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Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for Start-Ups and Emerging Growth Companies

This guest post was written by Kevin P. Martin, Jr., CPA and managing director of KPM.

Happy New Year!

As you’ve certainly heard by now, just about 10 days ago, President Trump signed into law H.R. 1, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” a sweeping tax reform package that promises to entirely change the tax landscape for you, your investors and your start-up or emerging growth company. Only time will tell whether the new law fosters or inhibits technology and innovation. What we do know already is that the law is going to challenge us in many ways, including how we balance, overall, lower tax rates with “doing the right thing” like investing in research and drugs for rare diseases. 

I’m guessing whether you braved the cold on New Year’s Eve and met up with friends or whether you sat home, worked and binged on TV reruns and Chinese food, it’s likely that you pondered at least one tax reform question: What’s this mean for my company? Do I have the right entity structure? Am I now going to get the benefit of those NOL’s? Am I going to lose that foreign investor? How about R&D, is it in or is it out? And the list goes on and on…

There are lots and lots of business tax changes under the new tax law, including a reduction in the corporate tax rate to a flat 21% rate; a 5-year write-off period for R&D expenses; a limitation on the deduction for business interest, and an elimination of the domestic production activities deduction. I’m not going to hit every issue but I am going to highlight those hot topics for which CEO’s, CFO’s and entrepreneurs are stopping me in the halls and at community tables to discuss.

  • The very good news is that the final version of the legislation has preserved the research and development (“R&D”) tax credit, which was made permanent in the Protecting Americans against Tax Hikes (“PATH”) Act of 2015. At the same time, we need to be mindful about how those credits are calculated and the ways in which the new tax law will directly or indirectly affect the taxpayers claiming those credits.
     
  • Corporate tax rates have been reduced from a maximum rate of 35% to a flat 21% and the corporate alternative minimum tax (“AMT”) has been repealed. For tax years beginning after 2017 and before 2022, the AMT credit is refundable and can offset regular tax liability in an amount equal to 50% (100% for tax years beginning in 2021) of the excess of the minimum tax credit for the tax year over the amount of the credit allowable for the year against regular tax liability. That’s a mouthful but from a basic, R&D perspective, the AMT repeal removes the AMT restriction on corporations which has long prevented them from utilizing R&D tax credits to offset regular tax liability. 
     
  • Congress passed The Orphan Drug Act in 1983 to provide a better incentive for companies that are willing to embark on the development of orphan drugs (for diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people). Instead of calculating the benefit for orphan drug development using the rules under IRC section 41 for the R&D tax credit, the Orphan Drug Act provided for a tax credit of 50% of clinical testing expenses (“CTEs”) under IRC Section 45C. Under the new law, the OD tax credit will be reduced to 25% of a company’s costs related to clinical trials for developing rare disease treatments. We are getting lots and lots of feedback here and what we are hearing is that patient groups fear that without the 50 percent tax credit, drug companies will cut back on developing drugs for rare diseases and focus on more common ailments. What we yet to fully understand is the new, optimal inflection point of lower rates, the lower OD credit, the R&D credit and the repeal of AMT that will continue to spur medical innovation.
     
  • The new law has repealed the “domestic production activities deduction.” Section 199 may still be claimed for any open tax years beginning before January 1, 2018. Thinking out loud, taxpayers with production or service activities that are within the scope of Section 199 should consider claiming the Section 199 deduction for current years or possibly reviewing claims made in prior tax years and filing amended returns where applicable.
     
  • Are you doing software development? For tax years beginning after December 31, 2021 taxpayers will be required to treat research or experimental expenditures as chargeable to a capital account and amortized over 5 years (and 15 years in the case of foreign research). Specified R&E expenditures subject to capitalization include costs for software development, but not costs for land or for depreciable or depletable property used in connection with the research or experimentation.
     
  •  Big capital needs? For property placed in service in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, the maximum amount a taxpayer may expense under Code Section 179 is increased to $1 million, and the phase-out threshold is increased to $2.5 million.
     
