Before starting his company, Small Factory Innovations, founder and CEO Chris Dudick worked on children’s shows for Nickelodeon, Nicktoons, Cartoon Network and AOL. When he founded SFI, he turned his focus from entertaining children to helping special needs kids build social skills through technology.
Working with educators and developers, Dudick pioneered SiLAS, an avatar animation program that helps children on the autism spectrum recognize facial expressions, build language skills, and interact socially with other kids. Using the software, children work in teams to create animation scripts that include topic generation, eye contact, and apologizing.
Dudick worked with SCORE mentors Gene Wolf and Tony Payer. They helped him develop a business plan and connected him with their former colleagues, who helped him fine-tune his plan. Dudick then used his business plan as the basis for his application for grant money from the National Science Foundation. Dudick says “We would not have been able to get this grant without the help and dedication of Gene and Tony.”
In December 2016, Small Factory Innovations was awarded a $225,000 Phase 1 business grant from the National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research grant program. That means that SFI can develop their software without getting a loan from a bank. They are also in the running for a Phase 2 grant of up to $750,000.