Gary York, Help Lightning



Gary York, Help Lightning

“Focus on your mission, not just ‘the business’.”

Gary York still vividly remembers that moment when the foundation was laid for his future as a successful entrepreneur. It was 1997. He’d joined a startup founded by a charismatic man with a great idea for healthcare software, and his boss had just returned from a meeting with venture capitalists in Atlanta. It was a short meeting.

“They asked him three questions: One, ‘Can you show us the product?’ Two, ‘Have you done this before?’ And three, ‘Do you have partner relationships with prospective customers?’” You guessed it: The answer to all three questions was No. York recounts his reaction with characteristic understatement. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Gee…I kinda wish I’d asked those questions before I joined the company.’”

That company didn’t make it far beyond the concept, but York had the basic direction he needed for all future career moves. “Ever since then, I’ve evaluated opportunities by the three Ps: People. Products. And Paying, referenceable customers.”

Around the world – – –
York had already enjoyed more than his share of career adventures to that point. After earning his PhD in Electrical Engineering and High Availability Computing from Carnegie-Mellon, he spent a year on the school’s research faculty — followed by 2 ½ years as a volunteer for the Christian mission Food For The Hungry International; which took him to Ethiopia, Kenya, Bolivia and Thailand.

– – – and back.
Returning to Boston in 1988, York joined a tech startup that was bought by a Silicon Valley organization, and relocated to the new parent’s headquarters. In 1992, he became a visiting scholar at UC Berkley — one of the world’s top 10 Computer Science departments. There, York determined he was considerably more interested in the entrepreneurial world than academia. At the same time, he and his wife agreed they and their two sons should live closer to their families; which brought them to Birmingham, where Gary took a job consulting with Bellsouth.

“I helped build the architecture that supported a number of Bellsouth’s projects, doing hands-on C++ software development on an HP Unix system. Some of the scars from that experience are still visible,” York says with a smile — explaining that the hardware took 45 minutes to compile and link batches of his work; something computers now do instantaneously. “That experience taught me to be super-careful with my programming work.”

First entrepreneurial success
York’s Bellsouth experience led to the previously-mentioned healthcare startup. Later that year, he founded ComFrame with Marc Guthrie and Joe Wortmann, “two very talented men I’d worked with before.” The company’s initial focus was consulting on Java.

Followed by two more
York remained with ComFrame as a full-time executive, and then Board member, until the company sold in 2010. During that same period, he found time to help build two other startups: Emageon, which he founded with Wortmann and Chuck Jett in 1998, and Awarix — which he founded in 2004.

“ComFrame had developed a tool for medical imaging that led to the creation of Emageon. So Joe and I pursued that full-time, and Marc stayed behind to run ComFrame.” Emageon was acquired for $42 million by Boston-based Amicas in 2009 — by which time it had grown to 306 employees.”

Awarix was one of Gary’s absolute Right Place, Right Time experiences. “We partnered with St. Vincent’s to develop a healthcare visibility system. We sold the system all over the world, and generated a tremendous amount of positive buzz. At one point, the Cleveland Clinic named our system the most valuable product they had deployed.” Shortly thereafter, Awarix sold to McKesson — a San Francisco company now generating nearly $200 billion annually. The date? 2008. Right before the market crashed.

Gary’s next stop was another learning experience that had initially passed the “Three Ps” test. So what happened? He puts it this way: “I learned that if you want a great business to succeed, you have to be aligned with whoever has control — Well, at least I do — and you have to be focused on your mission, not just ‘the business’.”

And yet another
In early 2010, Gary joined a team that included another former Emageon partner — Craig Parker. As Parker recounts in an article published previously in TechBilders, “We had a team that rebranded and recapitalized the company. In the next four years, that team turned Emergency CallWorks into the fastest-growing 9-1-1 company in America.” That’s when Motorola came calling.

An extraordinary technology
York remained on the company’s board until early 2016, but he’d already begun considering his next move a good bit earlier. Which brings us to his current role as CEO of Help Lightning — an opportunity he describes as “too good to pass up.” Providing a platform for “Mobile Merged Reality and Virtual Interaction,” Help Lightning wins the Wow Factor Award among all of York’s career stops to date.

In layman’s terms, the technology enables you to virtually enter (typically with hands and/or pointers) a live video being shot remotely. You see, on your phone or tablet, the video being shot remotely — and using your device’s camera, you can place your hands (or whatever) anywhere in the screen.

A new direction
Help Lightning’s founders initially targeted the medical market, given the technology’s potential for surgeons to guide live procedures being conducted anywhere in the world. While there’s no denying its suitability in that environment, the problem was getting payors on board. So York now has the company focusing primarily on Technical Field Service and Customer Service opportunities. Moreover, given the omnipresence of mobile, Help Lightning is focusing most of its efforts on the iOS and Android platforms.

The strategic decisions appear to be paying off: “The market is enthusiastic. We have a great pipeline.” And, as the company’s website notes, Help Lightning’s patented technologies and processes has over 15,000 users in 50 countries — making it the global leader in merged reality.

Looking ahead
It goes without saying, Help Lightning could be another personal home run in York’s all star career. But what has him equally enthusiastic about the company’s prospects is the impact it could have on Birmingham’s place in the technology ecosphere. “Analysts are predicting the market for augmented reality will reach $120 billion by 2020. Think about what that could mean for our community if a market leader is headquartered here.”

To paraphrase the Oldsmobile slogan: This is not your father’s Birmingham. And with all due respect to your dad, that’s a very good thing indeed.

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