At first Jeff Hazelton thought he'd be a doctor when he graduated in 1993 with a degree in biology from St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, but he enjoyed his art classes so much he decided to try to paint for a living. After a two-year adventure, sailing halfway around the world with two friends and selling his paintings "for $50 and lunch," he ended up as a DJ in a New Zealand bar. It didn't take long before he decided it was time to head back to his parents' home in Venice, where he married his passion for art and science in the new field of computer animation.
Entirely self-taught in graphic design and animation, today Hazelton, 35, is the president of BioLucid Productions, a medical animation company that creates movies for the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries with the same software that made Lord of the Rings and Spider-Man so realistic and entertaining. Although Hazelton established the company in San Diego to be near the biomedical industry and Hollywood animators, he relocated to Sarasota this spring with one salesperson and his lead medical animator, Ringling School of Art and Design grad Robert Hackle.
"What brought me here?" he asks. "Several things. The cost of living. San Diego is outrageous. Then there's the talent pool of animators at the Ringling School of Art and Design. I was just recruiting there yesterday. I still have family here and I like Florida. It's laid back and a great place to live, but it's growing rapidly. There are more opportunities. Here, the Economic Development Corporation is geared toward small business. In San Diego, you have to be a company with 1,000 employees before they pay attention to you. Animation studios don't get that large-20 people max."
BioLucid targets drug companies (Pfizer, Amgen and Prometheus Laboratories are clients), advising that complex medicines will be best understood-and prescribed-if doctors can quickly view what the drug does in the body rather than watching expensive commercials that portray vibrant, pain-free seniors playing tennis now that they're taking a new arthritis drug.
Physicians at trade shows are the primary target audience, and they often view the movies in booths that are designed like little movie theaters with 50-inch plasma screen TVs. The latest plasma TVs allow BioLucid's movies to be viewed in 3-D without special glasses. BioLucid's movies are also carried by pharmaceutical reps with tablet PCs and installed as flash videos on a drug company's Web site. Eventually, its movies will be on TV and used for patient education. Right now, BioLucid is working on a three-minute animation that will be shortened for use in a TV commercial for Pfizer's new inhaled insulin.
While Hazelton did not want to release his revenues, he says movies cost between $70,000 and $80,000 to produce and his company has been doing about 10 a year. "Medical animation is a growth market," Hazelton says. "It's just at the beginning right now. Last year was our best year yet. Our revenues have been doubling every year." -Susan Burns
Podcasting may well be the next wave of the digital media revolution, and Sarasota native Ian Bernard has been there from the beginning. Bernard, 24, has been working in radio since the age of 17, and now has his own show, Free Talk Live, not only syndicated on 11 radio stations nationwide, but also available on the Internet and now, on podcast, a medium that didn't even exist a year ago. The show was recently rated the No. 1 podcast in the world by PodcastAlley.com, a leading podcast directory, and ranked seventh on USA Today's list of the Top 10 podcasts.
Podcasting allows a digital audio file to be automatically downloaded to a portable media player, such as Apple's iPod, and can be produced by anyone with recording equipment and a computer. Bernard produces his political talk show from his $10,000 home studio in Sarasota and archives the shows on his Web site, freetalklive.com, where anyone in the world can tune in to his Webcasts and podcasts. Listeners simply store the podcast on their portable media player and listen to it whenever they want. Bernard and the other 3,000 podcasters in the world can bypass the mainstream media to communicate directly with their audiences, while listeners are given unprecedented control over what they hear.
Much of Bernard's popularity comes from his Libertarian stance on politics. He encourages people his own age to get involved in Libertarian causes and thrives on listeners who call in to talk about anything on their minds, political, personal or otherwise.
But the medium has yet to attract much advertising, and skeptics are asking, "Where's the profit?" Compared to traditional radio, podcast audiences are small and unreliable-although downloads can be tracked, there's no guarantee anyone actually listens-but they do offer laser-beam accuracy into specific markets, since consumers must actively seek the content they want.
So far, a big downside to the money-making capability of podcasting is that while listeners can hear commercials on live Webcasts, Bernard edits out the ads when he archives them for his Web site. "It makes their value to advertisers negligible-unless the advertiser buys a live read," he says.
Bernard's revenue from advertising is "not much to speak of"-a few hundred ad dollars per month-but he's not worried. He's approaching podcasting as a hobby and a venue for his Libertarian views. "My day job is calling radio stations across the country, trying to get them to add our show," he says. His plans are to broadcast full-time and to have enough syndicated station contracts and advertisers to generate revenue like a traditional company. Meanwhile, he awaits the general public's embrace of podcasting.
How did someone so young devise such a clever idea?
