Mark has that true spirit of entrepreneurship. I have watched him overcome many business and personal challenges over the past several years that would have stopped most people cold. – Don Mealing
SALT LAKE CITY — Origin stories for technology companies are typically unconventional. How about the one Steve Jobs started? Or Bill Gates?
The latest example of that can be found right here in downtown Salt Lake City, where a company called MEP Tech (the MEP stands for Make Everything Possible) has created what just might be The Next Big Thing: a device that allows apps on your smartphone or tablet to be projected onto any surface — a desk, a dining room table, a wall, the hood of a car, the basketball court at EnergySolutions Arena. You name it.
Once the app is projected — anything and everything from a Monopoly board to a video game to a Power Point presentation to Google Maps — the images can be moved around exactly the same as on your smartphone or tablet.
The world becomes your interactive touch screen.
The potential is almost as intriguing as the story behind the man who thought it up.
Mark Davis was brought up in the cloistered polygamous community of the FLDS Church. As a young man he moved with the church from Sandy to the southern Utah border area known as Short Creek to brace for the apocalypse. At the turn of the century, technology, and all else, was predicted to be rendered obsolete.
When that didn’t happen, he went back to what he was doing before the world was supposed to end: playing games.
“I was a hard-core gamer,” confesses the founder of Make Everything Possible Tech, sitting in a leather chair at company headquarters flanked by a life-size cutout of Darth Vader. “Board games, video games, Dungeons & Dragons, I played all that stuff.”
But he did it clandestinely, because playing games in Short Creek “was a big no-no.”
Living on the fringes of society in long-sleeved shirts and long pants where amusement was considered a tool of the devil he nonetheless managed to plug into and keep up with the exploding game-playing technology.
In 2005, when he was 27, he and the church parted ways and he left Short Creek.
Suddenly, he found himself in a world where he could freely game to his heart’s content.
So that’s what he did. He worked construction by day and pursued his hobby/obsession by night, which is what led to his brainstorm: What if he could project a touch screen that would display 3D images? Every gamer he knew would find that appealing.
The man with a ninth-grade education consulted engineers, computer programmers and software designers to see what might be possible. His first attempt was to project images through console devices such as PlayStation.
This was back in the dark ages before Jobs introduced the iPhone (in 2007) and apps instantly became the new normal.
For Mark, the timing couldn’t have been better. In seeking investors, he was introduced to Don Mealing, a venture capitalist with a soft spot for helping FLDS refugees.
Mealing provided more than finances. He provided the second brainstorm. Instead of tying his projector into traditional gaming consoles, he suggested that Mark should go mobile. "Sync a video projector to a cellphone and make the App images interactive," he insisted.
That led to a partnership with Lorenzo Swank and Matt Stoker, two friends and computer savants from North Salt Lake who founded Pixio, Utah’s first app-development company.
Pixio provided the science to Mealing’s and Davis’ vision, resulting in a prototype projector named Photonn (a photon is a particle of light) that was patented in 2012.
In 2013, the Photonn was unveiled in Indianapolis at the massive Gen Con trade show. Each of the biggest companies in the toy and game world — Mattel, Hasbro, Lego and Jakks Pacific — showed instant interest and set up meetings.
“Imagine,” Mark muses, “a kid from the Crick, sitting at the board table with Hasbro.”
As MEP Tech now works day and night on producing a market-ready, price-effective Photonn, Mealing sees potential far beyond toys and games. Schools, libraries, the military, the government, the business world, anyone connecting to the World Wide Web — all could benefit.
“A portable interactive projector allows people to collaborate and connect in ways that have never been possible,” he says.
And it all started from what many would consider the unlikeliest of places.
“Mark has that true spirit of entrepreneurship,” Mealing says of Davis. “I have watched him overcome many business and personal challenges over the past several years that would have stopped most people cold. He possesses the undying will to persevere in the face of hardship, no doubt forged in the difficult circumstances under which he grew up.”
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org