On Wednesday March 26, 2015 Softec got a back stage tour of the PRP Companies in SLO. Our tour lead was the CEO Todd Ventura and he clearly knows his industry and has the passion for their tech.
PRP Companies are broadly described as a commercial printer but they are much more than just that. PRP Companies do print, apparel, creative, mail, and web. We got a backstage tour lead by Todd Ventura who walked us through the pre-press, large format, high-speed digital, color printing, bindery, mail.
The pre-press room consists of a several high-end macs with a printer that outputs metal film (plates) for the press. This replaces what used to be a larger staff setting up the film to finally create the plates. Now the plates are optimized and rendered directly.
Large Format Printing
The large format department consists of several large printers including a latex printer that avoids lots of the environmental issues of ink printing. This department creates lots of large format items including Vehicle Wraps, Floor Graphics, Trade Show Graphics, and Banners. One interesting us of large format is the ability to create custom wallpaper and I can think of all sort of creative uses for that. The key to this department is that the print is big and so is the impact.
High Speed Digital Printing
This department consists of multiple high-speed digital printers and the range of projects varies greatly. In production during our tour was a book that was printed and spiral bound – a great way to have a lay-flat document. Todd talked to us about many of the improvements in this area being able to handle materials that were impossible a few years ago. As an example they can print a box in these printers and then fold them out to the final box form.
Color Printing Printing
To me this is the heart an soul of a commercial printers and in this department they were running a magazine and the technology is amazing. The print runs through 6 colors to a sealant and dryer resulting in a fully set print with wonderful resolution that can be process ready to bindery in just minutes. To demonstrate this Todd pulled a sheet right off the printer and rubs the page with no blurring of the ink images.
Bindery Department handles the job after printing and includes trimming, collating, and binding. The first machine Todd showed us was the cutter and it goes through several inches of paper in a single cut and the edge is perfectly straight. This requires a very sharp knife and lots of pressure. Todd demonstrated the safety equipment on this machine that is there to insure he never has an employee nicknamed Stubby. Safety and environmental controls are no joke in this company and you can see they have spent time and resources making sure the business is a professional work environment.
The second machine Todd and John demonstrated is the one in picture. This takes the print output from high speed digital or color printing departments and colates, staples, and trims on three sizes to create the final product.
Mail Processing & Inkjet Addressing
This department is the final stage for some projects where they prepare the item for delivery in the mail. This includes equipment for collating, folding, addressing, and sealing. There was no job in process during the tour but Todd did a good job explaining how this can save clients money by getting the best postal rates but doing the right prep before delivering to the USPS.
Overall the event was a great tour although I was disappointed in the turnout. Our mission of creating Softec moments are better served by large groups but the small turnout resulted in a more personalized tour of the business.
Thanks to our Host
Softec would like to thank PRP Companies for the backstage tour and the insight into how this business operates. If your business has an interesting story of interest to the technology community please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an event like this.
This last weekend New Tech High in Nipomo held its first Startup Weekend. We have had plenty of these but wait for it because there is a twist. This event was targeted at the high school level and I had the honor of touring the event on Saturday. Each team briefed me on the idea they were working on and the challenges they were trying to overcome. I can tell you that the participants were young but they were taking on and thinking about big problems.
While the groups were high school students the ideas were not kid stuff. All Startup Weekends have some degree of fun and silliness to them but these groups were really on their game. The ideas were on par with the other Startup Weekends and I would not be amazed to see a real business out of this event. This was one of those situations where you get to see the future and I can tell you the future is bright and so are these young men and women.
As I visited the groups one thing that really struck me was percentage of women in the groups. This event drew 52 participants and I was told that 40% were women. I am a math geek so I can tell you that this data is wrong but the truth is there were lots of women on the teams and many in the leadership roles. This is in stark contrast to prior Startup Weekends and I must tell you it was great to see. Recently Softec has been talking about the problem of attracting women to our industry and it appears that New Tech High might have a secret the rest of us should come to understand. Whatever they are doing in this program they may be laying the foundation to cure one of our industry’s greatest problem.
The other item that I have to mention is the teacher involvement. This event had support from a team of teachers not just one solo voice. New Tech High appears to be a different type of school at its foundation and we need to support these types of experiments in our local schools. We recently saw many of these teachers at our dinner on Women in Technology and if this event is an example of their work we better listen real careful to this group of educators.