  • Except for companies with an average gross receipts of $25 million or less during a 3-year look-back period, for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, businesses are subject to a disallowance of a deduction for “net interest expense” in excess of 30% of the business’s adjusted taxable income. The net interest expense disallowance is determined at the tax filer level. There is a special rule that applies to pass-through entitles, which requires the determination to be made at the entity level, for example, at the partnership level instead of the partner level. As you legally set up your new venture, depending on many variables, good entity selection is still ever so important. And to make it just a little tougher to digest, for tax years beginning after December 31, 2017 and before January 1, 2022, adjusted taxable income is computed without regard to deductions allowable for depreciation, amortization, or depletion and without the former Code Section 199 deduction as discussed above.
     
  • Stock options…now I’ve got your attention! Let’s face it, options are a big part of compensation methodologies.  The Act creates a new Section 83(i) and permits eligible employees of a private corporation to elect to delay federal income taxes arising on an option exercise or restricted stock unit (“RSU”) settlement for up to 5 years, subject to early acceleration if there are certain triggering events. “Excluded employees" who are ineligible from using this election include CEOs and CFOs, and individuals who are or were 1% owners or one of the top four, highest paid officers at any time during the last 10 years. There’s a lot more to it but the new rules apply to option exercises and RSU settlements after December 31, 2017.
     
  • If you’re a start-up, there’s a good chance you’ve got some net operating losses (NOL’s) from business activities in a prior year. For NOLs arising in tax years ending after December 31, 2017, the two-year carryback and the special carryback provisions are repealed, but a two-year carryback applies in the case of certain losses incurred in the trade or business of farming (yes, we’ve got some farming tech). And here’s the kicker: For losses arising in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, the NOL deduction is limited to 80% of taxable income (determined without regard to the deduction). Carryovers to other years are adjusted to take into account this limitation, and, generally, NOLs can be carried forward indefinitely.
     
  • Got employees? For wages paid in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, but not beginning after December 31, 2019, the new law allows businesses to claim a general business credit equal to 12.5% of the amount of wages paid to qualifying employees during any period in which such employees are on family and medical leave (FMLA) if the rate of payment is 50% of the wages normally paid to an employee. The credit is increased by 0.25 percentage points (but not above 25%) for each percentage point by which the rate of payment exceeds 50%.
     
  • For amounts incurred or paid after December 31, 2017, deductions for entertainment expenses are disallowed, eliminating the subjective determination of whether such expenses are sufficiently business related; the current 50% limit on the deductibility of business meals is expanded to meals provided through an in-house cafeteria or otherwise on the premises of the employer; and deductions for employee transportation fringe benefits (e.g., parking and mass transit) are denied, but the exclusion from income for such benefits received by an employee is retained. In addition, no deduction is allowed for transportation expenses that are the equivalent of commuting for employees (e.g., between the employee’s home and the workplace), except as provided for the safety of the employee.  What does this mean?  Thou shalt host business meetings in coffee shops and thou shalt walk from your loft to work!
     
  • There is a new 20% qualified business income deduction for certain owners of flow-through entities (such as partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations) and sole proprietorships - through 2025.  Lets just say, like life...it’s complicated.
     
  • The dividends received deduction (“DRD”) has been reduced for companies owning significant equity in other companies. We’ve got a bunch of these types of companies. Currently, if ownership constitutes less than 20% or greater than 20%, but less than 80%, the deduction is equal to 70% and 80%, respectively.  The new legislation reduces those deductions to 50% and 65%, respectively.  This will affect dividend declaration policies made by corporations.
     
  •  The Code occasionally has provided various incentive programs aimed at encouraging economic growth and investment in distressed communities by providing Federal tax benefits to businesses located within designated boundaries. The new law provides temporary deferral of inclusion in gross income for capital gains reinvested in a “qualified opportunity fund” and the permanent exclusion of capital gains from the sale or exchange of an investment in the qualified opportunity fund.

