George Gerpheide Case Study.
Dr. George E. Gerpheide formed Cirque Corporation in 1991 and its predecessor, Proxima, Inc. in 1988, to further develop and commercialize GlidePoint® technology, which he had previously developed. As founding president, Dr. Gerpheide was the guiding force behind taking Cirque from a small start-up basement business to a respected, multimillion-dollar corporation known throughout the world. He has been responsible for:
• Initially developing GlidePoint® technology on which he holds five patents
• Assembling and leading a technical team
• Attracting team members with key financial, sales, and marketing skills
• Securing over $2 million in private funding
• Negotiating technology license agreements
• Formulating corporate strategic and growth planning
Prior to founding Proxima and Cirque, Dr. Gerpheide founded and operated Quality Microcomputer Instrumentation (QMI), an engineering design firm, and Aquila Instruments, Inc. a geophysical equipment company. He was a Visiting Scientist at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, where he was part of a team which developed a dexterous robotics hand. Dr. Gerpheide served as Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the University of Utah, where he specialized in motion control, sensing systems. Dr. Gerpheide initiated and coordinated a research experiment to investigate growth of protein crystals in micro-gravity in conjunction with Utah State University for the Space Shuttle Challenger, Mission 41-B.
Dr. Gerpheide holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Utah (1981), where he was a Graduate Research Fellow and IBM Fellow. He also holds a B.S.E.E. degree from MIT (1975), where he was a National Merit Scholar. He is a member of the Institute of Electronic Engineers (IEEE).
During the startup years, the company was operating in the founder’s basement on a shoe string budget, and at times did not have the funds to make the meager payroll. While the inventor saw great potential, the markets need was not yet established. Potential customers were not interested, and most computers did not have a graphical user interface – a Windows operating system.
Cirque’s greatest challenge to date occurred when the company was very small and fragile. A laboratory prototype of the proprietary GlidePoint® touchpad technology had just been developed. This was prototype number 26, following a string of unsuccessful attempts to produce what would be become the first commercially successful touchpad technology.
Operating out of the basement on a shoe-string budget, the company employed several part-time engineers and technicians and had no significant funding behind it. At that time, the technology was visualized for use by manufacturers of notebook computers, who could build it into their keyboards. Another hopeful market was keyboard manufacturers themselves who could build the pointing technology directly into their desktop computer keyboard. Unfortunately, while the inventor saw the potential for this technology, the markets need was not yet established or apparent. Not only that, but the current prototype was a large mass of jumbled wires and circuitry which obviously could not be manufactured at low cost or in the size required for a portable computer.
The company had no success marketing the concept to portable computer manufacturers, who at that time were not even providing Windows operating systems on their computers. There was no money to meet the meager payroll. A keyboard company who had expressed initial interest after evaluating some prototypes had just said no. The founders had just returned from walking the floor at the Comdex trade show exhibiting the large suitcase full of electronics and the demonstration portable computer had just failed. Prospects looked bleak.
The Successful Solution
The founders persevered. If you play blackjack long enough, you will eventually get the winning hand. In this case, a lucky break came when a very large manufacturer of portable computers finally responded after a long period of silence. The enthusiasm and vision of this first customer lead to initial money for further engineering followed by a significant technology license. This provided the spring board for all of the company’s operations which allowed it to go on to become the leading provider of touchpad technology. Cirque created an entirely new category of products in the retail computer market with its line of GlidePoint® pointing devices and keyboards.
From its humble beginnings in 1991 with four employees, Cirque now employs a workforce of 65 and continues the work to improve the technology. Recently named to Inc. magazines “500 Fastest Growing Private Companies” in America, as well as to the “Utah 100” – the fastest growing public or private companies in the state, Cirque embodies the vision and dedication of the founders to the mission of providing a more “human approach” to computer interfaces.
Determination, perseverance and seed funds from UTFC gave the company needed time. Patented GlidePoint® touchpad technology was to become the first commercially successful technology of its kind, and is now available as both packaged peripheral products to the retail market and modules in component form to mobile computer manufacturers. About one-half of the touchpads found in mobile computers, including those available from dominant market players such as Compaq, NEC, Micron and Sharp, incorporate Cirque GlidePoint technology.
While the past three years have generally seen few developments in pointing device technologies, Cirque has continued to make advances, improving the sensitivity, responsiveness, and feel of GlidePoint technology. Innovative products and product features have been and will continue to be introduced to meet evolving consumers needs. With continuing research and development, Cirque Corporation is committed to advancing touchpad technology to the mainstream, and believes that the touchpad will soon become the pointing device of choice for computer users.
The company shares the vision of Bill Gates, Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft, who believes that consumers will be surrounded by “smart appliances” such as interactive televisions, miniature personal computers, “smart home” controls, advanced communications products and other home and office technologies with simple, pictorial user interfaces. Dr. Gerpheide believes that touchpad technology will be used to control many of these devices. Cirque shares the ideal pursued by Microsoft, Apple and other industry leaders: Graphical interfaces to simplify the human-to-computer relationship on complex machines. Focusing on the input device, Cirque plans to use its touchpad experience to continue to improve cursor control in the retail and OEM markets.
The management of Cirque Corporation regards the employees more as family members than as “9-5 employees”. As a research and development engineering enterprise, the work requires a level of commitment beyond what is normally expected. Employees are encouraged not only to work hard but also to “play hard” – take time off to be with family, take an extended vacation after a rigorous project has been completed. Meals are provided for employees who work long into the night on a deadline. Because the work environment is open, friendly, and inspiring, it is a rare weekend or evening when the building is closed and dark.
The management team implements unique award systems to acknowledge employees for a job well done, the most interesting being “The Golden Pig”, which is the gold tone plated skull from the luau pig in celebration of the completion of the “Kahuna” project. The previous recipient presents the Golden Pig to an employee who has gone well beyond the call of duty. In addition, the company supports employees with additional or advanced education and flex hours to complete studies.
Even as the inventor and creator of Cirque Corporation and of GlidePoint® technology, Dr. Gerpheide typically resists praise given specifically toward him. During company meetings or announcements, he gives all credit to the employees for their hard work, dedication to task, and commitment to the company’s successes.
Dr. Gerpheide initiated and coordinated a research experiment to investigate growth of protein crystals in micro-gravity in conjunction with Utah State University for the Space Shuttle Challenger, Mission 41-B, and was present to witness the take-off in Florida. Dr. Gerpheide also spends time each week mentoring grade school children at Eastwood Elementary School.
Case Information Provided By:Dr. George E. Gerpheide,President &C.E.O.Cirque Corporation, 433 West Lawndale Drive, Salt Lake City, Utah 84115, CASE STUDY QUESTIONS
1. What advice would you expect Dr. Gerpheide to give potential entrepreneurs who experience failures in starting their business?
2. How would the employees of Cirque probably behave when faced with a problem? Why?
3. What do you think Dr. Gerpheide tells the grade school children that he talks to on a regular basis in Salt Lake City about the relationship of education and success?
4. Why didn’t his company succeed at first? What did he do about it?
5. How did Dr. Gerpheide’s previous experience lead him to becoming an entrepreneur?
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