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Crane safety software company raising its sights

By: ANDREW WINEKE
October 4, 2011
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photo - SpectWare founder Eric Skinner was a crane mechanic and inspector for more than 20 years before starting the inspection software company. Photo by Jerilee Bennett
SpectWare founder Eric Skinner was a crane mechanic and inspector for more than 20 years before starting the inspection software company. Photo by Jerilee Bennett 

Like so many entrepreneurs before him, Eric Skinner was simply trying to find a better way to do his job.

The president of Front Range Crane Safety, Skinner has been repairing, maintaining and inspecting cranes for 24 years. A modern crane is an advanced, multi-million dollar piece of equipment, Skinner said, but the inspection process was not at the same level of sophistication.

“It’s a lot of money, very high-tech and we’ve been doing the inspection process like it’s the 1800’s — paper and clipboards,” Skinner said.

He founded SpectWare to develop an online inspection system that would speed up the paperwork and record-keeping parts of the job. Going through a lengthy checklist on a laptop, tablet or smartphone doesn’t save a lot of time during the inspection itself, he said, but can cut hours off the back-end parts of the job.

“I saw the problems with the paper trail and getting things done on time,” Skinner said.

In the past year, SpectWare has gone from little more than an idea to a working product that’s being used by companies in 35 states and 14 countries. The company passed a milestone last week as it graduated from the Colorado Springs Technology Incubator and prepared to strike out on its own.

“I think the future looks pretty good for him,” said Ric Denton, president and CEO of the incubator. “He has opportunities for making the individual sales to smaller companies and he also has interest from some of the largest construction companies in the world.”

Starting SpectWare in the incubator helped him change his thinking from small businessman to setting up and running a corporation, Skinner said. The incubator is a non-profit corporation that provides advice and office space to start-up companies and helps them develop business plans and connect with investors and other resources.

“When we got there, we didn’t have a board in place,” Skinner said. “It was me winging corporate business as a small business guy, and that just doesn’t work.”

Crane inspections are a niche business, but it’s a big niche, Skinner said. In the United States alone, there are 247,000 companies affected by federal crane regulations. However, what he realized after starting SpectWare, Skinner said, is that crane operators everywhere in the world need the same sorts of solutions.

“This is a worldwide problem,” he said of the paperwork and regulations that go along with inspections.

Skinner is working to incorporate European standards, which are also used in other parts of the world into the software. He’s also expanding it to cover more types of cranes. That’s enough to keep his hands full, but the company could eventually add other types of heavy equipment inspections to its portfolio.

“In our niche, it has the potential of being a $100 million company,” Skinner said. “If we cruise it into construction, too, who knows where it could go?”

SpectWare employs four people, including Skinner and his wife, Tabitha. The company operates on a subscription model, with all of the software working online so that inspections are always backed up and so users don’t need to buy updates to the product.

There’s no set time for a company to step out from the incubator, Denton said, but Skinner took advantage of the advice and resources available and felt ready to move on.

“I think a lot of people are hopeful that he will do extremely well in the future,” Denton said. “If they come back and need assistance, the door is always open.”

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