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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 7, 2000. All rights reserved.
Productivity Works to isSound
Five years after opening a software company, Ray Ingram
and Mark Hakkinen have hit the bigtime. They have licensed some of
their technology to Microsoft, have gotten venture capital funding,
have moved the company out of Ingram’s Trenton home, and have changed
the name of the company. Formerly known as Productivity Works, it
is now called isSound (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
"Our company and technology strengths simply outgrew our old name,"
says Ingram, executive vice president of isSound. The firm is in temporary
space at 830 Bear Tavern Road and will move soon to 4,500 square feet
on the third floor. "The recent investment in the company by a
venture capital group has given us the impetus we needed to focus
on the burgeoning new Web markets for our software."
When Ingram and Hakkinen started out to develop technology for those
with visual impairments, they worked with Recording for the Blind
and Dyslexic (RFBD) on Roszel Road (U.S. 1, July 22, 1998). Mainstreaming
a niche technology developed for the disabled is a time-honored way
of bringing products to the marketplace: Ingram uses the example of
telephone typewriters developed for people with disabilities and mainstreamed
later on. "We always had mainstreaming in mind," he says,
"but first, the quality of speech synthesizers had to be improved."
"Microsoft Reader’s support of text and audio synchronization
will greatly benefit students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
This is a welcome and necessary step toward ensuring that the world
of E-books is fully inclusive and accessible to all readers,"
says John Churchill, RFBD senior vice president of operations.
"Taking a name that ties directly to our strengths as a company
makes it obvious to people what we are doing," says Ingram. isSound
focuses on auditory enabling of Web devices and software to provide
users access to information as they move through their day — starting
the day, commuting to and from work, getting ready for a business
meeting, and even preparing dinner, he says.
isSound is partnering with a Swedish firm, Labyrinten Data, a subsidiary
of the United Kingdom-based Dolphin Computer Access Ltd., a leader
in adaptive computer equipment for people who are nonsighted or partially
Just three years ago Productivity Works had less than
$200,000 in revenue. "We needed money to get products to market
and into the crossover mainstream market," says Ingram. A 1972
graduate of Hatfield Polytechnic in England, Ingram lives with his
wife, Kelly, a professional decorative painter, in the Cadwalader
section of Trenton. "We closed on the first round of venture capital
financing for a couple of million dollars."
"As part of the process of reimaging the company we are looking
at our plans in the area of PR and enhancing our marketing," says
Hakkinen, chief technical officer. A graduate of Washington University
in St. Louis, Class of 1980, he did graduate work at Virginia Tech.
He and his wife, Helen Sullivan, a psychologist and web designer at
Ariadne Design, have three children.
isSound’s deal with Microsoft for digital audio is nonexclusive, says
Hakkinen. "We announced it June 1 at the annual convention of
the Association of Audio Publishers, but we like to look at it as
the thin edge of the wedge, the first of many partnerships."
"What makes Microsoft love our technology is that it offers new
reading experiences for users," says Hakkinen. Microsoft is incorporating
isSound’s technology into the Microsoft Reader, an electronic bookreading
software. This will enable text-to-audio synchronization of E-books
created for the Microsoft Reader format.
"Sometimes, the only thing better than reading a good book is
to have someone read it to you out loud," said Dick Brass, vice
president of technology development at Microsoft. "With this innovative
technology, Microsoft Reader will offer the book lover yet another
way to enjoy a great title, with lots of flexibility and control.
For the vision and print-impaired, it can also open up whole worlds
of reading that were not readily available before."
Publishers can equip E-books so that consumers can alternate between
the audio and text versions, perhaps reading by one chapter and listening
to the next one. They will get the benefits of on-screen reading plus
the freedom and accessibility of audio books.
"With technology like ours you can seamlessly go from visual reading
to audio reading and back," says Hakkinen. "If you are really
into that suspense novel but have to drive a car you can go on with
it. I put these occasions into the category of `situational disabilities.’
For instance, I downloaded the new Michael Crichton novel, `Timeline,’
into my pocket PC to read it on planes and in the airport, but there
were times when I was running through the airport and wished I could
have closed the screen but kept listening to it."
"Someone on the go can have a library of 50 books in an E-book,"
says Hakkinen. "You will be able to go to a dot-com bookstore
and order the latest Grisham thriller in hardcover or open E-book
format. The other aspect that should not go ignored is the educational
impact. In addition to potentially being able to lighten the backpack
loads, the E-book offers a lot of potential in improving access for
kids with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. Texas has mandated
that all textbooks must be available in an accessible electronic format
Microsoft Reader currently ships with the Pocket PC and is scheduled
to be available for other platforms later this summer. Text-to-audio
synchronization in Microsoft Reader will not be included in the initial
release but is planned for incorporation in a later version. Likewise,
the tools for publishers to implement the new technology into E-book
titles are scheduled to be available after the first version of Microsoft
Reader is released.
Microsoft will donate a portion of licensing revenues to the DAISY
Consortium, an international nonprofit group dedicated to defining
a standard for digital talking books specifically for persons who
are blind or print-disabled.
isSound defines itself as a provider and developer of software products
for the auditory enabling of the Web and related applications and
software. It provides software to audio-enable both applications and
Web devices, and is particularly interested in open standards and
creating and maintaining equality of access to information and resources
for all people. Steve Cohen of Morgan Lewis & Bockius is the attorney,
and the accounting is done by Paul Gergle at Withum Smith & Brown.
"Having Microsoft embrace the ongoing efforts in digital talking
books by providing these capabilities directly in a mainstream product
like Microsoft Reader is a major step forward in the evolution of
electronic books," says Hakkinen. "Through the use of our
audio technologies, users can be liberated from the screen-based model
of the Web and easily access information for business, education,
and leisure purposes, when and where they want to."
— Barbara Fox
Tavern Road, Suite 301, Ewing 08628. Ray Ingram, executive vice president.
609-637-0099; fax, 609-984-8048. Home page: www.issound.com.
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