News and Events
Alumnus Curt Thornton Gives Marketing a Whole New Dimension
Remember that classic Star Wars scene when R2-D2 projects a 3-D image of Princess Leia begging Obi-Wan for help? "This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you're my only hope," pleads a holographic, bun-donning Carrie Fisher.
Thirty years later, that technology is no longer just a figment of movie magic, nor does it require a lovable droid sidekick, or even special glasses. Through his company Provision Interactive, Inc., entrepreneur Curt Thornton is bringing this "wow-factor" technology into grocery stores, car dashboards, and even your living room.
A self-described "recovering engineer," Thornton earned his bachelor's degree in engineering from Western Illinois University before enrolling years later in the Presidential Key Executive (PKE) MBA program at Pepperdine's Graziadio School of Business Management. His thesis became the basis for his now-burgeoning business.
"The concept of the business plan was, let's take the multimillion dollar 3-D projection systems that people will typically only see in the theatre or maybe a theme park, and let's find a way to make a cost-effective product that we can bring to the masses," he says.
The Chatsworth, California-based company has developed and patented a 3-D experience that Thornton describes as more Minority Report than Star Wars. "While Princess Leia was very granular and low-resolution, we can actually project high-quality, high-resolution, bright, digital, moving images almost three feet into space. We can make a hologram that you can touch or grab, manipulate, and change into something."
Thornton founded Provision in 2001 in the midst of a successful career contributing to thriving start-ups in technology and entertainment. "I had just finished my MBA, so I now had the confidence to do it on my own," he says.
He brought together an engineering team to analyze all of the 3-D technology out there and create a cost-effective medium. Thornton was able to attract the venture capital he needed and with the money, the concept, the plan, and the confidence in hand, Provision Interactive was born.
Today Provision is launching its bread-and-butter: the "3-DEO reward center," which will appear soon in grocery stores throughout the Pacific Northwest. "Customers will spend one to three minutes looking at some cool holograms, and just before they leave and go shopping, there's a touch screen for them to interact with and print out coupons on demand," Thornton says, mentioning pending negotiations to put similar kiosks in a large coffee and restaurant chain.
Provision has also partnered with Daihatsu, a division of Toyota based in Tokyo, to implement a 3-D holographic dashboard in Daihatsu's latest concept car. Provision engineered the specially designed dashboard, combining a 2-D flat screen as the traditional dashboard with a 3-D holographic screen that presents warnings and vehicle information. Daihatsu plans to make the technology available in vehicles by 2012.
As for the future, Thornton says he didn't get where he is by thinking small. "We have plans not only to continue putting our screens inside retail stores, but we're beginning to think about bringing it into the home." In two or three years, he hopes to offer affordable TV screens for 3-D video games and movies.
In the 25 years of Thornton's career, watching Provision grow from zero to a publicly traded company has been one of his highs. Of course, his success didn't materialize out of thin air like his 3-D images seem to magically do. "Within a company, you start out 'The Little Engine that Could' and you run across hurdles, naysayers and obstacle after obstacle. I think the biggest contributing factor to my success has been perseverance and the mindset that failure is not an option."
And if Provision makes it to Wall Street and some investor buys it for a staggering amount of money, Thornton says he might just turn his pastime of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses into a more full-time gig. Of course, he makes no guarantees of that. "Once you get that entrepreneurial bug, it never quite leaves your system," he says with a smile.
by Audra Quinn