By MEG H. PARTINGTON
February 17, 2013
Vince Hellane was a businessman who cherished independence, so it seems fitting that his company has managed to thrive, even without its free-thinking founder at the helm.
Hellane created d’Vinci Interactive in 1993 in his Falling Waters, W.Va., home after hearing about software that gave desktop computer users access to multimedia.
A friend, with whom Vince worked producing videos, told him about Authorware, which is used to create e-learning applications, according to the website for Adobe (www.adobe.com), which owns the product. Vince was so intrigued that he traveled to California for training to become a certified programmer and trainer for the product that at the time was owned by Macromedia.
Vince always loved Macintosh computers and video, so putting them together “unlocked his creativity,” said his wife, Pat Hellane.
Macromedia didn’t have many trainers on the East Coast in the early 1990s and the concept of e-learning was just catching on, Pat said, so Vince was a pioneer of sorts.
“My husband was always an entrepreneur,” she said.
Their first business adventure was in the mid-1980s, when the Hellanes worked in the women’s fashion industry as wholesale traveling representatives. Then she sold Macs while he created a business that connected wholesale representatives with manufacturers in the women’s fashion industry.
With the Authorware training under his belt, Vince was able to educate staffers for various companies and federal entities — including the National Institutes of Health — on how to use it for their own training and certification programs. When those companies didn’t have time to lead their own e-learning courses, they sent the curriculums and resources to Vince to incorporate into training programs that could be done on a computer rather than on paper, Pat explained.
Thus was born d’Vinci, which is described at www.dvinci.com as a creative team that specializes in Web and e-learning development that has created more than 200 promotional and educational websites and Web applications.
The company’s name pairs part of Vince’s name with that of Tommy D’Aquino, a graphic artist whose skills Vince utilized in his computer-based curriculum development and with whom he hoped to partner in business but never did. Pat said her husband also was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, a painter, sculptor, architect and engineer, and that also factored into the company’s title.
A ‘blossoming’ business
In March 1995, d’Vinci moved to the Technical Innovation Center, Washington County’s technology business incubator at Hagerstown Community College.
“From then on, it really blossomed,” Pat said.
Until 2005, d’Vinci offered a lot of training, then its production side bloomed, she said.
In addition to NIH, d’Vinci’s clients include the National Park Service and the American Board of Pediatrics.
“That variety keeps everybody fresh,” said Pat, 55.
Vince kept in step with technology as it progressed from floppy discs to CD-ROM to the Internet.
“As technology progressed, so did he,” Pat said.
D’Vinci now creates apps for the iPad and iPhone, and does “responsive design,” through which websites are programmed to reformat themselves based on the device on which they’re being viewed, from computers to mobile phones.
Growing the staff
In 1996, the company expanded its staff, which at that point included only Vince and Pat, who started in sales for d’Vinci, then became the training coordinator and bookkeeper.
Chris Grahl joined the team as a graphic designer and programmer, and is still doing graphic design for d’Vinci, though his work now is more Web-based, he said.
“It’s always changing with technology business,” said Grahl, 48. “It’s an exciting field. It’s a lot of fun.”
In 1997, along came Mason Scuderi, then a sophomore at HCC in search of an internship. He became a full-timer three years later and recalled that his first big opportunity was to teach Flash.
“I kind of grew with the Flash technology,” said Scuderi, 35.
He worked as a developer and designer over the next few years, then became a client liaison and project manager, which groomed him for his current post — chief operating officer of d’Vinci Interactive.
Scuderi said he has stayed with the company because of “the working environment, the interesting types of projects, the culture.”
The company’s client list has grown, but its staff is still small — 13 at this writing — a formula that is successful because “we stay lean with our development process and we all wear a lot of hats,” Scuderi said.
Another longtime staffer is Sally Reidy, who started doing Authorware programming for d’Vinci in 1998, but now does instructional design, project management and content strategy.
She was living in Guam, where her son, who is deaf, was not getting a sufficient education.
“I didn’t really see any options (there),” she said, so she sought a good school in the states.
Reidy, 64, was doing programming in Guam and responded to an online advertisement for d’Vinci, landed the job and enrolled her son in Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick, Md.
In a high-tech world where “you can never rest on your laurels,” Reidy said she is content at d’Vinci.
“It’s family-oriented,” she said. “There is a kind of playfulness in the environment that keeps things light. It’s very not corporate.”
That casual environment was retained when the company moved to the fourth floor of 28 S. Potomac St. in Hagerstown in January 2010.
The laid-back and low-key setting with lots of open space reflects Vince’s personality, Pat said.
There are no cubicles and plenty of couches.
“We’re pretty informal here,” Grahl said.
Pat emphasized that while the mood is light, the work produced is top-notch.
“D’Vinci does very serious work, but d’Vinci doesn’t take itself very seriously,” Pat said.
On July 18, 2011, the man whose wife of 26 years described him as someone who lived every moment to its fullest died of a brain tumor at age 53.
The shock of the loss could have devastated the company, but it didn’t.
Pat said Vince’s employees worked with him, not for him, and that sense of collaboration is what kept things running smoothly.
“They just stepped right up,” Pat said of the employees, including training her so she could take the reins.
Before becoming controller and president of d’Vinci Interactive, Pat took a break from d’Vinci to sell real estate and to home-school their daughter, Laurel, who is now 16 and a student at Heritage Academy in Hagerstown.
December 2012 brought another big change to d’Vinci.
That’s when it was acquired by JPL, a strategic marketing agency based in Harrisburg, Pa. Its president, Luke Kempski, said it does creative development, videos, advertisements, print work, Web development and digital marketing.
Kempski became acquainted with Vince Hellane in the mid-1990s, when they were both doing multimedia-based training and education.
Kempski said he enjoyed connecting with someone who was doing the same kind of work, and the two men met about once a year and shared ideas over the phone on occasion.
After Vince died, Kempski started talking to Pat and Scuderi about tools of the trade, their approaches to business and making their products accessible to mobile devices. Eventually, Pat wanted to sell the business and JPL seemed like the perfect buyer.
Pat described the acquisition as “a real organic type of transition” that is “invisible to our clients.”
JPL takes a personalized and creative approach to its work, Pat said.
Kempski said his familiarity with d’Vinci’s client base, employees and quality of work, coupled with Pat’s enthusiasm and the success of the company, made the purchase even more appealing.
“All those things made me enthusiastic about it,” Kempski said of acquiring d’Vinci.
Kempski is retaining his position with JPL while taking on the role of chief executive officer at d’Vinci Interactive.
D’Vinci Interactive will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of JPL in Hagerstown, and Kempski hopes to keep expanding it.
“You don’t have to be in a major market to grow,” said Kempski, 48.
Pat plans to stay with the company for a year or so, doing the books and administrative tasks. She’s not sure what the future holds, but after being married to an entrepreneur, she’s not afraid of the unknown or of surprises.
What she does know is that her husband’s company is resilient.
“The last two years have been absolutely the best for our business,” Pat said. “No one could have designed this better.”
On the Web:
d’Vinci Interactive: www.dvinci.com
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