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concept3D adding new dimensions to design

Concept3DBOULDER — Sometimes a great business plan is to follow the smartest people you know in the industry, and in the tech industry who’s smarter than Google?

While Oliver Davis’ business plan has progressed substantially, including a major product launch on June 16, that was pretty much what he was thinking when he founded concept3D.

That business plan began in 2006 when Google acquired Boulder’s wildly successful SketchUp, a three-dimensional modeling computer program for a wide range of drawing applications such as architecture, interior design, civil and mechanical engineering, film and video-game design. Google Earth was just getting off the ground and Davis figured on partnering with the tech giant to create 3-D worlds.

“It was evident that there were no companies doing that,” said Davis, the company’s chief executive. “Our roots are really in SketchUp, and we built Google Earth models. From there we did a lot of work on the Beijing Olympics (in 2008) and a lot of work for South African and European stadiums.”

A services company during its infancy, concept3D still had plenty of steady work early on with offices in Boulder and in Eden Prairie, Minn. Zack Mertz, who was the lead trainer for SketchUp prior to the Google acquisition, was the company’s first hire and runs the Minnesota office as vice president for design and production.

A sample rendering of Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., demonstrates the full depth of the atlas3D platform.

A sample rendering of Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y., demonstrates the full depth of the atlas3D platform.

“Then Disney came along and we started creating campus models,” Davis said. “We were contacted by Boston University (for a campuswide model). We had done some research in ways to make maps and 3D information more accessible, and that was the beginning of our CampusBird software.”

CampusBird, the company’s first product line, provides interactive maps and virtual tours to enrich online visitor experience — and presumably to enhance school enrollment. The company has sold the software to more than 250 universities, colleges and independent schools, but most of the 3-D imagery and mapping, which grew to include facility management services, was created by concept3D staff — meaning there was still quite a lot of reliance on the professional-services business model.

But a number of potential clients also were looking at the CampusBird model and wondering why concept3D wasn’t servicing their industries. One of those was the convention business, which has been using interactive mobile apps with maps to serve its guests, but really needed a more top-to-bottom software solution.

That solution, from Davis’ perspective, is the recently released atlas3D, which he said serves all elements of convention marketing and sales, as well as the exhibitors and guests. “Frankly, there are a lot of applications that work well enough for the guests,” he said.

For one thing, atlas3D addresses interior spaces much in the same way that CampusBird does outdoor spaces and visitation. That allows space planning by the owner or manager of the facility, as well as the host of the convention; marketing and sales by the convention planner, including online sales of specific convention areas; and planning and pricing for participants in the convention.

To top it off, atlas3D largely functions like a content-management website, allowing managers to add content and events, and rapidly change additional locations for specific conventions.

“The sky’s the limit on how much content and how many locations a planner can add,” Davis said. “They can choose what is shared publically or privately, and up to 60 people can be using the application” with specific access to areas they can change.

While conventions are a good example of how robust the atlas3D software can be, Davis said a number of other users have embraced the system in the year before its official release. One is a vacation area in Martha’s Vineyard, and a number of retirement communities already are on board, as well.

“We built atlas3D to provide a competitive edge for any location or facility looking to engage visitors online and promote their space,” said Davis in a prepared statement.

“There is no better way to give visitors, guests and customers an experience that allows them to explore and request more information or make a decision on the spot,” he said. “The atlas3D platform provides a set of tools our clients now depend on, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

While moving from a service provider to software product sales sometimes can be financially daunting, Davis said both the CampusBird and atlas3D business sectors will be positive revenue producers this year. The company doesn’t reveal its overall revenue stream, but Davis said revenue has doubled every year for a company looking forward to its 10th anniversary in August.

The company also has high hopes for its simuwatt Energy Auditor software, a cloud-based, tablet and desktop software solution that provides commercial building energy audits while preserving the data to facilitate reporting, portfolio-wide tracking and reuse. While this is the one section of the business that is not producing positive revenues, concept3D has been working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory to provide a commercial product in the simuwatt Energy Auditor.

The business perspective and client list, certainly have rapidly expanded from what might have been more simple aspirations 10 years ago, Davis said.

“We still do work with Google, started out as a Google partner and were featured at Google IO a few years ago,’ he said. “We have a continued relationship with Google, but at the same time we see the need to be map agnostic.”

Things are looking up for a drone takeover

We’ve all seen them in the news: A drone lands on the White House lawn. Drone racing is the next sport of the modern age. Dutch police train eagles to attack surveillance drones. A drone is used to drop illegal drugs into an Ohio prison yard. Amazon plans to use drones to deliver packages. Google announces the use of suborbital drones to broadcast wifi to remote areas of the planet …

Unmanned aerial vehicles once were a small recreational niche but now are becoming the headlines of major stories in security, technology, sports and overall controversy. So what has caused such an accelerated market growth in these small, yet powerful devices?

Advancements in technology. The features and technology used in drones are rapidly developing, exceeding even the smartphone industry. It seems that every year, new devices hit the market with improved components and at a lower sticker price. Some drones now utilize 4K video recordings and have the ability to set GPS coordinates to accurately record precise footage and measurements. eHang, a Chinese company, is even testing an automated drone large enough to carry humans (for an entry price of $200,000 to $300,000). Much of this advancement in technology is driven by the consumers whom demand bigger and better products year after year.

