Tough Economy Doesn't Stop These Entrepreneurs (Dispatches)

Three Altadena-based business representatives talked about their latest projects at the 10th anniversary of Tech Week at the Business Technology Center on Lincoln

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 10/21/2011

Altadena has not dodged the national economic slump and job stagnation that has affected the entire nation over the last few years. So it might be surprising to hear that in the last few years, Altadena-based entrepreneurs have been involved in starting high-tech businesses, and with the help of a county government program.
Representatives from three Altadena-based and affiliated small and start-up businesses spoke to Patch Thursday about their latest projects during the 10th Annual Technology Week, hosted at the Business Technology Center (BTC) on Lincoln Avenue. 
They had three interesting ideas:
  • One to serve as a Web consultant for high powered companies (Disney is one of his clients)
  • One to develop video games that could help rehabilitate patients with brain damage
  • One to build a new geo-location app that can help smart phone users navigate places like museums, conferences, and other places where people would want a tour
The Business Technology Center was founded in 1998 and is California's largest high-tech business incubator. The center provides below-market rent for new businesses in their first year, as well as a team of advisers and investors. The objective is to provide an environment that allows people to develop a marketable business idea and find a way to give it life.
Rehabilitative Video Games
Chris Ashford helped found Blue Marble Rehabilitation, Inc. in Altadena a year and a half ago along with three others. The company moved to L.A. a month ago because the staff grew to 15 employees, some of whom live on the Westside.
Blue Marble is a company that used a Small Business Innovative Research grant to develop video games that are used in rehabilitation for people who have experienced brain damage, illnesses and injuries.
"Working with a therapist is expensive, and the amount of people who need health care continues to grow faster than we can create doctors and clinicians," said Ashford. "So we're looking for a way to provide more tools for doctors and clinicians."
Their innovation? "Video games work really well because unlike a person they don't get tired, they're fun to play, and they're relatively inexpensive compared to a person," Ashford said. "In addition to seeing a rehabilitation therapist once or twice a week, you can now take this device that we are developing and testing home with you and use it as much as you want."
The company, which is looking to get their games on Xbox Live to reach an international audience, has a team of developers, designers, programmers, and four clinicians who have Ph.D.'s in physical and occupational therapy. The clinicians come up with "cognitive domains," or areas that they want to address in the game.
They talk with the designers and go back and forth to deal with the question, "How do we design a game to hit these specific cognitive areas?" After the designers are done, a programmer finishes the role-playing or puzzle video game, which has tests built in that track an individual's cognitive status and progress.
"We make sure it's fun, it meets those cognitive domains, and that it has scientific merit to it," he said. "We also work with the U.S. Department of Defense to treat service members who are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan who have had brain injuries. What we've found is that 75 percent of those who have been exposed to an explosion have some sort of cognitive deficit. When that happens, you start to forget things. So these games are designed to help them organize their lives and go back to work."
Blue Marble's video games, which are all still being developed and tested, are tools with wide ranging uses that help other organizations, doctors, and clinicians who have older patients or others who are experiencing some kind of cognitive deficiency including brain illnesses and injuries and are undergoing rehabilitation.
Demonstrating Geo-Location
In the Demonstration Tent at Thursday's event, Joaquin Brown and Jeff Turner of iViu Technologies talked about their new location-based smart phone application, which communicates with Wi-Fi proprietary ID tags that were setup around the BTC.
"We use those tags to communicate with iPhone and Android smart phones, to let the users know what they're near," said Brown. "It gives us a more accurate location than GPS. We've installed an ID tag in each tent and conference room, so that the visitors and attendees can use their app to get information about where they are," such as a map of the Business Technology Center and which panels, speakers, and meetings are going on throughout the day-long event.
For example, if you walked into the Demo Tent, where iViu's booth was located, you could use the app on your smart phone to look up details about not only the Tech Week event, but also iViu's website and other information.
If you went into the main tent, the app would show you information about the different speakers. In the lunch area you'd be able to look up the business that is serving lunch as well as the menu. In case you're in a meeting in a separate part of the event, the app sends you alerts or notifications when, say, the keynote speaker is about to begin or when lunch is being served.
The chief scientist on the iViu app, David Brown, has an office at the BTC. His company is called Intelligent Applications Hatchery. iViu Technologies recently opened their new office in Anaheim.
"We're trying to get the app into malls and other public locations," said Turner. "We had it in the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and we tagged each painting so you could get information about each painting and artist on your phone. We want to be a universal app."
"Ideally," Brown added, "this would be the same app you would use for concert information, for Disneyland, for supermarkets, for malls. It'd be a way for advertisers and manufacturers to communicate with the user at the point of sale."
Consulting for Disney
Jo Lilore, an Altadena-based Web Business Consultant who has been a tenant at the BTC since March, deals with web marketing and strategies for both start-ups as well as established companies.
"I'm actually a partner with the Business Technology Center," said Lilore. "Most of their companies here are technology development companies. I'm a consultant that partners with them, so I have a space here. My business is basically helping nonprofits and for-profit companies with their web presence. Historically I've worked with larger companies, either through ad agencies doing marketing work or through companies themselves."
For example, Lilore said he recently worked as a web consultant with Disney for a year.
"There are nuances to a newer business versus a larger corporation, but a lot of the same principles apply," he continued. "I work with both start-ups, including ones here in Altadena, as well as established companies."
This is one of a continuing series chronicling how we are dealing with the economic crisis. Tell us what issues and what stories in Altadena Patch go to the heart of your American Dream. Please contact editor Dan Abendschein at