Lastly, we work with a number of companies that have foreign investment or are wholly-owned by foreign entities. The new law contains a number of provisions that relate to foreign dividends, the expansion of the definition of “US  shareholder,” base erosion anti-abuse tax (“BEATS”), denial of deductions relating to certain related party payments and limitations of income shifting through intangible property transfers (“transfer pricing”).

Now, I’m betting you wish you had one more drink on New Year’s Eve! Will the new tax law allow tech companies to spur innovation and meet their growth potential? We are still scratching our heads. Let’s face it, start-ups and early growth companies face unique challenges – they need big upfront investment, they incur operating losses in those early years, they aren’t getting the immediate benefit of a reduction in the corporate tax rate, they are tight on cash and often choose to compensate key team members through stock options and they are dependent on R&D to push forward their ideas.

There’s a lot going on under the new law and we are still working through the text ourselves, particularly the foreign investment provisions.  There’s likely to be a technical corrections bill coming which should add some clarification, and likely lots more confusion.  We’ve been working with companies like yours for over 50 years and we would be delighted to guide you through the new law and what you should be doing now…and later.

Kevin P. Martin, Jr. is the Managing Director of Kevin P. Martin & Associates, P.C, a Boston-based CPA and consulting firm specializing in start-up and early stage tech, biotech and life sciences companies. Kevin spends most of his time advising clients, growing companies, putting business ideas to work, giving lectures and can be reached always at kmartinjr@kpm-us.com.
 

#CICGetsGreen: Where does our waste go?  

#CICGetsGreen: Where does our waste go?  

In honor of green industry and innovation month, we’d like to shine a quick spotlight on CIC’s internal efforts to go green!

Two small but mighty CIC crews, the Planeteers and the Kitchens Team, are jointly leading a grassroots effort to institutionalize the 3 “R’s” – Reduce, Reuse, & Recycle – within CIC’s day-to-day operations. Below you will find a quick reference guide on some of the current initiatives.

Connect at Venture Café Mini-Conferences

Connect at Venture Café Mini-Conferences

If you’re from the Boston/Cambridge area and in the innovation community, it’s very likely that you’ve found yourself at Venture Café Kendall recently, hosted every Thursday at CIC Cambridge. These events are inarguably the preeminent networking gathering in the area. As a matter of fact, several hundred people attend each week.We’re going to highlight one of Venture Café Kendall’s rarer events, Mini-Conferences.  

The Buried Treasures of Form 1040

Today, we feature a post from a Guest Contributor. It was written by Robert Traester, CPA, of WithumSmith+Brown, a current member at CIC Cambridge. 

For many taxpayers, the Form 1040 consists of just a few important lines of information: Demographic information, a W-2 (or a few), maybe a couple of 1099s, and most importantly the lines at the end that show if you owe money or can expect a nice refund. However, if you look closely at the form, you may notice some buried treasures that get you asking, “what exactly is this and who does this apply to?”

1.     Presidential Election Campaign Fund

Hidden amongst all of the demographic detail, you might notice a box for the presidential election campaign. This may present some questions to both the novice and even the more experienced taxpayer. Aren’t all candidates rich these days? Aren’t they all funded by Super PACs? Why do they need any more of my money? Why is the amount three dollars?

One important concept to point out right away is that this box does not impact your tax liability, it simply dictates if you want three dollars of the taxes you’ve paid to go to this designated public fund. Many are guilty of quickly reading the bold print and moving on, but the details inside the box make note of this important concept.

The fund was originally established as a checkbox on Form 1040 in an effort to encourage presidential candidates to receive funds from the public, rather than from special interest groups. While many lobbyists still push for this checkbox to remain on the return, candidates who choose to receive money from the public fund are limited in their total spending making this notion not a realistic possibility. With so much money coming through private contributions these days and rising campaign expenses, the choice has been clear for most candidates to not take the public funds. No major-party presidential nominee has accepted the primary matching funds since Al Gore in 2000 and no nominee has accepted public funding for the general election since John McCain in 2008. In the meantime over $250 million dollars is sitting idle in a public fund. The lack of fund use has been mirrored on actual taxpayer participation, with 2015 participation down to 5.4%, a drastic change from its high of roughly 30% in 1977. While the amount did increase from $1 to $3 in 1994, many argue that the amount still remains too small to make a difference. Additionally, some have pushed to raise the spending limits for those using the fund in order to become more competitive with the amount candidates can raise privately.

