Friday, August 18, 2017
Interview with Marcus Filipovich, Ocular Data Systems
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Last week, Pasadena-based Ocular Data Systems (www.oculardatasystems.com) announced a funding round from the Pasadena Angels, for its camera-based systems used by law enforcement to capture evidence in drunk or drugged driving cases. We talked with CEO Marcus Filipovich to learn more about the company and its product.
What does Ocular Data Systems do?
Marcus Filipovich: We make a professional camera system for law enforcement, that allows them to produce court-admissible evidence of impaired driving. It allows them to get higher conviction rates and lower court costs, by encouraging suspects to plead out their case, rather than go through a length, expensive court trial.
Why is your device needed?
Marcus Filipovich: We're really riding two big waves in America, and around the world. First of all is the legalization of marijuana throughout the country, and the second is the deadly epidemic in opioid use, both prescription drug abuse and heroin and synthetic opioids. For the first time, in a long time, traffic deaths and crashes are rising, due to drunk and drugged driving. It's really a big problem out there. The other trend, is the use of video in law enforcement. Judges, juries, defense, and prosecuters are now expecting and demanding video be produced in the courtroom. It's a key trend, and now we can provide high quality audio and video recording of the eye signs of impairment.
How did the company and its technology come about?
Marcus Filipovich: I joined as Chief Executive Officer in January of 2016, however, our founders are really the pioneers in the area of using eye signs for drug enforcement. Our history actually goes back decades, as our co-founder, Dick Studdard, is a retired Sergeant from the LAPD, and also is a retired Captain with the US Military Police. When he was a young officer at the LAPD, his best buddy, who was just about to become an officer, was killed by a drunk, impaired driver. The driver wasn't even charged, because the officers said they didn't smell alcohol on his breath. Dick made it his life's mission to learn how to detect drug-impaired driving, which led to what is now the an international drug evaluation and classification program, the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) program. There are now 8,000 Drug Recognition Experts in the U.S., and Dick is DRE Emeritus. He's trained many thousands of people over the decades for the program, which is now nationwide, in Canada, the United Kingdom, and around the world. That program is the core basis of what we do. We provide those drug recognition experts and police officers, who are trained in basic field sobriety, to record what it is they are seeing. That way, when they get to court, that can be provided to the experts and the prosecutor, so it's not just what was described by the officer, they can see what was captured to the judge and jury.
When did this become a business and when did the funding come about?
Marcus Filipovich: Our other founder, Ron Waldorf, is a serial entrepreneur, primarily in the medical business. They had earlier on, developed a version of this as a medical product to use for law enforcement, but it was not the right time and place, the technology was not quite there, and the drug recognition program wasn't yet accepted at a national basis. However, in 2014, it was time to restart that effort. They set aside what they were working on, and started working on bringing this technology to law enforcement. A member of the Pasadena Angels, Don Hall, who is the company's chairman, funded the start of the company. The company also received a seed round from a private family office, and most recently, we concluded a bridge funding round with the Pasadena Angels and the Pasadena Angels Fund. That's a bridge to our Series A, which we'll be using for scaling up sales and marketing. Where we're headed with that Series A, is expanding distribution. In addition to the patents we have now on DAX in law enforcement, we also have two patents for a fully automated systems, which allows us to move into workplace safety. If you think about it, any company doing randomized drug testing, whether that's in aviation, for school bus drivers, and so on, is current drug tests don't pick up impairment. You can legally smoke marijuana, and weeks and months later, it might still be in your systemóbut it's not impairing you. Our technology allows you to do a quick, 90 second test, and get a thumbs-up or thumbs-down if there is any impairment.
How big of a market is there for all of this?
Marcus Filipovich: In the law enforcement market, the vision for this product, is that every officer should have access to it, just like they have other video cameras, such as body-worn cams and dash-cams in police vehicles. There are 410,000 police vehicles out there in the U.S., which is a 2 billion market opportunity. That's just police forces, and does not include military police, campus police, and all the rest of the world. All countries are facing the same drugged driving problem, and all of those countries are bringing video to help them in the criminal justice side when they are in court.
What's the biggest challenge for the company?
Marcus Filipovich: The opportunity here is to scale distribution. I'm actively expanding distribution around the world. We announced we had partnered with Decatur Electronics, and we have also partnered with Stratasys, to help us keep up with the sales challenge. Something which I'm really passinate about, and an important mission for us, is to see good jobs for engineers, technical people, marketing folks, and others here in LA. We want to become a Southern California success story. Our company is in Pasadena, and we're funded by local investors. We're partnered with other Southern California firms, with Stratasys up in Valencia, and Decatur just outside of San Diego. We're creating jobs, and saving lives, and it doesn't get any better than that.
Finally, for other entrepreneurs reading this, what's your biggest advice to them?
Marcus Filipovich: Don't give up, but if you're no passionate about what you're doing, you need to change what you're doing!