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VOL. 38 | NO. 28 | Friday, July 11, 2014

Device tattles on teen drivers

Life-saving innovation yet another Nashville tech success story

By Joe Morris | Correspondent

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As Nashville’s robust technology sector continues to grow, more and more homegrown tech talent is opting to stay home.

Tech developers and venture capitalists are using Nashville as a springboard, rather than pulling up stakes and heading for bigger markets.

From the Entrepreneur Center to Jumpstart Foundry and the Nashville Technology Council, a core of support means that ideas born here – stay here.

Two Vanderbilt University graduates – William Green, cofounder of Cyber Physical Systems and Steve Berneman, CEO and cofounder of Overdog – have found tech success without ever leaving home.

The splitsecnd advantage

Green launched the company in 2010, and the next year received Jumpstart funding to begin work on splitsecnd, a device that plugs into a car’s cigarette lighter and detects collisions, calls for help and has a GPS locator.

It has an app for tracking via smartphone, and on Android devices allows the user to monitor whether or not a driver is texting while driving.

The company gave away 100 devices to parents of teenagers as part of a statewide campaign, Safe Summer TN, to monitor teen driving.

“That kind of protection has been available in higher end cars for a while now, but what we’ve built is a device you can install in any car,” Green says. “It’s valuable for parents who are concerned about their new driver.”

Steve Berneman, cofounder and CEO of Overdog, launching in fall of 2014 

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow

Green also worked with the Entrepreneur Center as he was moving splitsecnd to market and credits many factors with the company’s success.

“Some key components, such as GPS chips, were coming down in size and price,” he explains.

“But we were able to move from building a prototype while at Vanderbilt to working with Jumpstart and then the Entrepreneur Center, and we were lucky enough to come in early with both of them.

“We were able to grow and develop here in Nashville, and then work with Eric Satz at Tennessee Community Ventures for our first round of financing, and then work with Mountain Group Capital for our follow-up round.”

Playing with big dogs

Another local firm finding success in Music City is OverDog, a gaming platform that will let users compete against major athletes from the NFL, MLB, NHL, WWE and other leagues through console-based video games when those athletes are playing.

OverDog will debut this fall as an Xbox One application, and will allow gamers to connect through sports and social preferences, says Berneman, cofounder and CEO. Berneman launched the product with Nashville native and ex-Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer.

Splitsecnd is an automatic crash detector that plugs into your car and notifies emergency services

-- Photo By Michelle Morrow

“Seventy percent of people who play video games play online with other people, and the only options to play online now are friends who the player knows is available, or a random person chosen by the game publisher, Berneman explains.

“OverDog thinks that is not an optimal solution, so we have created a way where you can go online and play with someone who matters to you.”

After building a mobile app as proof of concept, OverDog has become the first startup accepted into the Xbox One ecosystem that is not a household name, such as Netflix, Hulu, Pandora and the other 22 apps on its marketplace.

The company has spent the last two years building out its app to get to this point, Berneman says.

“What our fans will do is turn on the Xbox One, enter the OverDog app, and then we read what games are in their console, as well as their profile, so we know who they are and what games they play,” he says.

“We know where you are, and based on our algorithm we can make smart matches for you. If you’re playing Madden and are a Titans fan, we can get you playing with other Titans fans, or against a fan from whatever team the Titans are playing that week.”

OverDog will also allow its users to play against well-known sports figures when those men and women are online playing through their own consoles.

“Athletes are some of the biggest gamers in the United States,” Berneman says.

“They get competitive through their console. We put it out through our platform when they are online, and shout it from the rooftops if people want to play against them. We don’t arrange games in the future — it’s all immediate.”

‘Tons of talent’

Like Green, Berneman is a Vanderbilt grad and saw no reason to pull up stakes after finishing his education.

“We have a lot of roots here, and not for nothing that matters,” Berneman explains.

“At the time of starting OverDog I was actually living in Austin, and debating whether or not to start the company there. If you don’t know Nashville, the quick answer usually is Austin, and even five years ago I would have stayed there.

“But what Nashville now offers is a growing entrepreneurial climate, and I understand what a strong startup infrastructure can do to help people get off the ground,’’ he adds.

“I felt like not only was Nashville building that, but I had an opportunity to come in, if not on the ground floor, then on the first floor, and start building.”

Both Green and Berneman say that while access to funding and mentoring has been key to their success, their willingness to stay in Nashville has also hinged on the ability to attract and retain talent.

“That’s changing because of all the schools around here, which are producing amazing graduates who want to stay in Nashville, but also because Nashville itself is attracting people,” Berneman says.

“We are getting tech talent that used to move west. We’ve hired two people from Los Angeles, one from Seattle and just brought in a guy who’s moving here instead of San Francisco. That speaks a lot to the quality of the city.”

Green also notes the rise in local and incoming talent, adding, “We’re looking at additional markets and expanding out to other states after we finish the Safe Summer TN campaign, but that’s only because we’ve done so well here.

“There is tons of talent coming out of Vanderbilt and other schools, and we also benefit from having the Entrepreneur Centers and things like it here in town.

“We needed that help to develop our pitch, and get it where it needed to go. A lot of tech talent has a strong educational background, but no idea how to take it and go forward with it.

“What Jumpstart and the EC did for us was to put us in front of a huge support network to help us figure out the financing side of the business, as well as how we were going to operate our company, and then give us the space and help us through all the early phases to make our company a success.”

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