Local Tech Company Pivots Business Model to Make Video Games for Fortune 500 Companies
For four years, buddies Shane Istre and Jason Perkins have navigated a road that for most business upstarts would be loaded with unknowns: where to find investors; when should sales become a priority; should R&D be constant; how much to charge for goods or services?
Two years ago Shane and Jason moved their business into the Opportunity Machine – Acadiana’s leading business incubator. In August they enrolled in Accelerate Acadiana, a 12-week boot camp at the OM for some of our region’s most promising entrepreneurs. Both decisions have been pivotal to the company’s current success and long-range goals.
What they learned at the OM has shaped and reshaped their maritime safety training firm. Not even the name is the same. Kheiron, the original company with physical assets that included a training facility in Youngsville, was sold.
Shane, 42, and Jason, 45, retained Kheiron’s intellectual property and created Digital Twin Studios LLC, which allows marine companies to train workers remotely by providing a virtual industrial setting: an offshore oil and gas platform; an offshore supply vessel; a cruise ship’s engine room. The ability to train and test employees at job sites for industry-mandated refresher courses saves companies the expense of transporting those employees to land-based test sites.
The decision to concentrate on virtual training has made all the difference. Customers such as Shell Oil and Carnival Cruise Line have signed on, and Digital Twin is on the verge of signing up an offshore supply vessel operator headquartered in New Orleans. Also interested is one of the world’s largest oil and gas service companies – Schlumberger.
Investors too are lining up. Rusty Cloutier, former chairman and CEO of MidSouth Bank has committed capital, as has Allison Marine founder Steve Orlando.
Shane and Jason believe one of the factors in their so-far success has been the OM – where tech and business pros teach how best to pitch to investors and customers; where Digital Twin innovates their services in the facilities of the Louisiana Immersive Technology Enterprise; where there is a direct line to a certified group of angel investors called “Acadiana Angels.”
"Kheiron has been a great example of critical decision-making for start-ups in Lafayette Parish,” said Destin Ortego, program administrator at the OM. “They saw an opportunity to focus on a smaller portion of their original business model that had the ability to scale quickly and they took it. It was an extremely smart pivot and we plan to use this as an example when training other start-ups faced with similar cross roads."
The lessons being learned during Digital Twin’s incubation are being applied to other startup firms at the OM, where firms benefit from the ubiquity of techies.
“It’s full of entrepreneurs,” Shane said. “It’s very motivating. Here, you’re surrounded by guys (and gals) creating companies.
“It’s very energized,” he said.
Early on, however, only Jason was energized. In summer 2013 Jason began talking his longtime friend Shane into starting a business – one more time. Shane had gone the business-owner route before and wasn’t sure he wanted to do it again.
It took months of weekend visits – their wives are best friends – before Jason gave Shane that needed nudge: Jason told Shane he was going into business with or without him. Jason’s declaration worked in tandem with promising financial projections to convince Shane that embarking on another entrepreneurial journey could pay off. The men formed their company, and in 2015 they were recruited to the OM by the incubator’s former director, Zach Barker.
“I think we came at the right time,” Jason said.
Last year, after receiving a federal grant, the OM worked with Lafayette nonprofit Innov8 to put on Accelerate Acadiana, a 12-week business acceleration school for tech-oriented startups. Digital Twin (Kheiron at the time) vied with 52 other firms for the session, and was among the nine that were accepted. What the course offered aligned with what the businesses needed: mentoring in business practices including modeling and pricing, sales pitches to customers and to investors.
It was the access to investors that excited Jason and Shane.
To gauge how the enrollees were doing, the OM held investor-pitch contests at the beginning and ending of the accelerated boot camp. At the first contest, held at a packed Grouse Room in Lafayette, Shane placed second in the pitch contest. At the end of 12 weeks, Shane and Digital Twin (then Kheiron) were named overall winners with their final pitch.
“Without the OM we would not have known about Accelerate Acadiana, and without Accelerate Acadiana we would not have had access to these investors,” Jason said.
The abundance of technical know-how also helped. Two tech-savvy millennials hired on as interns last year are now full-time employees. They join to other employees of Digital Twin who have equity stakes in the company.
Next for Digital Twin is taking on an additional partner, signing up the investors and attracting more customers.