The presidential election campaign line has been on Form 1040 for years and while it seems underutilized by today’s candidates, the option still remains for the public to donate three dollars of their already paid taxes to this designated fund. This is only one of the hidden treasures that exist on Form 1040.

2.     Line 24 - Certain business expenses of reservists, performing artists, and fee-basis government officials

Another buried treasure can be found on Line 24 of the form titled, “Certain business expenses of reservists, performing artists, and fee-basis government officials”.  Once again, this form item presents some questions. Why are these selected industries given a separate expense category? Who qualifies as a fee-basis government official? What’s so special about deducting the expenses here? It becomes clear why so many taxpayers just skip over this line.

First it may help to define what exactly some of these groups are. Internal Revenue Code Section 62 classifies an eligible “reservist” as a member of the National Guard or reserve members who traveled more than 100 miles from home to perform services as a National Guard or reserve member. A qualified performing artist must perform services as an artist for at least two employers, be compensated at least $200 by two or more employers, have expenses greater than 10% of this income, and have total adjusted gross income (AGI) of $16,000 or less. There are some other formalities for this one, but the overall theme is that it is meant to benefit the classic “struggling artist.” A fee-basis state or local government official applies to those employed by a state or political subdivision of a state and are compensated at least partially on a fee basis.

While one can infer how fee basis employees of the government and members of the National Guard were given this special treatment, one might wonder how jugglers were lumped into the same category. The story involves Sandra Karas who lobbied during the 1980s for this deduction, arguing that artists were an important part of the American culture and should be granted incentives, since so many financially struggle.

The benefit of this deduction is that it allows members of these select occupations to deduct eligible business expenses without the need to list them as an itemized deduction. This is particularly helpful for those taxpayers that don’t have enough other expenses to itemize and those that do itemize but are restricted by their need to exceed the “2% floor” that is often required for employee business expenses to become deductible.

One interesting piece of history regarding this deduction is the $16,000 maximum AGI that is allowed for performing artists. This figure has been fixed since 1986 and has not kept pace with inflation or even with the filing requirement threshold which has continued to increase. In 2015, single taxpayers under 65 did not have to file unless their gross income exceeded $10,300. The taxpayers for which this particular deduction applies continues to shrink with each passing year.

3.     Line 21 – “Other Income”

Line 21 has become a catch-all line that basically collects all income that doesn’t fall into another section of a taxpayer’s return. The IRS provides examples such as, prizes, jury duty pay, recapture of amounts previously deducted, taxable distributions from an HSA, etc. However, one particular type of income does stand out and presents some interesting dialogue: income from illegal activities. Once again this presents some interesting questions. Why would I tell the government about illegal activities? Can I deduct associated expenses? What are the consequences of not including this income?

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of illegal activities and failing to report associated income is one of history’s most notorious criminals; Al Capone. Al Capone was convicted of income tax evasion in 1931. Not that I condone Mr. Capone’s activities, but when you’re talking about illegal drugs, murder, and other heinous crimes, do you really want tax evasion to be the crime that puts you away?

Now in practice most criminals only report their income after they’ve already been charged for their income producing crimes. The mentality is that these individuals have already been discovered by law enforcement, why tack on another charge at that point. However, the IRS is actually legally required to not disclose confidential information unless subject to a court order. This obligation is spelled out in the IRS Publication 4639: Disclosure and Privacy Law Reference Guide and can be found under Internal Revenue Code Section 6103.

