From animation to mobile apps, Grasshorse reinvents itself
Not every startup is nimble enough to adapt to the constantly changing economic environment of the last few years, but that ability has been key to the success of Winfield, Iowa's Grasshorse. In 2002, Grasshorse was founded by Stephen Jennings as an animation studio in California. Five years later, he and his sister Kathy Buxton, Grasshorse CEO, moved the company to Iowa to take advantage of the state's tax incentives related to economic development in the film industry. Shortly thereafter, the economic recession hit the company in early 2008 and the tax incentives were frozen abruptly in September of last year.
"We've had to reinvent ourselves several times because our clients became different," said Kathy, noting that when their West Coast work dried up with the recession they were able to shift to Iowa-based projects. When the tax incentive program was frozen, they shifted again to advertising work and mobile application development where they concentrate much of their efforts today.
The Grasshorse work product can be found everywhere from feature films and television to commercials and mobile phone applications. Their clients include global media powerhouses like Cartoon Network, Warner Brothers, The Walt Disney Company and MTV and specific productions include the Powerpuff Girls, Star Wars Clone Wars, Liquid Television, and the 2008 Olympic Games. (See samples of their work in their demo reel at grasshorse.com/about.)
They now describe themselves as "an animation, design, and technology" company, a reflection of the core competencies they discovered throughout reinventing process:
"We reassessed our core and said, 'OK, we have animation, design and technology abilities, what kind of deliverables can we provide with that core?'" Stephen said.
The first two iPhone applications they created, Poke My VooDoo and Katooba's Cotton Candy Caper (left), are available in Apple's app store. They're working on expanding these applications to other platforms and promoting them through merchandising and other means. One such promotion will be exhibiting next month at Dragon*Con, which is "the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film."
The company has seven employees and they work with another 10 or more freelancers on a regular basis. Their location in rural southeastern Iowa has become an asset to the company allowing them to draw artistic talent from larger regional communities such as Iowa City, Burlington, Mount Pleasant and Fairfield, a known artistic enclave.
"Our big challenge was taking a fine artist who could use a computer, was comfortable with them and confident around them, and making them into an animator because they're not the same thing. So [we do] a lot of extensive training," said Kathy.
They also receive a lot of professional inquiries from out of the area, Kathy said. "What we've run into more than anything is people contacting us from other states saying the want to come back to Iowa. We've had senior executive producers and marketing directors; we've had some very high-level people contact us. It's kind of interesting that we get that level of interest when Winfield is a small town."
Watch the following video to learn more about Grasshorse's background, their move to Iowa, their work with major television networks and what's ahead for them in the near future.