A new sight has emerged in recent years at concerts, sports events and other giant public gatherings: what seems like the entire crowd holding up smartphones to snap photos or shoot video.
Matt Pacyga thinks there's money to be made in that.
The chief executive and co-founder of Camera Slice, a start-up in the CoCo workspace in Uptown Minneapolis, Pacyga is working with three others on technology that allows venues to aggregate and use the photos that audience members are making.
They envision thousands of sports fans or concertgoers taking selfies, "we-fies" or other shots at the same moment. Then, the Camera Slice technology captures and stitches together those photos into a package that stadiums could display on the jumbo screen.
But the possibilities are more varied than that. The innovation lets venues organize photos or videos based on where they were taken. That way, users can glance at a Facebook-like timeline to see who's seated near them and what they're posting.
With a product that complex and value as fleeting as the moment being captured, the founders have found it difficult to describe all that the Camera Slice technology does.
"Everyone should have an elevator pitch, but ours seems to be extraordinarily challenging," said Drew Whitson, a co-founder and chief financial officer.
It's simpler to describe the problem they think it addresses: that social media can be an isolating way to communicate. Camera Slice allows users to connect with people around them and share a common experience, the founders say, unlike broadcasting a tweet to a passive audience.
"We want social media to be inclusive," said Joel Vaughan, another founder. "We want to give that idea of the human experience, and we want to show you all the different perspectives of it."
The technology, which can stamp a time and place on every piece of media it collects for organizing, gives social media users a glimpse into the lives of other attendees, Vaughan said.
The founders are currently focusing their pitches on stadium spaces, like the new Vikings stadium scheduled to open in 2016, because venues like those can use Camera Slice to enhance the audience experience and their own apps, Pacyga said.
For example, when stadium managers create a media package through the Camera Slice technology — like combining all the photos taken at one moment into a product similar to a Snapchat story — they can charge companies for the opportunity to sponsor that "activation."
Camera Slice doesn't have any revenue coming in yet, Whitson said, but the co-founders are optimistic their idea will take off soon.
Two of them have already met with some success in the tech start-up world. Pacyga and Joel Stewart, another founder, started a software developer called Gray Squid Division and sold it a few years ago. They had played with the Camera Slice idea at that time, and officially started the new company in 2014.
The company won a BizSpark Fellowship from Microsoft Corp., which allowed the founders to move into the collaborative business site CoCo Uptown for three months. Along with the workspace, the fellowship comes with other assistance from Microsoft, like access to coaching and events to pitch for funding.
Last week, Camera Slice advanced to the final round of 2015 candidates for Microsoft's Ventures Accelerator, where the software giant brings start-up firms to its Seattle headquarters for three to four months of mentoring and assistance. Another Minnesota start-up, wearable technology firm Playtabase, participated in the Microsoft accelerator last year. Camera Slice will learn later this month whether it has been chosen for the program.
Meanwhile, Camera Slice leaders continue to look for investors. Recently, they pitched the firm and product to potential backers in Chicago. Last fall, they demonstrated their product at Minneapolis' MinneDemo event.
Tyler Gieseke is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for Star Tribune.