With respect to the deductibility of expenses incurred with the connection of illegal activities, the answer is every tax person’s favorite, “it depends”. For example, under 280E of the IRC, no expenses are allowed if they are associated with carrying on the trade or business of trafficking controlled substances.  More recently, this code section has been extracted to include marijuana businesses that are conducted in states where the sale of marijuana has become legal. Although marijuana sales have become legal on many state levels, the business remains illegal at a federal level and thus still falls victim to this IRC section as it’s federal law. On the other hand, court cases such as Commissioner v. Tellier do allow for the deduction of business expenses associated with an illegal activity. In this court case the defendant was allowed to deduct his legal expenses that were incurred while defending his illegal business in court, arguing that they were ordinary and necessary and that the tax should be on net income, rather than gross. As you can see, the rules can be a bit complicated, so if you’re a criminal it might be best to start talking to a CPA to figure out your best tax approach.

Conclusion

Form 1040 is full of underlying history, political compromises, and even some outdated practices. On the surface much of this may never apply to you, but next time you’re filling one out it might not hurt to take a closer look.

About the Author

Robert Traester, CPA is a Senior Tax Associate at WithumSmith+Brown. Robert can be reached at rtraester@withum.com or at 617.849.6166.

 

About Withum

WithumSmith+Brown, PC (Withum) is a full service accounting, tax and advisory firm with more than 40 years of experience. Withum works with clients ranging from startups and emerging growth companies to large public organizations across the country. Ranked in the top 30 firms in the nation, with has the experience and expertise to put you in a position of strength.

Hatred Has No Place at CIC

Hatred Has No Place at CIC

At CIC we strive to create a platform where bright minds of all origins can work together to change the world for the better. Our job is to facilitate great ideas by removing obstacles from entrepreneurs and innovators. To actualize possibility. We would be mistaken if we thought that racism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia are not barriers to this.

CIC Alum Spotlight: Daniel Faggella

For the first time, we’re not featuring a current member or client as a part of our CIC Spotlight series. We focus today on one of our alums! Daniel Faggella started one of his many ventures, Science of Skill, many years ago in C3 at CIC Cambridge, and was profiled in Forbes Magazine this past month for having successfully grown and sold that business. We sat down to ask him about what he’s been up to and to share a bit about his early days with CIC.

YOUR TRUSTY HOLIDAY GIFT GIVING GUIDE

By Shellie Cohen

If you’re anything like me, you are terrible at giving gifts. I’m always trying to improve, but somehow, every year, I just continue to fall short. This year, I’m going to put forth a concerted effort to think outside the box and give some cool gifts to those around me! Here are some Boston based thoughts for the people in your life, broken down by price range:

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1. Treat someone to an all-expenses-paid vacation, or just subsidize a friend’s flight out to come visit you! Right now JetBlue is having a crazy sale and flights are as low as $20 one way, so you may have to splurge for the flight on the way back, but is pretty cool if you can afford some time off from work!

2. Book an entire island for a vacation for you and some close friends/family! Yes. An entire island. Some start as low as $500 a night!

3. Or you could always fall back on a classic gift.

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1. Make a cool end table. Bottle cap table top, for that beer loving friend. Here is a wikihow link and three examples (example 1example 2example 3) from reddit DIY. The expenses come from buying beer bottles with cool tops for a while, the resin and epoxy (which will probably run you about $80), and, of course, getting a table. Although you could probably find a cheap one on craigslist!

2. Take someone to a show! There are a lot of cool shows that come through Boston, check out House of Blues for good music shows, and Ticketmaster Boston for all genres of shows!

3. Another classic: take someone out to a nice dinner! There are so, so many delicious restaurants of every type in this city. Don’t forget to keep Chinatown for some dim sum and the North End for some delicious pasta on your list of options.

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1.Get old school and make a mix CD/playlist with a heartfelt note! There is so much new music out in the interwebs; capture some of that and send it along with some love.

