High Tech on Main Street
No one would mistake Richmond, Ind. for the Silicon Valley, but for several Earlham alumni, Main Street in Richmond has proven fertile ground to grow information technology businesses. In a stretch that includes some thriving local businesses — like Veach’s Toy Store and Joy Ann’s Bake Shop — but even more empty storefronts, several businesses owned and operated by Earlham grads have taken root. These companies are providing services — and creating jobs — according to decidedly 21st Century models.
Ray Ontko ’84 was a pioneer in Richmond’s technology sector. After an initial foray as an independent software developer (in partnership with Charlie Peck ’84, associate professor of computer science), Ontko went on to start a technology consulting company, Ray Ontko & Co. He later co-founded Doxpop, LLC, which provides electronic access to public documents (like mortgages, deeds and court case summaries) to subscribers in most Indiana counties.
With 13 employees, and ambitions to offer services in other states, Ontko’s companies are examples of how I.T. entrepreneurs are discovering niche markets online, and harnessing new technologies to provide sought after services in this digital age. Ontko says that Doxpop has allowed him to combine his interest in technology with a desire to move to a new phase of professional life.
“When we founded Doxpop in 2000, I was consulting with clients all over the eastern half of the United States, and I was looking for an opportunity to spend less time traveling and also use the knowledge I had gained in a way that could serve clients,” Ontko recalls. He partnered with Nick Fankhauser ’87, a former Wayne County I.T. Director, to create products that could serve the needs of county governments as well as those (including attorneys) who need access to official documents.
Ontko, a member of the Earlham Board of Trustees, notes with some satisfaction that he has also hired several younger Earlham alumni to work in his company, and that some of them have gone on to start their own local businesses.
Head in the Cloud
One such successful I.T. entrepreneur is Paul Retherford ’90, principal of two ventures, Scan Power and inCirrus which together employ six people.
Scan Power provides services to businesses that want to sell items online and distribute them using Amazon’s fulfillment services. Rutherford (and his business partner, Chris Green) create applications that allow entrepreneurs to market their products through Amazon’s popular website and distribute them through the vast network of warehouses and shipping and receiving facilities that Amazon created to ensure fast delivery of products ordered online.
“We have between 1600-2000 customers, ranging from mom-and-pop operations to businesses that do millions of dollars in sales. By providing these services, we allow people to focus their energies on other aspects of their business. It’s a model that benefits buyers, sellers and us.”
InCirrus is a consulting company that helps clients use “cloud computing” solutions to run their businesses more effectively. Retherford worked for Ontko’s consulting business for ten years, and with Ontko’s blessing, started inCirrus with clients he first worked with through Ray Ontko & Co.
Cloud computing refers to data stored on computers at a distance from the user and accessed via the Internet. An increasingly popular approach, the Cloud allows businesses to rent computer storage space for their data without buying the computers themselves.
“One of the great advantages of the cloud is that businesses pay to use only as much computing power as they need at a given time. It’s great for small businesses because their expenses can grow as their revenues grow.”
Eric Dimick Eastman ’96 is a case in point of the power of the cloud. He and his partner, George Knecht, created a business called Green Filing, also based in Richmond. The company uses computers that are physically located in Virginia to provide electronic court filing services in Utah.
Lawyers and others can subscribe to Green Filing’s service and file necessary official documents without the use of paper. Dimick Eastman notes that Utah has proved to be a good market for the service, as new state regulations will soon require electronic filings in many courts. He believes, however, that the services his company offers could expand to other states.
“If technology is used properly, electronic filing can be secure and convenient,” says Dimick Eastman. “Also, we estimate that we have so far saved at least two million sheets of paper in Utah.”
Dimick Eastman, who works out of an office in the Uptown Innovation Center (a business incubator, also on Main Street) echoed the thoughts of his fellow Earlhamites and noted that the low cost of living and friendly high tech community make Richmond an attractive place to start and grow a business. A former employee of Ontko, Dimick Eastman recently hired his first employee — fellow Earlham graduate and software developer James Patrick ’12.
Mastering the Web
Chris Hardie ’99 and Mark Stosberg ’98 founded Summersault in 1997, and have grown it into a thriving website development firm that offers a full range of services including design, consulting, hosting and support. From humble beginnings in a Bundy Hall dormroom, the company has grown to serve a wide range of clients — from adoptapet.com to Cope Environmental Center.
Summersault now has nine employees — from developers to sales people — and like its neighbors on Main Street, the company is always seeking new opportunities.
Hardie is particularly interested in finding ways to build community through the web.
“We're working on some new tools for communities across the country who are looking for new and innovative ways to use online tools for conversations about economic development, community improvement and sustainable growth,” says Hardie. “These are tools that we've been test-driving in our own backyard, and we're excited to help others make use of them.”
A member of the alumni council and a booster of many local causes, Hardie is pleased to see fellow Earlhamites making an economic impact in downtown Richmond.
“It's great to see our technology sector emerge, and it's of course great to see a lot of that driven by Earlham-educated entrepreneurs,” Hardie says.