“Language is probably the largest, last barrier for online communications,” says David Lucatch (BA 1985 UTSC), the founder and CEO of Intertainment Media Inc., a GTA-based developer of rich-media applications. With his latest venture, Ortsbo, Lucatch aims to tear down that wall.
According to Lucatch, Ortsbo is “a real-time experiential translation platform.” What does that mean? Imagine that English-speaking Alice needs to talk with Farsi-speaking Zahra. One of them can log into Ortsbo using her preferred social-media platform (such as Facebook Chat, Google Talk or MSN Messenger), and each can type and read the conversation in their own language. That minor miracle is possible because Ortsbo instantly translates the conversation into each participant’s preferred language as they chat.
Computer translation isn’t new – Google and Yahoo have offered such services for years – but the ability to translate an online chat as it happens across multiple platforms is novel. And evidently, necessary: Ortsbo has more than 20 million monthly users in more than 170 countries and territories, in 54 languages. (Even rock ‘n’ roll legend Gene Simmons of KISS is on board; he became an Ortsbo spokesman and business partner in spring 2011.)
Lucatch is a longtime entrepreneur, having started his first business – designing and printing flyers and promotional materials – while he was an undergraduate at U of T Scarborough. He worked about 25 hours a week on top of his course load in economics and commerce, which didn’t allow for the most social university experience. Today, however, he’s very much part of campus life: He’s served on U of T Scarborough’s Principal’s Advisory Committee, is involved in Rotman Commerce events and mentors U of T Scarborough commerce students – work for which he received an Arbor Award for outstanding volunteerism last year. Crucially, he also recruits U of T graduates to work for his company.
In the ’90s, when the World Wide Web took hold, Lucatch launched a new venture creating online stores and handling payments for Canadian merchants. The leap from paper to pixel didn’t trip him up like it did so many entrepreneurs caught napping by the digital revolution: “Print is visual, the web is visual,” he says. “Design is design.” Besides Ortsbo, Intertainment still runs a printing division.
As for Lucatch’s latest project, Ortsbo currently integrates into the world’s most popular social-media platforms, and the company recently released an email-translation plugin for Microsoft Outlook, with additional applications on the way.
“Language is central to life on the planet,” says Lucatch. And that’s not just talk.