Three of Knoxville's rising Internet innovators
by Mike Gibson
Besides the out-of-date magazines and sterile ambiance, most physicians' offices have one thing in common: the mountains of manila envelopes stacked in the office behind the receptionists' desk. Those ubiquitous folders contain patients' records, of course, reams of information collected from trips to hospitals, general practitioners and specialists.
If Oak Ridge firm AllMeds (www.allmeds.com)
is successful, those dog-eared stacks may become a thing of the past. Founded
in 1997 by local ear, nose and throat (E.N.T.) specialist Tom Upchurch, the company
has just begun marketing a computerized patient record system that could at long
last remove medical science from the Paper Age.
"Tom saw this as a very inefficient way to access information," explains Steve Poteet, vice president of sales and marketing. "There are existing software programs for medical records, but none were specific enough. They were sort of one-size-fits-all, such that specialists had to significantly modify the program to suit the information they needed for their practice. The vision was to create a program usable by all physicians, but with different sections for each specialty."
As luck would have it, one of Upchurch's patients was quintessential Oak Ridge entrepreneur Pete Craven, founder of the local branch of Science Application International Corp. as well as a number of other ventures. Using the resources of Craven's current project, Integrated Computer Systems, Upchurch and company began crafting a series of programs specific to individual medical specialties.
AllMeds rolled out its first product, a program designed for E.N.T.s called OtoMeds, in July of '99. Now they've released the heart-specific CardioMeds, with 15 more specialty-related programs due by the end of 2000.
"There's a technology-adoption phase we'll have to go through, but so far we've been received very well," says Poteet, noting that AllMeds' systems have thus far been installed in Maryland, Texas, Oklahoma and New Jersey as well as locally. "Ideally, everyone will have the software, making it a simple process to electronically pass along data from office to office."
Perhaps most unique about AllMeds, says Poteet, is the local groundswell of moral and fiscal support that allowed the company's first efforts to see fruition. "Most of the funding has come from local physicians and from Mr. Craven," Poteet says. "If the enthusiasm elsewhere is anything like it is here, AllMeds should be successful."
Internet Business Images
In one of their typically droll television commercials, overnight delivery specialists Federal Express take a poke at the often wacky world of web designers. Their spot features a group of slack-jawed small business-folk watching in disbelief as a parade of self-styled Web-headsdestructo punks, toked-up hippies, lotus-legged Asian guruspitch their vision for the company's website.
According to Oak Ridge entrepreneurs George Farris and Jeanne Underwood, that tongue-in-cheek depiction contains more truth than fiction. "Most of what we see in Web design are people who view it as a hobby or a sideline," says Farris. "People who are technically oriented, with a fundamental lack of understanding of small businesses and how they operate. They have the tools, but not the marketing experience."
Farris points out that many sites have little or no connection to a company's
other marketing activities, as if the design had been forged in a vacuum, cut
off from any larger strategy. He and Underwood sought to remedy this too-common
online malady when they founded IBI (Internet Business Images, www.ibi-tn.com)
in 1997. The duo design websites with a larger marketing concept in mind, as an
adjunct to other advertising and p.r. a client might employ. "Some people go back
and rework all of their marketing after they've worked with us," says Underwood.
"It makes them realize they haven't put enough thought into their marketing plan."
As a former DOE chemical engineer, Farris is the self-described technical half of the IBI duo; Underwood, a Chattanooga native and former systems analyst with experience in marketing, brings to IBI market savvy borne of real-world experience. They met as fellow employees at an Oak Ridge firm that trafficked heavily in small business affairs. Today, their extensive client list includes a host of local and not-so-local enterprises, including Gailbreath Labs, White Oak Realty, Fox Toyota, and the Oak Ridge Federal Credit Union.
According to Farris, most web designers are guilty of two cardinal sins when crafting sites for potential cyber-consumers; the overuse of new technology, and the sacrifice of substance in favor of style.
"People use these websites for information; they're not going to be entertained," says Farris. "Users don't like things that take a long time. And when you use all of the newest technologies, you limit the number of users. Not everyone is equipped for the newest and latest.
"When we started, we often had to explain what a website is. Now, websites are increasingly being viewed as an integral part of business, to the point we don't have to go out and sell anymore. It's been a real evolution in attitude."
There's a flier floating around the Metro Pulse office, a tongue-in-cheek
advertorial spoof plugging "L.A.S.T. (Large Array of Stale Technology)"a
fictional computer network that mimics the function of more powerful systems by
interconnecting enormous chains of has-been technology. At local sister companies
Fasser Computer Technologies (www.fasser.com)
and Webcentric (www.webcentric-tn.com),
nobody gets the joke.
Founded by former computer salesman Tim Thomas and UT compu-sci grad Mishi Saravi, Fasser began as a distributor for computer hardware, and soon evolved into what sales manager Mike Graves calls "a one-stop, everything resource for users. Nowadays, people can't keep up with all of the training and resources they need, so technical support has been taken from wholesalers directly to corporate end-users."
When Fasser grew increasingly successful, its founders stepped out of the day-to-day operations and started Webcentric, a company devoted to software development with an emphasis on Web technology and e-commerce.
Webcentric's chief project is a concept that pulls together an array of lesser systems to act in lieu of supercomputers"a soup of heterogeneous machines, people's donated equipment," says Graves.
Rather than employing a handful of supercomputers, the company can create higher computing function by linking large numbers of older machines, many of which are obtainable at little or no cost. "There are fewer than 100 people working on this technology worldwide," Graves continues. "The beauty of it is that you can go get parts at CompUSA."
Currently, Webcentric's technology is still research-oriented, employed in fields such as terrain dynamics and astro-physics. One day, however, the Fasser/Webcentric folks see it as a corporate tool, a means to run websites and perform any number of other functions presently undertaken by higher-tech machines.
"When people hear about us, they're surprised we're not in Silicon Valley," Graves chuckles. "What we're doing is definitely unique in the state."