Camera system from Nevada County startup to fly over NFL game
An up-and-coming Nevada County tech startup will be on national TV Thursday night from Denver — but it’s their product you will see, not their faces.
For the first time since Gyro-Stabilized Systems of Grass Valley was founded in 2011, a GSS broadcast camera attached to a fixed-wing airplane is being used to shoot and broadcast live scenic views around the stadium where the Denver Broncos play the San Diego Chargers, the featured game on CBS-TV’s Thursday night NFL broadcast (6 p.m. locally on Comcast Channel 13).
No matter what the airplane does or how it moves, GSS’s five-axis gyro-stabilized camera lens will remain steady to a thousandth of a degree — meaning that no movement is detectable to the human eye.
“It’s like a tripod from anywhere it’s flying,” said GSS co-founder and managing director Jason Fountaine of the new system, which, with Thursday’s broadcast, will launch the company into the very rarefied international market niche of stabilized broadcast camera systems. “Our goal with this launch is to help establish GSS in the broadcast market as a force to be reckoned with, up there with the top competitors.”
Neither Fountaine, 39, of Penn Valley, nor his three co-founders are alone in this goal. Since GSS is a rising star in the “Fab 5” program from Nevada County’s Economic Resource Council, the future progression of a high-tech cluster in Nevada County is, in some ways, hanging in the balance.
The first three “Fab 5 firms,” announced in June — GSS, Spiral Internet of Nevada City and TD Back Office — were joined earlier this month by San Juan Ridge-based RCD Engineering and Recycle 311 in Truckee.
“The big picture for our economic development at ERC is really to drive forward a digital media cluster, which, broadly defined, includes companies like GSS, Grass Valley Group, Telestream, AJA Video Systems, Ensemble Designs and others that make very high-tech products that are sold on a national and even global basis,” said ERC Director Jon Gregory.
“We’re focused on people relationships and connectivity,” added Gregory, who has decades of experience organizing conferences and gatherings where startups can present their ideas before potential venture capital investors.
By connecting startups with angel investors, venture capitalists and industry mentors, more new companies will be drawn to moving to Nevada County, which, in turn, creates more high-paying jobs and local revenue.
“There are a lot of very talented people hiding in the hills around here who can contribute greatly to the digital media evolution,” said David Hanson of Nevada City, a pioneer of digital media. Hanson is among a small group of industry veterans who are helping Gregory to mentor and network GSS and other local startups.
“Really, we’re putting out a call to arms and saying, ‘If you’re around here, come out and help,’” Hanson said. “It’s fun.”
At GSS, meanwhile, growth is already in progress. The company, which now employs just under 30 people both locally and in worldwide sales, is collecting resumes for software engineers, electro-mechanical assemblers and marketing assistants. (Email at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested).
Prior to the current launch of the broadcast camera systems, the privately held company was already selling and leasing stabilized camera systems for shooting full-length movie features and documentaries for the Discovery Channel in Alaska and for sports action films such as “Higher,” featuring elite Truckee snowboarder Jeremy Jones.
“We sold our first unit in March 2013,” said Fountaine, a Wisconsin transplant who first came to this area to work on sensors for the U.S. Air Force at Beale Air Base.
He later connected with the other three co-founders when all were co-workers at another high-tech company: Mike Sterbenz, 46, of Grass Valley; Kelly Asher, 57, of Albuquerque; and Steve Rudolph, 39, of Grass Valley, chief technical officer.
When the former company went into downsizing mode, the four co-workers decided to team up.
They spent all of 2012 and part of 2013 in product development, with sales starting in the spring of 2013. Most of their film production work has had the cameras installed on helicopters — as opposed to the fixed-wing planes that will be used by their broadcast camera customer, Bob Mikkelson of Winged Vision, for the NFL game.
“The camera system has three parts — the power box, the hand controller and the gimbal (the shell or turret that holds the assembly),” said Rudolph.
Only a small handful of companies in the world are involved at that ultra high-tech level of stabilized camera systems production.
“We’re doing things a little different now,” Fountaine said. “In our past lives, we were never known locally — although we sold all over the world and brought in a lot of revenue.
“This time, we’d like to be more a part of the community, maybe even give back,” he said.
Fountaine said, for example, he hopes to give back to ERC by producing aerial shots of Nevada County that Gregory could use to market the area. Also, Fountaine said he was mulling the idea of donating a system to perhaps shoot aerial views of the Yuba River to help publicize the Wild and Scenic Film Festival. With ERC’s help, Fountaine sees the growth of GSS as happening organically through contacts in Nevada County.
“A lot of angel investors, venture capitalists are coming to the (ERC) meetings,” he said. “It used to be that you had to go to San Jose to meet these people; now we’re meeting them locally.
“This way, if we do need another capital injection, it’s probably going to be locally supported,” Fountaine added. “That would be a better value, rather than someone who really doesn’t know what we do, and who doesn’t care about Nevada County and who is just about the dollar.”
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.
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