2. Go on a brewery tour! There are an excessive amount of breweries in the area. Trillium. Sam Adams. Harpoon. NightShift. Aeronaut. Slumbrew. The list goes on. Gluten free? Not a problem. Take your friend/family member on the Downeast Brewery Tour or stop by Bantam Cider House in Somerville. A lot of these are free to go into and drink in a taproom, and the tours aren’t wildly expensive, so that’s good.

3. Set out to learn how to make a new dish! Invite the giftee over and go grocery shopping together. You can finally figure out what goes in your favorite sushi roll or how to make the perfect macaroon.

Go forth, and give some good gifts!

Guest Post: MASSACHUSETTS ANGEL INVESTOR TAX CREDIT

Kevin P. Martin, Jr. is the Managing Director of Kevin P. Martin & Associates, P.C. (KPM), a CPA and business consulting firm with local offices in Boston, Braintree, and Danvers, including CIC. Kevin works with all types of startup companies and has spent his entire career working with companies to monetize Federal and state tax credit programs. Got a question? Kevin can be reached at kmartinjr@kpm-us.com. You can also follow Kevin on Twitter @KPMCPA.

On August 10, 2016, Massachusetts Governor Baker signed legislation enacting an angel investor tax credit program effective August 17, 2017.

Massachusetts joins a long list of states offering some form of tax credit for investors in early stage companies in specific technologies or industries.

In the Commonwealth, taxpayer investors who make investments in “qualifying businesses” which includes investments in the e-health, information technology and health care sectors will be allowed a tax credit equal to 20% of the taxpayer’s qualifying investment. Investments in qualifying businesses in “gateway municipalities” qualify for a credit of 30% of the investment made.

A qualifying business means a business with:

  • Its principal place of business in Massachusetts
  • 50% or more of its employees are located in the business’s principal place of business
  • A fully developed business plan that includes long-term and short-term forecast and contingencies of business operations, including research and development, profit, loss and cash flow projections and details of angel investor funding
  • 20 or fewer full-time employees at the time of the taxpayer investor’s initial investment
  • A federal tax identification number
  • Gross revenues equal to or less than $500,000 in the fiscal year before eligibility.

Investors may invest up to $125,000 per year with a $250,000 maximum for each qualifying business. Total credits available for use by an individual investor are capped at $50,000 in each calendar year.

Tax credits may be taken in either the tax year of the initial investment or in any three subsequent taxable years. “Excess credits” may be carried forward to any of the three subsequent taxable years.

Let’s face it, credits are being made available to encourage start-ups knowing that those companies create jobs. The hope is that Massachusetts will realize more revenue in the long run than they sacrifice by offering the tax breaks. That said, under the enacted legislation, if the qualifying business ceases to have its principal place of business in the Commonwealth within the 3-year period, the investors will not be able to claim any further credits and must repay the total amount of credits claimed.

One of the problems with these types of credit programs is that so many people remain unaware of them, blunting a potentially powerful financing opportunity.

This is going to be a great program. Let’s see how it plays out over the coming months. In the end, the real driver is to foster growth innovation and workforce development.

Kevin Martin.jpg

Client Spotlight: Technology Exchange Lab

Guest Writer: Alex Audette

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I had the chance to ask Éadaoin Ilten and Brennan Lake of Technology Exchange Lab a few questions, and learned how they’re using forward-thinking strategies to improve lives around the world.

Introduce yourselves! What do you do?

Here at Technology Exchange Lab (TEL), we believe that the fight against poverty starts with satisfying basic human needs, such as clean water, and access to energy and healthcare. We help tackle these challenges by driving the adoption of innovative, cost-effective and sustainable solutions that improve livelihoods in developing communities across world. From hand washing stations in Sierra Leone, to solar lantern distribution initiatives in India, our programs are designed from the bottom-up, in order to meet the needs and aspirations of people living at the base of the pyramid.

What brings you to CIC?

TEL was founded in 2009 by two MIT Sloan alumni who met at a local networking event. Their shared vision of poverty alleviation was inspired by their collective experience at MIT of introducing technology-based solutions to improve lives around the world. As the organization grew from an idea into a reality, settling at the CIC was a logical step to tap into Cambridge’s academic and innovation ecosystem.