Having been to a participant at seven prior Startup Weekends I can tell you that this was a very well run event. I was told by one of the event leaders that an overwhelming and consistent comment from the kids this weekend was:
“This is what school should be like”
Softec and our friends stepped up and supported this event because like all Startup Weekends it is perfectly inline with our mission. I need to give shout outs to the Softec members that joined with Softec for the donation to the event.
Thanks for the Support!!!
If you have kids in the High School and Middle School levels please encourage them to get involved and change the world. This event is hosted by Central Coast New Tech High but is open to all high school and middle school students.
More Program Details
If you missed the plant tour at Lineage Logistics you missed a very cool tour and you can take the word both ways. The Santa Maria Manufacturers Association was the coordinator for the event and we had 40-45 people for a 7:30am start time. The thing you have to know about Santa Maria is they tend to start earlier than most SLO groups.
The building is 225,000 square feet and it is actually much larger than the footprint would indicate. I spent 16 years working in the foodservice industry so I am no stranger to this sort of facility but I must admit to being in awe of the 40 foot ceiling. Other facilities I have worked in were closer to 25 feet and that was considered state of the art in those days.
They took us through the warehouse and there is something special about walking into a room that is 100,000+ SF with minus 40 degree air. It has been a long time since I have experienced that temp and in some ways I miss it – however I quickly got over it. I suspect that more than a few people that are acclimated to the mild central coast felt this was way cool in both senses of the words. Those that showed up in shorts probably regretted that morning’s wardrobe selection.
This is a shot of the front of the building and by this point the group had spent a few minutes in sub-zero warehouses so they were enjoying the warmth even if it was a brisk morning by local standards.
This picture of the forktrucks gives you some idea of the scale of the building. Those forklifts run up to 40 feet and weigh in at about 8,000 pounds with an average lift of 2,000. Needless to say they must have very well trained staff.
I love how they paid attention to the little details. Note in this picture that the signs are printed two ways. One is inverted so it reads properly in the mirror of the truck when they are backing up to the dock. Truck can back up and seal to the building and then open the door on inside so they do not compromise the temperature of the storage area. The facility has open dry storage at a very balmy 38 degrees and some office space so if you are looking for that sort of thing give them a call.
I do not know about everyone else but I really enjoy plant tours and would like to thank the Santa Maria Manufacturer’s Association for putting these types of events on. Santa Maria has lots of very interesting businesses and they have a warm welcome even at the very cool places.
If you have never been to a Startup Weekend I recommend you add it to your bucket list. It’s a 54 hour event held over a weekend with the purpose of pitching an idea, building a team, and prototyping a business before 5pm on Sunday. To say it is intense is a bit of an understatement. Cal Poly hosted the event this weekend and it started with about 120 really smart people pitching ideas.
The first phase are the pitches and we probably had about 35 that emerged from the crowd. Each person had an opportunity to do a 60 second pitch to the group. The ideas were wide ranging, some were thought out and others just burst into the room.
I pitched an idea for business intelligence but it got crushed by the other ideas in the room. To put this in perspective I had six votes, three of which were mine, and the top ideas had votes in the 20+ range. Since it looked like I did not have enough to create my own team I joined one that would later be named “Clock’d.” The process on the floor is interesting because the teams form based on people’s interest in the idea and belief in what the team is setting out to do.
This is followed by an election process to select the top ideas, which is an exercise in crowd planning. Each person gets three post-it notes that serve as votes and people wander around to vote on the ideas they liked best. Somehow out of this emerged 13 ideas that served as the base of group formation. After that, people attach themselves to the top ideas they like resulting in groups of five to 15. The net result was 13 groups and all the members wanted to work on that idea.
The groups went off and found space to talk and get to know each other. The goal was to get team buy-in before shutting down around midnight. Our group met in the library and talked about our strengths and weaknesses, which would prove to be extremely valuable over the weekend.
During that first evening the team went around the table introducing themselves and it turned out to be a very balanced team. We had four business people, three developers, one designer, and one TOG (Token Old Guy – that’s me). If I had carefully planned and interviewed people I do not think I could have selected a better team. I am always amazed how such good teams emerge from what appears to be total chaos. As the event evolved over the weekend another developer joined our team because he was a friend of the designer. Over the course of the evening the team divided itself into development and business and agreed to the idea details.
