athens that took place over this summer. Five of the six companies involved in the program each had access to up to $20,000 in seed money in this, the engine's inaugural year.

The boot camp was capped off with the six different companies making presentations of their technologies last week at the Innovation Center.

From a Google analytics resource for advertising agencies to technologies for unmanned air vehicles to multiple innovative smartphone applications, the event on Aug. 20 showcased the entrepreneurial spirit of OU in an increasingly digital age.

"We were excited to receive a number of applications from different places in Ohio," said Jennifer Simon, Innovation Center director. "The majority of those that are part of the program are part of Ohio University. And we have one based in Columbus."

Simon said that engineers, marketers, web developers, artists, writers and business students all participated.

"This was a very diverse group of people," she boasted.

Companies received funding, extensive business coaching, mentoring, and access to office space and equipment at OU's small-business incubator over the course of this summer.

Each of the companies gave full-scale presentations and demonstrations of their products during the event.

First up was Affine Technologies, which specializes in turning data into 3D visualizations.

The company's first product, introduced at the event, is a low-bandwith communications link to create visual navigation systems for "Unmanned Aerial Vehicles," at what they say will be dramatically lower costs.

The company is the project of Chad Mourning and Scott Nykl. They demonstrated how these lower costs are accomplished by recreating the surroundings of a UAV in a virtual world. These lower costs, they said, will help bring UAV technology to the civilian market.

The next company to present was Flash Crop, which took first place in the center's startup weekend event in April. This Athens-based company is the brain child of members Richard Rodman, Chadwick Stroud, Max Heckel, Arkapaul Sarkar and Supradeep Kumar.

Flash Crop is a mobile application designed to make digital flash cards for students by taking pictures of notes, glossaries and study guides, and then turning those images into note cards.

"Flash Crop has created an application using in-house software, which allows students to create, edit and delete flashcards, categories and decks as well as create a customizable user account," the company's materials said.

Next up is Gr vster, which is another mobile-phone application that allows for collaborative music making as well as instrument learning.

The technology first allows guitarists, for instance, to quickly digitize tablature and then use Gr vster to make sure it's being played correctly. Think GuitarHero for real guitars.

Add to that, friends can lay down tracks into Gr vster and share them with friends across the country to collaborate on musical arrangements.

Lightborne Lore is the project of founder Kyle Perkins and introduces interactive, episodic storytelling to the mobile games market.

"The company is merging the powerful, proven storytelling of books with the bite-sized mobile games space," literature provided at the event stated.

Lightborne Lore is one of Athens' first and most successful kickstarter start-ups. The mobile app creates its own visual novel in the form of a digital choose-your-own adventure story, with fully voiced dialogue, music, characters and background art.

Visual novels have been popular for years in Eastern cultures but are just now picking up the pace in this country, and Lightborne Lore aims to be at the forefront of that.

ON A COLLEGE CAMPUS, IT'S not uncommon to see any number of solicitors, hawking some brand or another, passing out T-shirts or other swag.

But the effectiveness of those campaigns for the companies is difficult to measure, according to MyEventMetrics' Dave Ricupero, Faraz Khan, Trevor Heicht and Ven Ayyadevara.

After working as so-called "brand ambassadors," the group members saw an opening to develop a way to track key performance indicators through a data analytics system when it comes to these campaigns.

The data analytics system includes a mobile app to track accountability of "brand ambassadors" and track return on investment. It centralizes all the tasks of the job into the app, including streamlining social media interaction and estimated audience metrics. Already, the company has eight signed letters of intent representing more than $10,000 in revenue.

Finally, the last group is, which bills itself as the next big step in the online shopping experience.

Tabalog's Brian Grady presented a website platform featuring three main functions: Searching, collecting and sharing. The idea is that this adaptive search is what sets Tabalog apart.

"Tabalog pulls in product information from affiliate retailers and accurately shows products that relate to a person's interests, likes and dislikes," a summary states. "The more a user interacts with Tabalog, the smarter it becomes at sharing relevant products."

Think Pandora for shopping, Grady explained.

Next these entrepreneurs will use these resources from the Innovation Center to attract further investment and development from venture capitalists and others.


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