Share your accomplishments! Gloat, gloat, gloat!

Over the past 7 years, we’ve carefully curated an online database of over 600 solutions to challenges related to water and sanitation, energy access, agricultural productivity, health care, and more. Every day, people turn to TEL’s online platform to discover appropriate solutions to their unique development challenges. The platform has served as an initial touchpoint for our work with incredible community based organizations working on the front lines of international development across South Asia, Latin America and the African continent. Parallel to this, we’ve built institutional partnerships with the United Nations, USAID, Siemens Stiftung and several programs at MIT.

Anything exciting on the horizon?

In spring 2017, we’ll invite the general public and CIC members alike to the TEL World House exhibition. In partnership with MIT, we are hosting a free outdoor event to showcase of some of the most compelling solutions available in the TEL database, such as solar lanterns, clean cookstoves, water purifiers, health products, and much more. Visitors will be able to demo solutions, while also meeting the inventors, development practitioners and social entrepreneurs who put the solutions to action.  

What do you like about CIC? How does the environment here impact your company philosophy?

In addition to having an unbeatable location, One Broadway has offered us a solid home base for doing business globally. As a small organization, it’s nice to host our partners and clients in such a professional, and impressive setting. What has been of most value, however, are the connections we’ve made with other CIC members, from partner organizations to world class programmers who have been inspired by TEL to help us fulfill our mission.

International development, you say! Would you like to support my “Alexit” referendum and secede from the Commonwealth with me?  

You wouldn’t be setting a precedent, since Maine “Mainxeted” from Massachusetts in 1820. While Maine has its virtues – blueberries, Stephen King, Tom from your organic tube of toothpaste – I don’t think we’ll join you in Alexiting. Since seceding, Maine has consistently underperformed the Commonwealth, macroeconomically speaking. Consider Effy, the downeast fisherwoman of the 1820s, an early icon of unemployment. Despite years of prosperity in her early life, after Maine seceded she lobster job!

Bummer. Your loss. What should I name my new nation?

I would name it after the CIC workstations “Data Motel”. Because that name totally makes sense…

Should I drive on the right- or left-hand side?

Straight down the middle.

The country’s secret password?

Fidelio.

DIY Virtual Reality: A 3D Scan of CIC's Monthly Boston VR Meetup

That’s me, sitting in a CIC Boston conference room and posing deer-eyed for the… DPI-8 3D scanner. Fresh from a meeting with Michael Kaplan of NVIDIA, Jimmy Giliberti of WorldViz, and Chris Ahern from DotProduct, Chris fleshed out our virtual discussion by scanning our nook and rendering it into a virtual space on his NVIDIA-powered, WorldViz-enabled, handheld Android touchscreen in less than 90 seconds.

In anticipation of Boston Virtual Reality’s next monthly meetup at CIC Cambridge on June 29th, event organizer Jeff Bail connected me across time zones with these engaging presenters to discuss new developments in the realm of virtual reality and what future applications of VR they’re most excited to be a part of.

Tell us about your company and your background in VR. What do you do?

Michael K. – I’ve been in the visual graphics world for 20 years, starting off in broadcast and post-production and making my way to business development for enterprise VR. Nvidia started in 1993 and has since become the world leader in visual computing. We provide visual computing platforms for almost every industry, including gaming, manufacturing, medical entertainment, and even aerospace. Did you know that virtual reality needs seven times the amount of graphics computing than gaming does? We provide those GPUs. We’re also really focusing on how deep learning intersects with VR.

Chris A. – I come from a marketing background, and found Boston to be a great fit to focus on marketing for the tech world. DotProduct has been around for four years and shipping products for three years, and is headquartered just down the street from CIC Boston. We take off-the-shelf sensor technology to bringing rapid 3D data capture to the market.

