Who Are Our Canadian Software Developers?

By Sterritt, Deborah | Teach, March/April 1997 | Go to article overview

Who Are Our Canadian Software Developers?

Sterritt, Deborah, Teach



In this issue, TEACH Magazine is exploring the topic of entrepreneurship. In keeping with this theme we are featuring four entrepreneurial, Canadian software developers: ICE Inc., Digital Frog International Inc., VR Didatech Inc., and Fitzgerald Studios. Each of these companies came to multimedia development from different backgrounds and for different reasons but each company sees their positive contribution to education as one of their greatest accomplishments.

One general theme identified in each interview was the importance of getting the message out about their software. Having a great product is not enough to become successful in software development. The whole development process is expensive and requires significant capital to see the project (and often the owners) through to completion. Having a great idea is not enough, you have to determine whether the product is needed, how many you can expect to sell and how you will drive sales. When you look at and use educational software you are seeing a product that typically has taken a year or more to develop and hundreds of thousands of dollars to create. Canada is an important market for software, but it is the U.S. market that is the focus of their efforts. Essentially, developers need to sell lots of software to recoup the costs of development.

I thought it would be interesting to find out a bit more about people who have decided that developing multimedia software is what they want to do for a living. Each responded to a series of questions that may provide some insight for future software developers.

ICE Inc. is the largest and oldest of the companies we included in our survey. They employ over 100 people in the U.S. and Canada, with about 40 who focus on software development. The founders of ICE, Doug Keeley and Jon Nicholls, started the company over 18 years ago as an audio visual house. They pioneered multimedia working with their client, Apple Canada, before most people knew what multimedia was. The company now produces digital new media, live events, and graphic design. They have developed six CD - ROM titless: Ideas that Changed the World, Events that Changed the World, Between Earth & the End of Time, and the Junior Nature Series: Insects, Amphibians and Birds. All of these CD - ROMs are successful in both the retail and education markets.

Asked about their greatest challenges, Keeley and Nicholls responded with the following: "finding good people, deciding which opportunity to pursue and how to make development profitable". I also asked them what their advice would be for students and they replied that, "technology is not the be all and end all...it is a tool...". Signifying that it is a means to an end and that without the right people, it's difficult to achieve a measurable level of success.

Digital Frog International Inc. (DFI) started in 1994 as a collaboration between three University of Guelph students who wanted to pursue their interests in technology and sciences through multimedia development. DFI has now expanded to six people and have developed two successful science CD - ROM titles: Digital Frog and the Wetlands. For more information concerning the titles, please see the January/February'97 issue of TEACH.

DFI is a young company that has concentrated on the science area in educational software. They have found a curriculum focus and age group (science for grades 6 & up) where there is little software available, and they have done a great job with their current products. They get a lot of satisfaction from the positive feedback they receive from teachers and students but have found marketing their products and raising the money to develop software to be the greatest challenges. It is admirable what they have accomplished given limited financial resources available to small technology companies in the development stage. Financial help from banks is virtually non - existent and family members often provide the money these entrepreneurs need. I asked them what advice would they give students and they replied that they should "believe in themselves". DFI has lived by this advice and will continue to produce great software.

Fitzgerald Studios was started by Owen Fitzgerald (owner, publisher, director) as a marriage of two of his interests; photography and computers. Fitzgerald owned and operated a still photography business for 20 years in Cape Breton and has published three books on photography. The idea for his first CD - ROM, The Fortress of Louisbourg, came while he was taking a course in Canadian history at the local University. The CD - ROM focuses on Cape Breton and the Fortress which had its 250th year anniversary in 1996. Since then, his company has gained a national reputation as a producer of historical, educational CD - ROMs. The company's latest title is Alexander Graham Bell, whose summer home was in Baddeck, Cape Breton. Bell Canada has purchased 12,000 CD - ROMs most of which will be given to schools across Canada as part of a celebration in March 1997 commemorating the 150th anniversary of Bell's birth and the 120th anniversary of the telephone.

Fitzgerald Studios is the smallest of the companies featured in this article, and has one employee; Owen Fitzgerald. He contracts out all work related to the writing, research, design, video, programming, translation (CD - ROMs in both English and French), narrators, photographers etc. His greatest challenge is creating CD - ROMs that make sense, are interesting and attractive. Another challenge is marketing the products to new customers, particularly the retail market (home user). His greatest satisfaction lies in his ability to share with others his love of the island and its history. His advice to students: "Find something you love to do and do it the best you can".

VR Didatech was created in 1996 through a combination of two companies; Didatech Software Ltd. (founded in 1983) and VR Systems Inc. (founded in 1991). Didatech's first piece of software was, Fay that Math Woman, but many may be familiar with Cross Country Canada or All the Right Type. VR Systems won national recognition through its premier CD - ROM, Adventure Canada. Co - founders Gary Gumley, Paul Melhus, David Vincent and David Young came to software development because of their interest in producing quality educational software for Canadian students. The company now has 18 software products to their credit and has grown to 18 employees.

The vision statement of the company clearly shows the commitment to the development of quality educational software. The company will "create learning environments that promote understanding through involvement."

The strong foundation of the company appears to be its commitment to producing software with Canadian content. Continuing in that tradition the company will be releasing two new and exciting programs this spring. One explores the life cycle of the salmon entitled, Salmon Odyssey, and the other is titled Canadian Treasures, a multimedia CD - ROM that consists of a tour of selected treasures from the National Archives of Canada.

According to VR Didatech, the Internet is proving to be a "wonderful enigma". While the plethora of information is empowering for the learner, the sheer quantity of material is beyond the capability of anybody to absorb, let alone, comprehend. VR is embarking on an ambitious project to bring structure for educators to the material available from the 'Net. Their first initiative is Adventure Everest On - Line, a program designed to provide specific learning out - comes for teachers through pre - designed worksheets and lesson plans. These will change daily as the information from a joint Canadian/U.S. climbing group attempting to scale Everest this spring, is followed by satellite link to the Web. This initiative will be followed by other on - line curriculum projects to commence this fall.

Canadian companies that develop software are an important resource for educators and students. Given the dynamic growth and change in the field, young Canadian entrepreneurs are well - positioned to take advantage of these opportunities or better, create their own opportunities for success.

Figures not transcribed Consult original publication

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