Sunday, April 27, 2008
By Don Shilling
ON THE MOVE
“After being in the other building with no windows, everybody’s excited about the windows here.”
Turning Technologies co-founder and chief executive
A software provider looks to expand beyond classrooms and corporate training.
YOUNGSTOWN — Turning Technologies finally has some elbow room.
The local company — recently named one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation — moves into its new downtown headquarters Thursday.
The company’s local staff has grown from 50 to 125 in the past two years as schools, universities and corporate trainers have rushed to adopt its audience response system. It allows presenters to receive real-time feedback from audience members using small response cards.
All of the new workers have been shoehorned into small offices on four separate floors of the Youngstown Business Incubator on Federal Plaza West.
The adjacent Taft Technology Center offers a much different environment. The front and back walls are made mostly of glass, allowing plenty of natural light to spill into the offices. A glass-enclosed shaft has been built through the third floor to allow sunlight to reach into the middle of the second floor.
“After being in the other building with no windows, everybody’s excited about the windows here,” said Mike Broderick, company co-founder and chief executive.
For Broderick, the best feature is the open-floor environment. Most of each floor is without interior walls, and the work stations have movable petitions so that workers can easily gather in teams.
“There aren’t any private offices in the building, not even for me,” Broderick said.
The design is meant to help people in the same department share ideas and work together.
“There is a saying here that we believe in: ‘We is smarter than me,’” Broderick said.
And the new building has lots of space. With 35,000 square feet, it has more than three times the space that Turning Technologies is using at the incubator.
With the space, the company to bring to Youngstown four engineers who now are in Akron working on hardware designs. The company has 10 sales representatives that will continue to be based in other cities.
The new building cost $5.9 million and was paid for with state and federal funds. The Youngstown Area Central Improvement Corp., which oversees downtown development, is turning over ownership soon to the incubator.
Neither incubator officials nor Broderick would disclose payments on the five-year lease. The incubator generally provides space rent-free for startup companies but is leasing space to Turning Technologies as part of its attempt to create a cluster of technology companies.
Broderick said the company doesn’t need the entire building, at least not yet. The building can support more than 200 employees, which is where Broderick figures Turning Technologies will be sometime next year.
Company sales have increased from $20.6 million in 2006 to $28 million last year and show no signs of slowing. In a ranking of privately held companies, Inc. Magazine last August named Turning Technologies as the country’s fastest-growing software company and 18th fastest-growing company overall.
Both of Turning Technology’s major markets — education and corporations — are expanding rapidly.
“We’re just getting started,” said Broderick, who started the company with two others in 2002.
A major source of growth comes from sales to other countries. The company’s foreign sales increased 20 percent last year, and Broderick expects a 25 percent jump this year. Eventually, more than half of its sales will be to other countries, he said.
Distributors in Asia are particularly excited about the product because students are more reserved there, he said. Teachers and professors see audience response systems as a better way of involving them in a lecture, he said.
Also, the local company is expanding into new markets.
One new area is incorporating audience response systems into theaters and sports stadiums. Broderick said the market research industry is huge and eager to learn about people’s interests and buying habits. By installing an audience response system into a theater, a company could run a trivia contest and give away prizes, while at the same time asking people to respond to market research questions.
At sporting events, operators could generate revenue by charging people to use the system to participate in contests.
Turning Technologies also is testing Web-based software that would allow someone to turn a mobile communications device, such as a Blackberry, into a response card that could be used in a university lecture or corporate training event.
Broderick also thinks that the company’s technology can be spread to other fields. The company recently received a patent for its receiver, which can communicate quickly with 1,000 response cards. Broderick said the new technology allows the unit to operate with a smaller and longer-lasting battery.
Work on six to 10 other patents is continuing, he said.
Growth also will come from acquisitions and investments in other companies, he said. Broderick recently turned over title of company president to Dave Kauer, who had been chief financial officer. As CEO, Broderick will focus on the strategic direction of the company.
Broderick said the acquisitions and investments could come in companies that are not related to the audience response field. Such growth would make sense because Turning Technologies could offer its expertise in order fulfillment, administration and worldwide distribution, he said.
With its new headquarters, Turning Technologies has committed to overseeing all of that growth from downtown.
“This building is launching us into our next step of creating a much larger global organization,” Broderick said.