The idea was a time clock based on mobile technology that solves many of the problems with time and attendance recordkeeping. I have been involved with software development for over 35 years and it amazes me how these teams can agree on specs and be writing code within a few hours. In the business world, developing the specs before coding starts would be months, yet these teams do it in hours. As the code emerges there is this rapid iteration of the specs and code that happens in a continual improvement loop that would impress any project manager. With no leader, no written specs, and violating every best practice on the planet, this team had a working prototype that they ran live on stage Sunday night and it came off flawlessly. It takes real guts to go live on-stage with no safety net but they did it.
Saturday morning the event opened back up at about 8am but in reality it was about 9am before the team had enough coffee in them to get the creative minds moving again. By midday on Saturday the tech teams were focused on the product prototype and the business teams were out talking to potential customers. In our team, the product is the next generation of clocking in/out. The team had people out validating the viability of the idea while the techs were coding the prototype. By 11am the tech team had gotten an iPhone working as the location host to talk with and trigger the arrival event within about a 100 foot range of the base.
It was lunch on Saturday and the tech/design team had a basic prototype up and running. Then as the market research team returned there was discussion of a huge pivot and a reset of the goals. Needless to say, this caused some conversation within the tech team. Ultimately they decided to stay the course and keep the basic concept but they adjusted the target market. As the development went on during the day I started writing down the words emerging from the tech team. These were just tidbits of the conversation:
…it almost worked
…it half worked
…it 80% worked
…that should never happen
…how can the error always be on line 15?
…we are 95% done (unfortunately the last 5% takes 19 times longer to finish than the first 95%)
The startup evaluation includes market validation and they encourage the teams to get out and talk to people about their idea. Our business team (Nick, Katie, Eli, and Austin) talked to a wide range of businesses in downtown SLO. After the first cycle of validating their idea they returned rather down because they got some negative input. They eventually figured out that not all products fit for all businesses and that people saying ‘no’ is not necessarily a bad thing. This caused them to start talking about pivoting on the idea but the reality is they simply talked to the wrong people. They went back out two more times after taking input and adjusting their research. After that we wrote an email to the local CEO Roundtable group and got input from five local CEO’s that were much better matches for their idea. The problem they discovered is that their idea needs a certain amount of employees to create leverage and value. The CEO Roundtable group input really helped them refocus and understand that you have to pitch your idea to the right people and not everyone is the right one. I would like to thank Ty Safreno, Brent Kostiw, Sandy Lubin, Marci Imes, and Dave Cox from the CEO Roundtables for their input.
After lots of work by the team, at noon on Sunday the prep for the presentation was in full swing. This process is one that the team really did a great job on but the first time through was way past ugly. It was great to watch them evolve the presentation and work out each of the hiccups in the conversational flow. What would emerge after a few hours was a strong presentation that the entire team supported. This process continued up to the last second and the team energy just got higher and higher as time closed in on them. This team really went for the hoop doing a live presentation of the software and to my amazement it all worked.
I was very proud of the work that the team did and I did very little. I did not write code, validate the market, or create the presentation, but I did watch as they did all the heavy lifting. Clearly what finally made it to the stage was the work of the others in the group. I thought they were the overall winners but the judges disagreed and they placed second. The competition was fierce and there was not one single weak group there – truly an environment where only the strong survive.
One funny thing happened on Sunday night when the groups presented. My idea, which got crushed in the election process, was picked up by a group of engineers. They created what I think might be the best commercial value of the night. It was a technology to monitor video feeds to extract crowd movement data for traffic or marketing study. Not at all what I had in mind when I pitched the idea but it was brilliant and I was really glad they shared the connection to my pitch. They took it in a direction that I never thought of and I would like to thank Daren Davoux and his team for picking up the idea and developing it.
This was my sixth Startup Weekend and each one has had its own personality which I am sure is based on the work done by the organizers. The events have not been better or worse but they are certainly different and I have enjoyed all the ones I have been involved with. I cannot write about an event like this without giving these thought leaders a huge shout out. So to Luke, Allyson, Cam, and Jared here is a big SHOUT out for doing a great job! All I can say is “Simply Amazing”.
This event was well organized and had fewer overall group meetings than most. There were also fewer mentors and I am not sure if that was good or bad. On the good side it gave the teams more time to work and few distractions. On the other hand they got less input than other events. Again this is different, not good or bad.
In closing it was a great event with lots of energy, ideas, and fun. I hope to see some of these ideas as businesses in our community in the near future. I know the Clock’d group is talking about continuing the idea as are many of the others. This is the beginning of the startup ecosystem in SLO and Softec hopes to see more of these at the Tech Pitch in October.
Bob Dumouchel – Softec Past President
Here is the team I worked with over the weekend.
