It was somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, near New Zealand in 1993, when the “I know what I want to do with my life” epiphany blindsided Jeff Hazelton.
He was in his early 20s back then, a recent college graduate with a biology degree. He considered med school. But while Hazelton contemplated his next move he joined two buddies sailing around the world. That's when it came to him. He would get into the nascent field of computer animation in an effort to meld together his three passions: art, technology and medicine.
The epiphany took Hazelton on some twists, including a four-year stint in San Diego. But the New Hampshire native is now in Sarasota, and the company he co-founded in 2011, Lucid Global, is in the growing health care mobile apps industry.
The firm's niche is in new technologies, like holographic projection floats, which display lifelike images off a high-definition screen. The firm's clients, mostly doctors, use Lucid Global apps to show patients a 3-D glance of the inner workings of a potential surgery or procedure. For example, a doctor talking to a patient about a liver procedure can provide a 3-D preview of what's going to happen on an iPad.
A bulk of the firm's clients are doctors and physician groups, though the firm also sells apps to pharmaceutical companies, medical device firms and biotech businesses.
“We are a blend of creativity and technology,” says Hazelton, the president and chief technology officer. “Our interest is to change the dynamic of medical communications.”
The firm has also recently become a Sarasota leader in a topic important to many local executives and economic development officials: brain drain. That's the idea that the region's homegrown talent, from places like the Ringling College of Art and Design, take their degrees and move away for jobs.
But Lucid Global, through Hazelton, is reversing the drain. The firm, in fact, is something of a hiring machine. It's brought on nine Ringling College grads over the past year, which makes the company the No. 1 recruiter at the campus. The firm now has about 25 employees, and 11 are Ringling grads, says Hazelton. These employees work on everything from 3-D animation to interface design to software programs.
“This is a great place for us to be,” says Hazelton, an adjunct faculty member in Ringling's motion design department. “The creative capital at Ringling is worth a lot to us.”
Ringling College, just north of downtown Sarasota, has significantly upgraded its curriculum and teaching ranks over the past five to 10 years to meet that demand. The college, under the motto “shattering the myth of the starving artist,” has become nationally known for computer animation, filmmaking and other technical programs.
Other local businesses, in addition to Lucid, that have recruited multiple Ringling grads recently include Sarasota-based atLarge, an Internet marketing and Web design firm, and Venice-based drinkware company Tervis Tumbler. “I think (Lucid) is an exciting and growing company,” says Cynthia Flanagan, assistant director of Ringling's career services department. “We are looking forward to see how it grows.”
The Ringling crew at Lucid Global has also helped Hazelton cultivate a hip workspace for the company. There's even the too-cool staple: a foosball table in the conference room.
Hazelton declines to discuss annual revenues at Lucid Global, though he says the firm has grown rapidly in sales and employees. It also plans to expand its office in the Hub, a technology-focused business incubator in downtown Sarasota. The firm will add 2,000 square feet to the 4,000 square feet it already occupies.
Lucid Global is an offshoot of a previous company Hazelton founded, BioLucid, in San Diego in 2001. That company did some of the same work Lucid Global does now, says Hazelton, but market acceptance lingered. “We were almost too far ahead of our time,” says Hazelton. “People didn't get us, so they didn't buy anything.”