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September 16, 2011

StartupCamp4 Offers a Rapid-Fire Look at the Latest New Ventures in Communications

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, IP Communications Magazines

StartupCamp once again drew a large crowd at ITEXPO.

The event Wednesday night in Austin kicked off with a keynote by Ethernet inventor and 3Com founder Bob Metcalfe, who then acted as one of three judges of a stable of five startups, all seeking new investors for their ventures. Along with Metcalfe, the judging panel consisted of Carla Thompson of Sharp (News - Alert) Skirts, and Jason Cohen of WPEngine and Capital Thought.



First to bat was startup vox.io, which claims that it brings voice and video communication to a new level by simplifying the way users start and perform calls. By taking telephony to the browser, vox.io enables a whole set of new use cases including one-time disposable calls, one- click conference calls, and more.

“You have telephony, and telephony sucks,” Tomaz Stolfa of vox.io told the audience.

He added that VoIP is great in terms of infrastructure, but not so hot in terms of user experience.

The vox.io plan is to move the experience from the desktop to browser. To enable that, vox.io has introduced a “super-clean” web-based browser, as well as a mobile app, Stolfa said. That provides users with “ubiquitous reachability,” which means anyone can use one URL, which integrates with social profiles, etc. He added the solution enables “super-simple conference calls” and allows people to use the service one time only to do craigslist or other anonymous interactions.

The company’s business model currently relies on prepaid minutes, but vox.io expects to add a monthly subscription fee and believes an ad-based model is in its future, said Stolfa, who with nine other guys from Slovenia runs vox.io, now based in San Francisco.

The second startup of the night was Spindows, which describes itself as a provider of video-speed networking for the enterprise. It lets users quickly and efficiently meet lots of relevant colleagues in their organizations.

Clay Hebert, founder of Spindows, explained that after spending 10 years at Accenture (News - Alert) and attending countless networking events, he realized it’s hard to make the right connections through the normal channels. After a decade, he said, he’d met only about 100 “relevant” people.

“Business networking is broken,” he said, adding that Spindows is the fix, enabling users to meet 15 relevant people per house with the tool.

Users create tags – both personal and professional – in their social profiles in an effort to connect. They can then log on at their whim in an effort to connect and chat with others with similar interests.

Spindows is raising $100,000 from what Hebert called five visionary customers, including Accenture, and is working with Open tok to launch the service.

StartupCamp4 candidate three was Radish, an outfit started by a couple of former BellLabs folks. One of them, the plucky Theresa Szczurek in her “Radish-red” suit coat, presented the pitch. She and Richard Davis (News - Alert) have done three startups.

Radish offers ChoiceView to allow smart mobile callers to see and hear information delivered during a call with a ChoiceView-equipped business. The product “transforms hated interactive voice response systems into visual IVRs, reducing online transaction abandonment rates, and improving the customer/sales/technical support experience," according to the company.

The business is targeting a $60 billion-plus addressable market of call centers, IVRs, and businesses that need a better way to communicate with users. She talked about Radish being used by a broadband service provider to push diagrams and other information to users (in this case, to ones that need help installing cable modems) on their mobile phones. Szczurek said some big name customers will be deploying Radish this month.

INTERNET TELEPHONY columnist Brough Turner, a former NMS guy, did the fourth StartupCamp4 pitch for his startup netBlazr.

He called the business a radically different fixed broadband Internet access provider. That’s because participants help build the infrastructure. “Think Skype (News - Alert) for broadband,” he said.

The netBlazr business model relies on a cloud-based software platform “and novel combination of metropolitan fiber with point-to-point wireless links.” That enables netBlazr to do an end run on the phone company, the cable company, the FCC and Congress, he said, adding the company is seeking $100,000 to $150,000 in seed money.

 Flash Valet rounded out the evening’s quick-hit presentations. The company is pushing a mobile app that valet parking customers can use to request their vehicles, as well as pay to for the parking and earn rewards related to it. It supports text, IVR and app interactions with valet attendants. For end user customers, said Juan Rodriguez, it offers convenience, because they can have their vehicles ready when they want them and where they want them. For valet parking operations, he said, Flash Valet is a management tool that helps with bookkeeping and workflow.

Flash Valet is offered to parking businesses for $30 month and 40 cents per transaction, or for $250 a month and 10 cents per transaction. The product is live with 12 venues in the Austin area, with more than 10,000 cars processed in the last month. But there are at least 700 formal valet parking providers in the U.S., according to Rodriguez, and millions of people in the U.S. valet park per month, so the company sees a broader opportunity. The company is looking for $900,000, which it expects will get it to cash-flow positive.

As always, the judges and audience had a brief opportunity to grill the start-up presenters, and everybody was invited to vote via text. But at the onset of the event Larry Lisser (News - Alert) of Embrase, which stages StartupCamp, noted that some of the event’s past participants – even those (like GroupMe, which was bought by Skype) that were not particularly well received by the audience – have gone on to great success.





Edited by Jennifer Russell
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