Bob, Katie, Rishab, Cameron, Colton, Tyler, Austin, Eli, Nick
I am not completely sure but I think the group had the oldest (Me) and the youngest (Austin – High School Student) of any of the groups. As the old one I can tell you that the future is very bright with these talented people entering the Tech Industry. Follow this group and I bet you see huge success in their future. Next steps for this group will be the hatchery, Hot House, and Tech Pitch in October.
Here is another group thinking through their idea…Trust me I was not in this group 😉
They are doing push ups not hand stands.
If you have never been involved with a startup weekend it is an experience that I highly recommend. A Startup weekend is a 54 hour event where creative people come together to pitch ideas and create Startups. This will be my sixth Startup Weekend and I can assure you that it is both exhilarating and exhausting. It is amazing to watch ideas gather teams than then morph into Startups that launch in our community. I know of at least a dozen businesses that have roots in prior Startup Weekends.
Finding this event can get a little tricky but here is a quick link for more information:
And a video about the program:
I received this email from a local First Lego League (FLL) team in Arroyo Grande.
If you have an interest in STEM education or knowledge of tutoring systems I am sure they would appreciate the input. Because these are kids I am not going to post the email contact but you can reach out to me at email@example.com and I can connect you to the group.
Here is the entire email from the team:
Hi Mr Dumouchel
We are the Pop Tart Uni Kitties FLL team #1512 and we are working on our project for this year’s challenge “World Class Learning Unleashed.” We want to make learning Math skills and processes easier and having access to learning 24 7 in different formats and approaches using different modalities than we have in our classrooms could do this.
We were inquiring if you thought that an interactive program or app would be worthwhile to write that could be used by the school districts for tutoring students (and rehabilitation facilities for patients after brain injuries or strokes.) In approaching our school district and a few other teachers around we know that it would have to be secure, so that could be safe and controlled within a districts, schools or facilities with sign ins necessary. Admittedly we don’t have the first idea on how to even approach writing an program or application but figured we needed to find out how people thought that were involved in making things happen in our technological world these days right here on our central coast.
We do know that math skills are the basis for most of the technological jobs in today’s world and it is necessary to learn and retain these skills. We ourselves are all too much aware that learning them can be a problem, let alone remembering them after they are learned. Not all school districts use the same books or classrooms the same approach even though math skills are very much the same over and over and build on each other, so if you miss or dont understand a section you can get lost very easily. Some teachers use peer to peer tutors classrooms and this is much of the idea that has inspired our idea. It is positive and dosn’t take away from the limited time in the classroom or education day. Being peer to peer it is positive in nature not singling out students for “stupid kid” tutoring before or after school or during recesses to learn. These days we as students have multifunctional and active lives and our idea would take advantage of the extended day and busy schedules for learning
Our idea is affectionately called “Tutor Time” and we envision that the program would be a hybrid of the many web sites offering help in MAth and a skype, but directed to math skills and procedures only. We would want to take advantage of the basic three ways people learn Hands On, Verbal and Visual within the context of the site. Having per-recorded “tutor” sections of rote memory and a full range of basic math stepped skill sections from basic addition & subtraction on through geometry and algebra for students to go over at own pace to learn or refresh learning for those who are verbal learners. Then have somewhat of the same “tutor” sections in worksheet type formats and skill sections done step by step for rote memory for visual learners. Then for hands on learners much the same for visual but more sectional “to do” self paced worksheets that involve inactive use of counters and or on screen drawing to adapt the system for the hands on learners. We think that all these rote memory and skill sections should be organized and cross referenced in a data base for easy reference.
We would also want a real time access to “tutors” to answer questions. We do know that this part of our application or program could not be 24 7 but want to work it so it could be afternoon and evening hours at least while students do no have access to the teachers while doing homework. Our idea is to use students, older ones that have successfully passed the classes or skill sections and even grade level ones with clearance from their teachers, that would have to sign up. They could earn math credits or work experience for the time they spend helping other students that would have to be worked out per district, school or facility. This would enable the students that are tutoring to strengthen thier skills while the tutored student gain the skills. Teachers could also be involved and other adult volunteers who are kid safe could be too.
Well that is our idea more or less in a nut shell. What do you think?
Do you have any ideas or suggestions to help us develop this further?
Do you know anyone in our area that may have ideas to help us?
Thank you for your time
The Pop Tart Uni Kitties
Kaitlyn, Samantha, Kaillani, Sydnee, Hannah and Aubrey