Small Business Spotlight: OnCell

Brett Davidsen
Updated: November 06, 2019 06:23 PM
Created: November 06, 2019 05:04 PM

PITTSFORD, N.Y. (WHEC) — Take a tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art or Mt. Rushmore and you'll find there's an app for that, and providing that experience is a Pittsford-based company called OnCell. 

Thomas Dunne is president and founder.


"We are a digital storytelling platform that helps sites that want to provide tours for their visitors," Dunne said.
OnCell has developed tour apps for thousands of cultural sites, national parks and other tourist attractions around the world.

"We get to work with some of the coolest places on the planet. I mean, because if you think about it, if you name the top 20 places you'd want to go get a tour or visit, those are our clients," he said.

Places like Gettysburg, Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Grand Canyon all provide app-based guided tours using OnCell technology. For Dunne, the "a-ha" moment occurred in 2002.

"I was at a museum in Michigan and when we went to take the tour there, it was the Dead Sea Scrolls, all the equipment was out of charge, so we couldn't take the tour."
With a background in software and sales, Dunne knew there was a better way of using cell phone technology.

"During that, I realized this is audio files. We can deliver these audio files just by dialing into like a phone system and pressing a number to get the content," Dunne said.

Starting the business came with risks.

"Back then they were worried about it being a distraction, would it be rude to be on your phone, people still paid for phone minutes, so we're bucking a lot of things that are against you," Dunne explained.

Times have changed since Dunne started the company, and so has technology. Now smartphones allow OnCell to provide an experience that is more interactive and engaging. On the apps, you'll find maps, photos, audio and video, and other related content like games and scavenger hunts. The apps are free to visitors -- the venues pay for the service.

"The people we work with are incredibly passionate about telling their stories and we give them a tool to allow them to share those stories affordably," said Dunne.

Dunne says his team has shown 13 straight years of growth. They just acquired a company in New Zealand and are opening offices in Asia and Europe.

Brett Davidsen: Where do you see this company five years from now as technology continues to evolve?

Thomas Dunne: "There are so many exciting things happening right now."

Like real estate tours. Now you can check out an apartment using an OnCell-developed app.

"We put beacons on the property so we see where the person is as they're touring and they have a rating system as they move through the locations,” Dunne explained. “We also open the doors. so when they get to the model homes, just their phone opens that blue tooth lock as they come so they can self-guide."

Brett Davidsen: What's been your favorite project?

Thomas Dunne: "I have so many it's hard to pick one, but I will say that the thing that really gets me the most excited is that one of the reasons this company appealed to me so much was that growing up, to this day, I was a very slow reader based on having dyslexia and stuff like that. So to give someone a tour through the way I can deliver it through video and audio and do it at locations very easily -- and you hear it from people's feedback -- what a difference it makes for them."

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