Bernard spent six years at local Clear Channel station WIBQ-AM, soaking up experience from every department. When the station changed from rock to FM talk radio and the local content disappeared, "I went to the manager and said, 'Let's put a local show on. I'll do it.' That's how we got our foot in the door." -David Higgins and Nichole L. Reber
CHECK YOUR IN-BOX
Every weekday morning, the S2 Report hits the in-boxes of a thousand Sarasota business and civic leaders.
Filled with excerpts from press releases about local business launches and expansions, notices of upcoming networking events and governmental workshops, and stock watches of regional companies, the e-newsletter (shorthand for Startup Sarasota) is written in a gossipy, authoritative style by its editor, Kendall Jones.
The S2 Report, launched on Jan. 10, is the brainchild of 26-year-old Anand Pallegar, a British native who moved to Detroit to attend the University of Michigan, where he started a Web hosting company that became so successful he dropped out of college in 1999 to run it. That evolved in 2001 into At Large, Inc., which he describes as an "innovative, interactive advertising agency" whose clients now include the Ford Motor Company and the UM School of Business. (Among its projects: "Play Indy 500," an interactive animated film showcasing Ford products and airing over touchscreen kiosks at auto shows.)
Pallegar, who moved to Sarasota a little over a year ago to be nearer his parents while he recovered from a car accident (his father is a physician in Bradenton), has also started Le Café du Jardin in Towles Court. The speed with which he put together the S2 Report-"it was launched in the back of a café with less investment than most people blow on dinner, and came together in less than a month" he says-mirrors the immediacy of the business news he and Jones deliver via e-mail every weekday morning.
Pallegar says he sees the S2 Report as a test of whether the Sarasota market can support a daily digital publication and a demonstration of "the power of grassroots viral marketing"-after all, this is a product that has developed completely word of mouth, without advertising. "It's entirely opt in," he says. "People subscribe. We don't spam anybody." The S2 Report receives some modest revenues from banner ads (in May rates were $175 and $275 per week depending on the size ad), but Pallegar says it was never intended to be a moneymaker. "Our focus was really to provide a community resource, share information, harness what other creatives and entrepreneurs are doing."
And now that he has their attention-and the attention of some 200 area CEOs who subscribe to the e-newsletter-Pallegar will bring a branch of his At Large interactive advertising agency to Sarasota. Just as in Detroit, he will initially focus on online campaigns.
But he promises those who have gotten accustomed to checking their in-boxes each morning for the S2 Report that even after he opens the agency, the newsletter will continue publishing with Jones at the editorial helm. -Ilene Denton
Warren Brittingham wants to take television advertising out of the family room and into neighborhood malls across the country. Last spring he got a good head start by installing stylish flat-screen TVs in four Southwest Florida malls.
Brittingham, CEO of Sarasota-based Intown TV, has contracted with Westfield Sarasota, Westfield Southgate, DeSoto Square and Port Charlotte Town Center to put 42-inch plasma TVs in their food courts and children's playgrounds. The first went up at Westfield Sarasota on April 1. He and the rest of Intown's sales staff of four are selling commercial spots-at $400 to $1,000 a month for 50 to 150 plays per day, depending on the shopping mall-to realtors, bankers, businesses and educational institutions. Michael's On East, PGT Industries and the American Automotive Group have all signed on. Intown TV will also broadcast news, weather, and other community content such as Amber alerts and severe weather warnings.
"We want to reach people when they're in a consumer mindset," Brittingham says. "When a consumer is in a mall they're already in a buying mode."
Intown TV purchased its equipment from another local company, Real Digital Media (RDM), which makes the digital signage hardware and software for in-store promotions, and either rents space from malls or offers a revenue-sharing arrangement. "We're basically a network manager," Brittingham says. "There are a lot of companies in the digital sign market," he says, "but [because of RDM] we run ours off a small appliance a quarter the size of a VCR. There's no need for a PC or a DVD player, and we can update content over the Web at any time."
Brittingham, a Sarasota native, founded Nations Cable, a digital cable and high-speed Internet provider with exclusive contracts in seven communities, including Tampa, Jacksonville and Atlanta, in 2002 and sold it in 2004. He's encouraged by the initial response to Intown TV. "I went to the mall a couple of days after it was installed and stood around the food court asking people, 'Did you see that TV up there? Did we pick the right spots? Was the TV too high? Was it too low?' And everybody in that food court area told me they'd noticed the TV and could recall an ad.
"We're working on Pinellas, Hillsborough, Lee and Collier counties next," he says, "Then the business plan is to go statewide the end of 2006, and after that nationwide." He projects annual revenues to exceed $3 million by mid-2006. "We're negotiating right now with larger real estate owners to take on an entire mall owner's properties in different parts of the country." -Ilene Denton