As applications for the 2010 Inc. 500|5000 arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (For more information and to apply, go to http://www.inc.com/inc5000apply/2011/index.html.) One that caught our eye was San Mateo, California-based Heartwood Studios.
Imagine if a pilot knew how to fly a plane before ever stepping into a cockpit, if a doctor knew how to perform a complicated surgery before ever cutting a patient, or if a soldier knew how to use his equipment before ever holding it in his hands.
What might sound like science fiction is now a reality, thanks to Heartwood Studios. Heartwood's custom-designed 3D virtual training applications provides customers like Raytheon, Honeywell, and the U.S. Army with a modern alternative to a PowerPoint presentation or training manuals.
"No one goes through the third slide of a PowerPoint presentation anymore without zoning out or checking their Blackberry for e-mail," says Heartwood's CEO and co-founder Raj Raheja. "So, how do we get their attention?"
The answer: video games. Heartwood's trademarked C2Act (think "see to act") Solutions employs the latest gaming technology to place users in a virtual reality similar to that of a Nintendo console. It allows, for example, a factory worker to stand on a virtual factory floor and fiddle with levers in the same way a flight simulator would allow you to take a trip to the moon. The games can be accessed through any web or mobile device from a desktop to an iPhone.
The idea of 3D technology used for tangible purposes emerged while Raheja was an architecture student in India in the late 1990s. "3-D visualization concepts were more interesting than architecture itself," he says. Raheja moved to the United States in 2001 and soon met his future business partner Neil Wadhawan, then a student at Northeastern University, through Wadhawan's father. They founded Heartwood in 2003.
Heartwood's early success did not stem solely from training applications. Instead, the company used their 3-D technology for a wide range of projects, including recreating accidents in 3-D to present in court, designing animated commercials for Whoopi Goldberg, Verizon, and Wag Hotels and in 2007, helping the Dallas Cowboys win the rights to Super Bowl through a virtual tour of their proposed stadium.
In 2008, the company refocused on using video game technology to train the next generation of aerospace and defense personnel. Initially, limiting its services halted Heartwood's growth, but the company remained optimistic. "We're the kind of guys that wake up in the morning, put our feet on the ground and on 90 percent of the days think positively," Wadhawan said.
Today, the reinvention seemed to have worked. After earning $2 million in revenue in 2010, the company expects 100 percent growth for the next two years. Last year, Military Training Technology magazine named Heartwood as one of the year's Top Simulation and Training Companies.
Heartwood plans to expand its business into medical training services and develop groundbreaking technology for consumers to create their own 3-D virtual realities as easily as using a personal camcorder. Now, Heartwood continues change corporate culture replacing 2-D manuals with 3-D videos. "I'm waiting for the tipping point of the world when people ask, 'But where's the video for that? Can I do it virtually first?'" says Raheja. "I'm waiting for that day, and then the floodgates will open."