For 25 years, Vermont entrepreneurs looking for help growing their businesses have turned to the Vermont Venture Network (VVN). The member-driven nonprofit connects entrepreneurs with investors, job seekers and representatives from government agencies.
“There are a lot of companies that aren’t well connected and not very visible and VVN gives them the opportunity to make those connections both in meetings and the email list,” VVN Founder and President Ken Merritt says.
To further member education and networking, VVN hosts monthly meetings featuring speakers from local companies from a wide variety of industries. Two tech companies addressed the group’s July 24th meeting: Burlington-based IrisVR and Greensea Systems of Richmond. A crowd of more than 35 turned out at 8 a.m. to watch their presentations.
Shane Scranton and Nate Beatty, co-founders of IrisVR, went first. The two Middlebury College graduates run a company that uses Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles for architecture, the first in the industry to do so. Earlier this year, they won $25,000 in the second Launch VT business pitch competition.
Scranton studied architecture in college and became frustrated with the lack of an accurate scale in architectural models. He and Beatty are creating software that will allow customers to view architectural designs as if they’re standing inside the building. “What virtual reality does is actually give you a sense of the true scale of things,” he says. Their beta software will be available in the fall.
Ben Kinnaman, founder and president of Richmond-based Greensea Systems, gave the main talk. His company develops software and technology for offshore underwater exploration; Ken Picard wrote about the firm in Seven Days in 2010. Kinnaman is currently hoping to expand.
“We’re trying to grow our business pretty aggressively,” Kinnaman says.” For a growing business we’re looking to expand our professional network locally and bring on new talent to our company. Vermont Venture Network was recommended as a really good spot for that.”
He opened his talk with a history of the industry and followed up with specifics about the company’s products.”Divers, in all of their ingenuity, started building robots. That characterizes our industry today,” Kinnaman explains. “Today ROV’s [Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicles] are absolutely essential for doing anything underwater.”
Kinnaman addressed some of the challenges that arise when working with offshore operators. He described how people in the offshore industry don’t like anything to seem too technologically complicated. “There’s a huge technology hurdle that we have to answer offshore. The demand is there. Operators and rig owners are saying give us the technology, make it better, make it more efficient, make it higher performing and make it easier to operate,” Kinnaman says. “Now those are some tough things to reconcile.”
That’s where Kinnaman says his company comes in. “We’re going to develop this technology and we’re going to push it offshore in a simple, intuitive format so that operators can just get on with their work,” he explains. “Our primary business focus is unmanned, underwater vehicle control software; primarily along the lines of providing control and navigation technologies for unmanned, underwater vehicles. Our market focus is quite narrow at the moment, we are very much centered on the subsea market and offshore market, but the core technology behind what we do is developed it to be extraordinarily generic and we do have several other markets in mind.”
Greensea System’s two main products are called the Balefire and Endal, both aimed at improving the accuracy and efficiency of ROVs. Founded in 2006, the company’s employees test products on Lake Champlain every day. In fact, Greensea recently participated in the search for a jet that went missing in Lake Champlain in 1971.
When asked if he would come to another VVN event, Kinnaman replied, “Without a doubt!”
“I thought it was a good crowd and a networking opportunity and we made some contacts we intend to stay in touch with,” he continues. “I think for anyone growing a business its important to reach out to the local community as well as the hiring community for other companies that have been through their own growth stages.”
The VVN meetings take place monthly; you don’t have to be a member to attend. The next one is coming up on Wednesday, August 20, and will feature John Replogle, CEO of Seventh Generation. “I expect we will have a very big crowd in August,” Merritt comments. “I encourage people to attend; everyone that attends finds it interesting and always learns something.”