Former IT employee turns hobby into award-winning business

Dennis Wood worked in the IT department for a federal government agency before he took his hobby and transformed it into an award-winning business.

President and founder of Cinevate Inc. in Thunder Bay, Ont., Wood used to work at Revenue Canada full-time as a systems analyst.

But then he started tinkering with a consumer video camera he bought to capture those special moments of his daughter. Not impressed with the video’s quality, he decided to create an adapter to support a lens from an old SLR camera he had in the basement.

He went online in search of help and that was his introduction to the Web 2.0 world.

“I had never actually posted on a forum until I bought this camera.” Wood posted details about problems he experienced with the camera. “That sort of drew me in to the forum world.”

And even as he delved deeper into the social media world, Wood was also building a homemade camera adapter out of plumbing pipes and hot glue. Determined to make his SLR work with his video camera, he posted preliminary results of footage to the forum and sparked interest in others who wanted the same kind of results.

It was a good thing too, as Wood’s adapter was getting more advanced, and now he was planning to get it machine-made by a professional manufacturer.

To cover the cost of his adapter, he ordered 12 of them made and sold them at $500 a pop. So began his new career. He soon moved to part-time hours at Revenue Canada, and eventually left the job to start Cinevate.

Two years after it’s launch, the company has received the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation’s Premier’s Innovation Catalyst Award for being a Start-up Company with the Best Innovation. Cinevate has also been recognized as the Innovative Company of the Year by the RBC Innovation Awards.

The Brevis35 HD Imaging Adapter allows 35mm lenses to be used with low-cost video cameras.

Wood says the Cinevate adapter has been adopted by a wide range of people — from amateur filmmakers to wedding videographers, to Hollywood studios. Meanwhile, he continues to use social media to market his company, and is offering up other products for creating high-quality video.

The adapter has come a long way from when it was made out of plumbing pipes and hot glue, Wood says. “There were all sorts of problems with it.“I don’t recall those days fondly at all.” That Frankenstein creation now has an honoured place on Cinevate’s “wall of shame.”

The Brevis35, on the other hand, is the adapter that Wood always wanted to create.

Made of carbon fibre, it weighs a mere 275 grams, the lightest adapter on the market. Wood says it’s also the most light-efficient adapter system – at an F-stop of 5.6, there is just one stop of light loss. The battery powers the adapter for 30 hours after a 15 minute charge and an advanced microprocessor management system controls power, and oscillates the screen to improve image quality.

“By moving the screen rapidly, the camera can’t see the details,” Wood explains. “If you didn’t oscillate it, an HD camera would pick up details and you would see scratches or dust.”

By mounting a SLR lens on an inexpensive video camera, film makers can save thousands of dollars in production costs. Typically, a professional shoot requires renting expensive studio cameras and using film to capture images. A three- or four-minute music video might require about $20,000 worth of film.

But HD video can be captured directly to a hard drive using modern consumer video cameras. With the lens adapter, Wood said, only the most seasoned professional would be able tell the difference from film.

It’s won over the user community too. Many Brevis35 users have produced a promotional video to support the product and uploaded it to the Web site. One such creation describes the adapter as “beer goggles” for your video camera. In the short clip, a nerdy woman is suddenly replaced by a stunning beauty after a beer glass obscures the screen for a moment.

A contest that encouraged Cinevate’s user community to create commercials for a new product launch was also successful, Wood says. Though the product was not revealed to the contestants, they were told its name (The Pegasus) and the winner would receive a free one.

“It generated a lot of interest in the product. People really loved it,” Wood says. He received 10 video submissions for the contest and many others were interested in watching the clips.

Advertising through social media has been so successful for Cinevate that the company will use its award money to hire a marketer with expertise in using these tools.

“We earmarked the money for a magazine campaign, but then realized we could hire someone [skilled] in the Web 2.0 world,” Wood says. The marketer, he said, would establish Cinevate’s Web presence — and that’s crucial to the company’s future.

The firm’s trademark adapter product has effectively been made obsolete by new digital SLR products from Canon and Nikon that can shoot HD video directly. The cameras are reasonably affordable, and offer top image quality without any need for an adapter.

“It marks the death of our adapter, we know that,” Wood says. “But our catalogue has other products to support this new camera.”

One such product is a full rig to make the small digital cameras more fluent when being used to pan across a scene, or track a subject.

Business isn’t easy these days. After two years of a growing their business every month, May marked the first dip in sales. But Wood plans to stick to his guns and ride it out. He won’t be going back to Revenue Canada any time soon.

“If I hadn’t had the background, I never would’ve been able to do it,” he says. “My secret weapon has been the Web and my accidental discovery of social marketing through forums.”

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