Investments are booming. Despite an overwhelming increase in Federal Aviation Administration regulations regarding the usage of UAVs, investments in drone conglomerates have grown exponentially over the past year. According to CB Insights, in 2015 drone startup companies raised more than $450 million, an increase of more than 300 percent versus 2014 data. A January report by BI Intelligence highlights more dramatic figures to consider:

• Projected revenues from drone sales could top $12 billion in 2021.

• Shipments of consumer drones will more than quadruple over the next five years.

• Safety technologies such as geo-fencing and collision avoidance will relax FAA regulations and enable large numbers of drones to take to the sky.

• Sports markets have been stimulated by large investments for competitive drone-racing leagues.

Applications on the rise. Drones continue to fill the skies as demand continues to parallel the amount of manufacturers in the market. As technologies continue to develop, more industries are seeing plausible applications for drone usage. The commercial markets of agriculture, land management, energy, construction, and oil and gas all have found lucrative ways to utilize drones in their respective fortes. Large defense-focused manufacturers also are emerging as government and security entities begin to enter the market.

Expect to see drones trending through more facets of our economy as the year continues. As technology and applications continue to expand, the FAA and government agencies will continue to be pressured to regulate both the commercial and recreational usage of UAVs.

For the recreational enthusiasts: Use common sense when flying these devices for personal use.  Keep your drones under 400 feet in altitude, steer clear of airports, pedestrians and vehicles, and always keep your device in visual sight while operating.

Hans Broman, a sales and marketing strategist at iPoint in Fort Collins, can be reached at hbroman@ipoint-tech.com.

MergeLane grad BallotReady campaigns to empower voters

BOULDER — The founders of BallotReady came to Boulder in February with the goal of their online voter guide providing comprehensive information on candidates and issues in seven states for this fall’s general election. By the time they graduated from the MergeLane startup accelerator 12 weeks later, they instead were ready to ramp up to 25 states.

BallotReady chief executive Alex Niemczewski said her Chicago-based startup’s time spent in Boulder earlier this year proved invaluable as it related to team development, marketing, scaling and fundraising strategies.

“I could talk about how wonderful they are for hours,” Niemczewski said of MergeLane in a recent phone interview.

Colorado’s importance to BallotReady didn’t end in April. The state is one of just four in which the website is covering primary elections this year as well, testing out strategies ahead of the big rollout this fall.

With Colorado primary ballots due June 28, Colorado voters at no cost can enter their address and party affiliation at ballotready.org and see a list of every candidate running in the primary for every race at the national, state and local levels — all specific to each voter’s individual ballot. From there, voters can find aggregated information on each candidate, ranging from previous experience to endorsements to news to stances on issues. For the general election in the fall, information on ballot measures will be included as well.

BallotReady’s value, Niemczewski said, is particularly in the local races, where candidates for races such as, say, university regents aren’t always as well-known and voters often resort to guessing or leaving portions of their ballot blank.

“We’re pretty inundated with information about the presidential candidates,” she said. “Most people are decided when they show up to vote for president, but they’re not prepared for the rest of the ballot.”

Founded by Niemczewski, Aviva Rosman and Sebastian Ellefson in late 2014, BallotReady partners with the University of Chicago’s nonpartisan Institute of Politics and boasts among its board of advisors David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Obama, and former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

BallotReady covered Chicago’s mayoral runoff election in the spring of 2015, spending about $180 and attracting 400 users. The site already has covered primaries in Illinois, Kentucky and Maryland this year. For the Illinois primary in March, BallotReady attracted 64,000 users, or about 2 percent of overall voter turnout. For the Kentucky primary last month, though, BallotReady officials said usage ballooned to 12 percent of registered voters in the state who accessed the site to view candidate information.

BallotReady still is finalizing which 25 states it will cover this fall, Niemczewski said, with an eye on swing states where races figure to be more hotly contested. General election info will begin going live on the site in September or October.

While other sites such as Ballotpedia and Change Politics offer some form of the same services, Niemczewski said BallotReady aims to set itself apart by covering every candidate on every person’s ballot and providing more comprehensive information. BallotReady users also can set preferences on the issues that matter most to them and compare candidates on those specific topics. The site aims to prevent bias by aggregating information on the web as opposed to providing summaries or recommendations. The site also lists candidates for each race in random order.

Niemczewski said the eventual goal is to “cover every race, every election in every democracy at some point.” Since BallotReady plans to always keep the site free for voters, the company is pre-revenue at this point. Niemczewski said the priority this year is making the site useful for voters, with a deeper dive into making money next year. She said the major avenue for revenue is tapping into the billions of dollars spent on campaigns every year. That could mean selling data on what voters care about in a given district to candidates, elected officials or advocacy groups, or other things such as selling ads or video spots on specific candidates’ profile pages.

MergeLane cofounder Sue Heilbronner said the team of cofounders is what attracted the accelerator to BallotReady first and foremost. But she said the user traction the site has already gained encourages her that the company will find a way to make money.

Funded so far mostly by grants from the National Science Foundation and Knight Foundation, as well as prize money from various pitch contests, Niemczewski said the company has raised about 75 percent of a planned $750,000 seed funding round.

MergeLane, through its discretionary investment fund, has committed a six-figure investment to the round.

“If (the user rate in Kentucky) is the kind of traction they’re seeing in their first month of operation,” Heilbronner said, “we have a high level of confidence that they’re filling a need that will have material business implications.”

Joshua Lindenstein can be reached at 303-630-1943, 970-416-7343 or jlindenstein@bizwestmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joshlindenstein