“Successful entrepreneurs take who they are and what they already know and create surprising combinations.” — Gary Erickson, Founder and CEO, Clif Bar & Co.
Do a search for “teleprompter errors” and you’ll find dozens of anecdotes about public figures, newscasters, etc. reading the teleprompter word-for-word – including stage cues, incorrect words, and other mishaps.
While these mistakes make for entertaining viewing, what you don’t know is that teleprompters come with other challenges. If a presenter is outdoors giving a speech, a weak stand will vibrate in the wind, making it difficult to read words displayed on the glass panel.
Rain and solar glare provide additional challenges, as do the height and placement of teleprompter glass panels and even the microphone.
Once a teleprompter height is set, it’s very difficult to adjust because the stand sections have to be adjusted up and down manually. If multiple presenters or people with big differences in height attempt to use a traditional stand, the AV crew is challenged adjusting the teleprompter, microphone, and camera between speeches.
Inventor and entrepreneur Thom Tanner, founder and CEO of PresenterTek, has changed all this.
Necessity is the mother of invention
Thom began his love of tinkering at age 15 when he bought four cars out of a barn, one of which was a Triumph. He restored it and sold it to a Ferrari dealer. “That’s what pulled me into mechanical engineering,” he says.
After obtaining his engineering degree, he began a career in medical devices – but continued with his own projects, one of which he brought to market: an innovative, ground-level loading cart, which he licensed to DR Products in Vermont. (He’s the patent-holder for this product.)
So, it wasn’t a surprise when his brother Neil called with a request in 2015.
“My brother owns an audiovisual company,” says Thom, “and was working with Lucasfilm. An upcoming shoot required teleprompting for people who were both very tall and very short. ‘I can’t run up to adjust the teleprompter’ my brother said, because it would cause delays.”
Thom worked his lunch breaks and at night. Within a week he had a working robotic prototype welded from scrap metal and constructed from spare electronics. The adjustable stand could be raised and lowered using a hand-held remote.
After spraying the prototype with black Krylon at 3:00 AM the day of the shoot, Thom had it ready to go for his brother Neil to pick up at 8:00 AM.
“Neil called me at 11:00 – it worked perfectly and Lucasfilm loved it! Even the Director of Special Effects was impressed with the design – which I considered a true complement.”
The White House calls
In 2016, President Donald Trump disassembled a malfunctioning teleprompter system while on-stage during a rally. “It hasn’t been working for 20 minutes,” he said as he took it apart in front of the crowd.
“Speakers with worldwide exposure desperately need reliable, vetted equipment,” says Thom.
Trump wasn’t the only one having troubles with teleprompters. Knowing this, Neil brought Thom’s prototype to the Democrat National Convention for Hillary Clinton’s use.
Backstage, people from the White House Communications Agency asked Neil who made the robotic teleprompter stand – and two days later, Thom received a call.
“I thought it was a joke,” he laughs, “but no, they were serious. The White House wanted a price for 100 systems – and how soon could they get them! The next day I walked into my job and gave my two-week notice.”
Soon after, Thom’s friend and fellow engineer Steve McNerney partnered with him to bootstrap their startup.
The company became an official supplier to the White House Communications Agency in 2017.
Meeting the White House deadline entailed leasing manufacturing space and hiring employees. Once they fulfilled the order, Thom and Steve channeled their profit to begin filling orders from law firms, politicians, and corporate CEOs – including Apple CEO Tim Cook. “He brings his own teleprompter for many speeches,” says Thom.
Majority of components sourced in the USA
What sets the PresenterTek telepromoter system apart from others – aside from its ease of use and robotic adjustment – is that Thom and his team intentionally source the majority of components and machined assemblies in the United States.
“As you know,” he says, “finding electromechanical items here in the US is tough, but we’ve worked hard to source them. We use printed circuit boards from Ansync Labs, also located in California. Our friend, Sam Miller, the founder, used to work for Intel.
“We have a hard time sourcing integrated circuits that aren’t made in China or the Philippines. We’re always looking for alternatives. All other materials are sourced domestically.”
During the pandemic, the company expanded its product line to include rotary, robotic AV stands kits for cameras and microphones – as well as a robotic PTZ stand. All products are collapsible, portable and come with their own carrying cases.
Today, PresenterTek’s TeleStepper robotic system is used by politicians, trade organizations, celebrities, universities, churches, and CEOs around the world.
Sums up Thom, “We’re proud of our employees and success, but we’re also proud to support American jobs and manufacturing. We believe it’s a moral obligation to consider the good of the American economy while also pursuing what’s best for our company.”
To learn more about the company and its products, visit: https://presentertek.com/