Startups to Watch: Exocortex goes big into 3D animation

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Mark Brownlee
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Ben Houston’s only concern about his company is that it might not be growing fast enough to take advantage of what he believes is a seismic shift in the 3D animation business.

Ben Houston is founder and chief technology officer of Exocortex.

“I think we really are on the cusp of revolutionizing this industry,” he said. “And my biggest fear is that we don’t go big enough, quick enough.”

There are some lofty expectations for Exocortex, the Ottawa-based company that provides animation technology to some of the biggest names in the game and movie production industries.

But Mr. Houston doesn’t believe they are unrealistic.

For the past several years, Exocortex has been selling software that well-known game developers and movie producers – its service has been used to make blockbusters such as Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and Pacific Rim – use to animate their products.

He believes that is only the tip of the iceberg, however. The real money, said Mr. Houston, lies in the company’s nascent cloud-based product.

Software has a high cost of ownership and requires a high-end computer to be able to use, he said.

The cloud-based solution, on the other hand, switches all the hard work to Exocortex’s servers. That allows clients to do the same work but for a much lower cost, said Mr. Houston.

He said it’s like an office shifting from the software-based Microsoft Word to the cloud-based Google Docs, with all the functionality of a traditional solution.

“We are leading the way in this technology transition,” he said.

The potential is all in this cloud stuff. The market is about a hundred times larger. Ben Houston, founder and CEO of Exocortex

The company has already signed up 34,000 users for the beta version of the product since it launched last summer.

He expects the user base to grow by more than a thousand times once the full version is released in a few months.

Nonetheless, there is one obstacle standing in the way of Mr. Houston’s desire to go big: money.

Exocortex has been profitable for the past five years, allowing the company to invest a lot of its earnings back into the company. The company has also received money from the federal government’s IRAP program and from angel investors.

He said he can’t discuss details of the company’s plans for securing more funding but expects it “won’t be an issue” in a couple of months.

Founded: 2005

Local head count: Eight

Funding: $545,000 in external funding, including money from IRAP, the OCE Market Readiness program and angel investors. The company has had $1 million in funding when re-invested profits are included.

Selected client list: Psyop, Whiskytree, StereoD

Description: Software and cloud-based computer animation programs

Organizations: Microsoft Word, Google Docs

Geographic location: Ottawa, Pacific Rim

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