By Eric Peterson | Sep 30, 2013
Remote collaborative meeting technology
Software maker Mersive is enabling visual collaboration with ‘Situation Room’-like quality
Founded at and spun out of the University of Kentucky by Christopher Jaynes, a computer science professor, and his "best student" Stephen Webb, Mersive makes next-generation display and visualization software.
The company has grown substantially in 2013. "We've just about equalled last year's revenue this past quarter," says Balgley.
Staked with a seed investment from Ohio-based Adena Ventures and grants from the Department of Defense and federal intelligence agencies, Jaynes and Webb relocated Mersive from Lexington, Kentucky, to Denver in 2009.
Earlier this year, Mersive launched its second product, Solstice. It allows multiple users to share content on one projection or display system using anything from PCs to iPhones. The target market spans higher education, oil and gas, and government, as well as most any enterprise looking to hold collaborative meetings.
Balgley uses the metaphor of a boardroom where "everybody's pushing paper across the table." In the digital era, much of that paper is virtual. Without a solution like Solstice, collaboration takes a hit. Users can share documents, videos, and images on the shared display, and even move elements shared by other users. "It's like Minority Report," says Balgley. "You're flicking data to the screen."
"Solstice commoditizes expensive switching and control software for projection systems," explains Balgley. "The end result is a high-performance display system for a fraction of the traditional cost."
Early adopters include Yale, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, and TriZetto, Denver-based healthcare IT provider. "It's a completely horizontal market," touts Balgley.
A perpetual license is $3,500 and the client is free for all users. More than 300 corporate enterprise have requested trials since its release.
Debuting in 2006, the company's first product, Sol, replaced the antiquated manual calibration techniques for multi-projector systems like simulators, command and control rooms, and planetariums.
"The way you get size in displays is really projectors the size of a car or you blend multiple projectors," says CEO Rob Balgley. Before software like Sol, A/V techs would manually "turn knobs" to align projectors. Sol does it automatically with algorithms Jaynes initially developed to help robots see -- a.k.a. "computer vision."
Sol clients range include Washington, D.C.'s Metro transit system and what White House Situation Room. The system allows a wide range of lower-profile customers to use multiple, off-the-shelf projectors, in one immersive system without the calibration know-how.
"I like to talk about the company's legacy in terms of visualization and simulation," says Balgley. Simulators, mimicking vehicles ranging from Humvee to F1 airplanes, "have a highly immersive environment. You have a cave or a dome or a half-come, and you immerse someone for training purposes. Visualization is very similar. You're putting yourself in a very immersive environment that typically requires multiple projectors."
"Displays are really the last untapped technologies in the world," he adds. "You can share networks, you can share storage, you can put stuff in the cloud, but you can't share displays."
Balgley says "the dirty little secret" is projection rooms require premium structural and cooling systems, but with Mersive's software, users can replicate the quality of a high-end projection system with off-the-shelf projectors and a simple Windows PC.
"All of the technology is based on the ability to place pixels and do it very accurately," says Balgley. "All of the pixels know where the other pixels are."
Challenges: Recruiting -- thus the company's 2009 move from Kentucky to Denver. "Denver's an easy place to recruit to," says Chris Jaynes, founder and CTO. "We get a lot of 20-somethings who write great code and love to snowboard."
Opportunities: To grow with the explosion of mobile and BYOD ("bring your own device"). "These devices represent enormous market share," says Balgley of smartphones and tablets. "Especially with 20- and 30-year-olds, everybody's coming into meetings with mobile devices."
Next up for Solstice features: data manipulation so people can edit the documents of other users via Solstice.
Needs: Traditional venture capital. Investors include 3M and numerous government entities. "We'll look at more general-purpose VC," says Balgley. "This has been a hard company for venture to understand. It's hard to understand you can do this with software."