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Akron Global Business Accelerator

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Videoconferencing software allows businesses like NicheVision to connect with organizations all over the globe.

Every day, more than 700 people across the country experience some form of sexual assault, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Unfortunately, only a little more than half of these reported assaults result in felony convictions. 

One reason for this low rate is that the majority of convictions rely on the identification of sperm cells collected in a rape kit. This identification is usually done manually by a forensic scientist, who must spend hours combing through thousands of slides. The search for a single sperm is comparable to looking for a needle in a haystack and, as a result, there is an extremely large backlog of DNA cases waiting to be processed.

Now, however, one small business in Akron is working on solving this problem with SpermFinder, an automated system that can quickly identify any sperm cells on a rape kit smear. The system directs the forensic analyst to the exact location of the cells, which considerably hastens the conviction process.

"(SpermFinder) makes it much easier for an analyst at a crime lab to find the evidence that they're looking for to be able to bring rapists to justice," said Victor Meles of NicheVision Inc., the company that created SpermFinder. "It completely automates what is normally an extremely tedious task."

NicheVision is a tenant of Akron Global Business Accelerator, which acts as an incubator for growing technology-based businesses in the Akron community. With the resources of the Accelerator program, NicheVision has been able to extend its reach far beyond Summit County into nations across the world.

One of these key resources is a computer lab with videoconferencing software that was funded in 2007 by a $24,428 grant from Akron Community Foundation. This software allows businesses like NicheVision to connect with organizations all over the globe and build Akron's reputation in the international market.

"The world is increasingly flat economically, and this is a way to break down barriers economically into foreign markets," said Akron Global Business Accelerator Director of Operations Terry Martell.

Using the videoconferencing software, NicheVision recently established a relationship with the New South Wales Police Force in Australia. The police force was interested in using the SpermFinder software to assist in crime investigations, and NicheVision was able to present the system to them without ever leaving Akron.

"It was incredible," Meles said, explaining that before the videoconferencing software was available, they would have had to travel all the way to Australia for the meeting. He said a single trip could cost upwards of $10,000, especially when the 800-pound SpermFinder system must be transported overseas.

With the videoconferencing software, NicheVision was able to demonstrate the actual process of identifying sperm cells on a real slide sent to them by the New South Wales Police Force. All of this could be done remotely, without any of the transportation costs businesses are accustomed to.

Similarly, NicheVision is also using the software to communicate with organizations in Bogota, Colombia, in South America. "I don't think we'd ever go anywhere now without doing the video conference first," Meles said.

The same software is used by several other Accelerator tenant companies, including a company that developed a tracking system for underground miners and a company that created real-time imaging scanners for patients with breast cancer and Alzheimer's.

Martell added that Akron Global Business Accelerator can now regularly interact with another business incubator located in Akron's sister city of Chemnitz, Germany, by using the videoconferencing software.

"Now we're going to be doing monthly discussions of how we can better work together," Martell said. He said the two organizations can exchange ideas about how to introduce international companies to the U.S. market and vice versa.

This relationship is just one of the many international collaborations Akron Global Business Accelerator hopes to launch in Akron with the help of videoconferencing.

"At the end of the day, as we look into the next 10 or 15 years, everything is going to be global," Meles said. "We want to be seen as a city that's progressive in embracing the entire world economy."

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