Innovation forged in community collaboration

Ellen and Michael Johnson of CalledVision in the Machining Lab at Davidson County Community College in North Carolina. (Photos: DCCC)

It began with an idea. Or rather, it began with a solution to a concerning problem.

In spring 2015, Michael and Ellen Johnson witnessed what many in our communities, states and nation saw: our families, friends and neighbors were not as prepared for dangerous encounters as we had hoped. Then came the idea, the solution. They called it CalledVision.

Flash forward almost five years, the North Carolina couple’s idea now has a physical shape, form and a business plan to back it up.

“Our starting point was our desire to help people,” Michael Johnson said. “The CalledVision device works to document and record the moments when someone feels they are in a dangerous encounter. It utilizes GPS tracking, live audio recording and an on-call center working simultaneously to get help for someone in a life-threatening situation.”

Since the business’s establishment in November 2015, the Johnsons have turned to the Small Business Center at Davidson County Community College (DCCC) in North Carolina and its director, Martha Larson, for guidance on developing their business plan.

“Any question we had with the business, Martha would connect us to the right people,” Ellen Johnson said. “She was always willing to reach out and eagerly returned our calls.”

Providing resources

For the past 35 years, the Small Business Center at DCCC has dedicated its mission to connecting small business owners with the resources to be as successful and sustainable as possible.

When it came to building a physical prototype, the Johnsons were in the process of finding 3D printers to bring their 2D designs to life. Larson had just the connection, DCCC’s own computer-integrated machining program.

The connection was forged out of Launch Davidson County, an eight-week training program for small businesses in the early stages of development. The program was held in partnership with the Small Business Center and the chambers of commerce representing Lexington, Thomasville and Northern Davidson counties.

“I knew our students in the CNC program work in 3D printing, so I did some inquiring,” Larson said. “I reached out to Kerry Smith, our advanced manufacturing instructor. After a few discussions between CalledVision and Kerry, the students actually carried out the design and creation of the outer shell of this prototype. This was a chance for students to get real-life experience in the small business environment, and for CalledVision to receive a prototype with great quality without the expense. That’s something I value.”

Building the shell

The prototype was created as an in-class project as part of the curriculum for the students. Though the program often gets requests from industry partners, small businesses is an area that instructors hope to tap into more in the future.

“This is a great experience,” Smith said. “Most students have not been employed in their career path yet, so having real-world projects really helps their growth. We would really like to be a partner with all businesses in the community, large or small.”

After a few days of consultation and implementation, the Johnsons now have a tangible piece of their business. They are currently speaking with manufacturers to put into place the inner components and technology of the device.

It is their hope that these devices can be used on college campuses as well as personal use, with a call center in Davidson County to bring new jobs to the community. At the heart of it all, however, is the idea of saving lives.

“This experience has motivated us to go further than we had originally thought possible,” Michael Johnson said. “It has been such a positive relationship with the Small Business Center and the community college. We continue to learn to seize new opportunities and bring our idea to life.”

A closer look at the outer shell of the device prototype.

About the Author

Jonathan Williams
is a communications specialist at Davidson County Community College in Lexington, North Carolina.
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