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Orbit Media Studios winning praise as it grows quickly

Orbit MediStudios co-founder Andy Crestodinworks his desk Thursday June 10 2011 company's offices 4043 N. Ravenswood Ave. Chicago. | John

Orbit Media Studios co-founder Andy Crestodina works at his desk Thursday, June 10, 2011, at the company's offices, 4043 N. Ravenswood Ave., in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 22, 2011 12:16AM

A Web-development company based in the Ravenswood neighborhood boasts clients ranging from Abbott Laboratories to Resurrection Health Care to the Chicago Housing Authority, but its latest recognition highlights its urban savvy.

Orbit Media Studios, with $2.8 million in projected revenues this year and a five-year annual growth rate of 41 percent, ranks 34th among the nation’s fastest-growing companies on Fortune magazine’s Inner City 100 list.

The Inner City list recognizes companies that are growing, creating jobs and implementing innovative business practices in distressed urban neighborhoods.

The award, Orbit’s first in the category, comes two years after Orbit won recognition as one of the top 50 companies for “Generation Y” Millennials to work. Chicago’s Brill Street, which focuses on filling jobs with Gen Y talent, hosted the poll. Orbit employees’ average age is 31.

Orbit’s progressive nature shows up in unrecognized ways, too. Nearly 60 percent of the employees bike, walk or takes public transit to work. The company buys its coffee from developmental-disabilities support group Aspire and donates $25,000 in Web design and video production work to a local nonprofit.

Orbit boasts a 43 percent female work force compared with a 17 percent industry average. The 29-employee roster includes women as Web designers, programming coders and project managers.

Shellie Argeanton, 31, the company’s lead Web designer, loves the communications and relationship-building aspects of her job.

“It’s about connecting with people and being excited about and promoting what you’ve done,” said Argeanton, a four-year Orbit employee who earned her master’s of visual communications at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Argeanton maintains a keen salesperson’s sensibility as much as she hones her talent in the graphic arts.

“We strategize, restructure and design for user-friendly interactions, and that means function,” she said. “We leverage usability studies that show where people look first when they open a website or use a certain navigational tool. Of course, I want a website to be beautiful, too.”

The goal is to get Web users to read, click, buy or otherwise act on a client’s online presence.

Argeanton, who escaped an abusive marriage 11 years ago and is now happily remarried, studied art history, 3-D animation and oil painting in Italy and Australia while earning her bachelor’s degree in digital arts from Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

“We were using Zip drives and Photoshop 6.0, and entire websites were built with only graphics,” she recalled of her college studies just eight years ago. “I remember spending so many hours trying to get things to save. But I loved the work.”

Argeanton appreciates the versatility and strategic awareness required of her work at Orbit. She works on projects ranging from corporate intranets to business directories to e-commerce fashion sites.

“We design new widgets, integrate mapping tools into websites, design blogs so that the writers can easily update them, and we design sites for people who have an idea for a new business but need an online solution for it,” she said.

The key to success is believing in oneself without going overboard, she said. “I’m here to help people find results.”

Argeanton’s experience exemplifies a new way of working amid research that still spotlights barriers to women in technical fields.

Mary Fitzpatrick, a native of Rockford, helped research a groundbreaking study released in March, showing that women with engineering degrees are more likely to leave the field because of an unfriendly work environment than for family obligations.

Women’s tendency to collaborate rather than compete clashes with the predominantly territorial and competitive tech culture, said Fitzpatrick, who holds a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering, a master’s in electrical engineering and a doctorate in educational psychology.

Andy Crestodina, a founder, partner and strategic director at Orbit, doesn’t give his company’s culture a second thought.

Crestodina’s mom, Carole Bass, studied computers while earning her communications degree from Northwestern University while Andy and his brothers were growing up in Glenview. She became a programmer and built software called CLaM that paint companies and others use to create material-safety data sheets that describe toxic or hazardous cargo.

“Any economy that doesn’t incorporate women’s talents is tying one hand behind its back and taking away half of its brains,” said Andy, now a 39-year-old Ravenswood resident who bikes to work. “We will compete better if we make no assumptions about talent and capabilities based on gender.”

Crestodina is equally proud of the company’s blog, its No. 1 ranking in Google search engines in its category and “Wine and Web” monthly marketing event.

He and his co-founder, lifelong friend Barrett Lombardo, learned important business lessons after they started Orbit 14 years ago as a creator of online comic books. They shifted to Web development 10 years ago and handle up to 40 projects at a time, carefully choosing clients they believe they can help.

“Most of our projects are involved, requiring 150 to 200 hours to build,” Crestodina said. The websites feature search-ranking optimization and a program that lets clients easily update their sites and blogs. Orbit’s prices range from $17,000 to $22,000 for a marketing site to $30,000 to $35,000 for an ecommerce site.

Its projects incorporate the latest trends of video, mobile and social-media communications.

A Forrester Research study released in June recommended that companies redirect money from email blasts to mobile apps and interactive content, and spend less on surveys and more on monitoring social media in real time.

Crestodina believes that social media will eventually impact a company’s ranking in search engines.

“Brands with more positive reviews, Facebook fans and Twitter followers will get higher rankings,” Crestodina said.

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