ThinkProxi brings museums to life

Memphis-based tech company ThinkProxi uses beacons to help businesses better understand customer trends while providing information that’s pushed to any hand-held device.
Imagine approaching a painting in an art museum. The art seems important, but you’re not sure why. The placard has the artist’s name and maybe a line or two, but that’s pretty much it.

Memphis-based ThinkProxi wants to change that user experience via beacon technology that allows a museum to push out additional information to a visitor’s device as he or she approaches that painting.

The company’s vision is to create a framework that clients can use to better take advantage of proximity of things to people. While customers can use the technology for quicker access to services, businesses can gain deeper insights about the customer. That insight can then help the business better align services and offerings to the needs of the customer.

ThinkProxi started as eBiz Solutions Labs in 2015. Sridhar Sunkara, co-founderSridhar Sunkara, president of ThinkProxi. and president of ThinkProxi and CEO of eBiz Solutions, got the idea for his business from observing Apple’s regular presentations on what’s next in technology.

A couple of years ago the Apple team discussed its iBeacon technology, which allows apps to listen for signals from beacons and then react accordingly.

“Once they did that we looked at it and said these are the other opportunities that might help solve problems,” said Sunkara.

The team then found a hardware manufacturer in Poland that began sending beacon components to test. It took about a year and a half to build the platform, and today ThinkProxi has five clients with another 30 in the pipeline.

“We’re starting to get aggressive to go after funding,” Sunkara said. “We’re in the first round of raising money so we can accelerate growth.”

ThinkProxi has found an early adopter is the tourism sector. The Memphis Music Hall of Fame at the corner of Beale and Second streets is one of the company's first customers.

The museum was interested in pursuing the technology to help broaden the content of its physically small space. It launched an app that provides a daily music calendar, Memphis music news, information on live music and the museum’s exhibits.

The museum placed 12 beacon sensors around the museum to provide additional information about various displays. When a person has the app open it automatically pops up with songs, videos and other information about that exhibit as they near the beacon.

“It’s been nice and seamless between the touchscreen kiosks, the app and beacons,” said Ezra Wheeler, program manager at the museum. “I’ve been encouraged by how easy it seems to be for people.”

The museum began using the beacons in early December. Wheeler said they’re still testing it before doing a full push this spring. For now they have an iPad to help visitors understand the app, but Wheeler said the learning curve hasn’t been difficult.

Sridhar Sunkara, CEO of ThinkProxi, holding a beacon device.

“The whole idea is that everything here is customized by the client,” Sunkara said. “They provide all the content. If they’re a museum and moving an exhibit they create the content and attach it to the beacon.”

That is done in an easy-to-use content management system. ThinkProxi uses a platform for clients who in turn pay a monthly hosting fee depending on how many beacons are used. Customers can also use the technology on their own apps.

The potential users of the technology is endless, Sunkara said. A wine store could use it to push out information about a wine for sale as someone passes by a display. Someone shopping for a car can get all the information about the vehicle without interacting with a sales agent. The dealership, in turn, can know more about the prospective buyer’s likes before interacting.

Imagine driving around a neighborhood looking at homes for sale. The usual method is to stop at each house with a for sale sign in front to pick up a printed brochure. But with this technology, a house hunter could pull up a real estate app that receives notifications about a house as the car drives by.

It’s an enhanced experience for the house hunter, and the technology also gives the Realtor an opportunity to gather information about how many people are looking at the house and what their intentions might be.

Sridhar Sunkara, president of ThinkProxi, juggling a beacon device.

“The whole idea is to get the sales cycle smaller and smaller and go after people who are more interested and to be more proactive,” Sunkara said. “You don’t need to wait on a buyer to call you. Their information is there for the agent. If I know you’ve come two times to this house I can message you and say, ‘Welcome back. Did you know we just changed the price?’”

ThinkProxi bills itself as an Internet of Things company which means better understanding customer habits via analytics while providing immediate information to them.

ThinkProxi has eight employees working on the technology. The company’s approach is to focus on marketing to museums and attractions but it’s also in the process of getting into real estate. Sunkara said he believes Memphis is ready for the technology, although the ultimate plan is to focus much broader than just the Bluff City.

“Memphis is recognizing it has to catch up,” he said. “I don’t know how fast, though, so our game plan isn’t to just focus on Memphis. If we really want to as a community do well this is a great chance to prove we can be on the technological cutting edge.”

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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