Jimmy G. – WorldViz started in 2002, budding from our CEO’s doctoral work in neuroscience, specifically how the brain processes VR data when dealing with phobias and PTSD. WorldViz is one of the few, early companies to make VR work in the enterprise market, collaborating on product design with large companies and producing a full stack of VR solutions.

What recent development in the VR world are you most excited about? Does it help us normal, un-digitized folk improve our lives? Or is it just really fun?

Michael – From an NVIDIA perspective, we’re excited to be able to bring the technology to the table to focus on pristine shading and rendering for VR, and keeping frame rates high to avoid the oft-referenced nausea factor.  We’ll be showing Iray VR, part of our VR Works software stack that makes the experience as photo-realistic as possible, a quality which is also super important for the architecture and manufacturing world. VR has a huge impact on healthcare as well – I’ve been inside someone’s brain, examining the best way to operate on a cancerous tumor.

Chris – DotProduct’s focus is on the widespread realm of decision-making, and pairing DotProduct and WorldViz’s technologies enables us to provide a quick virtual experience to make accurate decisions. We’re excited that providing a lightweight, hand-held solution makes it easy to share immersive, beautiful experiences, or can help with training in dangerous scenarios. Industry-wise, it’s a matter of bringing VR down to scale and showing that those who may not expect that they need VR capabilities actually do need it.

Jimmy – DotProduct also really helps out with communication between the as-planned and as-built, in which someone on the ground can scan and report a misplaced pipe or tube, resulting in greater financial savings for the construction industry. What we’re excited about is projection-based VR, which allows for eight or nine people to experience the same virtual space from different angles. Again, this is especially important for one-on-one training, in which both the teacher and the student can walk through situations meant to desensitize or sensitize the student in preparation for real life situations.

What hurdles do you foresee in the future of VR?

Michael – Right now, I think that the cost to entry from the consumer standpoint is too high, and resolution, speed and latency still needs to be better across the board for it to be totally adopted. Feedback (hapticdevices) and physical resistance also needs to improve for the experience to be as real as possible (our PhysX for VR is helping make this better). Technology is getting better all the time, so the timing of when to invest in this type of technology is also an important decision to be made.

Chris – My impression is pretty similar, though the cost for consumers to purchase VR is going down. The hardware requirements can also be a challenge, especially with the amount of power needed for VR applications.

Jimmy G – My impression is actually, “Wow, it’s that cheap now?” Coming from the enterprise side, it’s actually much more affordable than it was before. It’s also a different set of folks coming to the table whose first impressions determine whether VR is a hit or not. We’re dependent on the next wave of VR applications to set the bar high, as they’ll have a big effect on the industry.

What are you looking forward to at the upcoming Boston VR meetup on June 29?

Michael – I always love educating people to what’s possible, and giving NVIDIA kudos now and then. I’m also excited to be part of a crowd that knows VR – I’ve been to VR meetups at CIC, and I know that room fills up!

Chris – I’m looking forward to showing DotProduct’s partnership with WorldViz. A few years ago, we would talk of the day in which we could bring VR right into your headsets. Now we can speak to the same people and with this software, show how we’ve brought handheld scanning to VR.

Jimmy – As a West Coast person, I’m excited to learn about the needs of the Boston VR community. I also love the fact that this particular demo will be scanning a person, then allowing him or her to walk around him/herself. It’s one of the freakiest things, but it’s kind of fun.

Have a VR fun fact?

Michael – I’ve climbed Mt. Everest! I was in someone’s brain! Just three days ago, I was on the Starship Enterprise and saved a crew from a ship that was being destroyed.

Chris – A lot of people have walked around my apartment, virtually.

Jimmy – I’m still amazed at the worlds that I get to go enjoy. There’s a bit of escapism, and I love to travel. VR is the ultimate travel machine, and it could be a time machine too. I look at it as basically stepping into the Tardis.  

Meet Michael, Chris and Jimmy at the Boston VR Meetup on June 29th in the Venture Cafe, on the 5th Floor of One Broadway in Kendall Square, from 6:00pm – 9:30pm. 

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