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Startup's founder helps to lead the way as Ventura Ventures Technology Center takes shape: Hatching ideas
[December 21, 2008]

Startup's founder helps to lead the way as Ventura Ventures Technology Center takes shape: Hatching ideas

Dec 21, 2008 (Ventura County Star - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
In the eyes of N. Rao Machiraju, Ventura has the potential to become a hub for high-tech firms with an atmosphere all its own.

He's so confident about what can be accomplished in his hometown that he plans to open an office in the new incubator, Ventura Ventures Technology Center, tucked behind City Hall.

Machiraju is a co-founder and chief executive of reQall Inc., a startup that makes software to help people store and "recall" information. The former Apple Inc. research scientist has a passion for technology and how people interact with it.

Machiraju has lived in Ventura for 22 years and sits on the city's incubator advisory board.
"This has been my dream," he said on a recent visit to the incubator center, "to have something like this in Ventura."

For years, the area did not have the opportunities or infrastructure that lured companies to Silicon Valley. But things have started to change, with efforts to build a high-tech community that takes advantage of nearby universities, local talent and venture capital.

Machiraju said the coastal city has a relatively lower cost of living and a more laid-back atmosphere, something he sees as a selling point. The information overload in Silicon Valley isn't always the best atmosphere for decision-making, he said.

Machiraju hopes to bring in some businesses through his contacts at USC and UCLA, with the goal of establishing the incubator as a retreat where companies can escape the fray of daily demands.

The biggest challenge will be to attract an anchor group of companies to build the conversation and community, Machiraju said. He sees reQall as being among the first.

He expects Ventura will earn its place on the high-tech map. Another Google, Apple or Sun Microsystems could grow out of the incubator's colorful setting, he said.

Twenty years ago, no one knew of Cupertino. Today, it's automatically associated with Apple.
"Cupertino, people know," he said. "The same thing can happen with Ventura."
A chance e-mail encounter
Ventura Ventures Technology Center Executive Director Alex Schneider met Machiraju when he was e-mailing people who were advertising they had jobs available.

"By chance, we happened to tap into some homegrown talent," Schneider said.
The incubator has been relying on insight and support from different industry leaders, but it is nice having one who calls Ventura home and wants to be part of the incubator's success, Schneider said.

"Rao's kind of like the missing piece of the puzzle," he said.
Machiraju brings more than intelligence, achievement and enthusiasm to what he does, said Tom Bonura, a friend who worked with Machiraju at Apple.

"Rao thinks about how technology may be used to complement human activities to benefit the individual and society," Bonura wrote in an e-mail.

When Machiraju worked at Apple, his team was looking at bringing portable computing devices -- in their infancy at the time -- to rural parts of India to support healthcare workers and teachers, Bonura said.

"It definitely took a technologist to understand how to approach the problem," he wrote. "But it also took a humanist with a breadth of knowledge to understand why it was important and how technology could be adapted to fit the environment ... Rao is a visionary and technohumanist and that makes him one of a rare breed."

Several global outposts
That approach to technology is a part of Machiraju's work with reQall.
ReQall is based out of the NASA Research Park in Moffett Field, Calif., Hyderabad, India, and Hong Kong.

Each location has its own mission. The Ventura location will focus on enterprise-related applications. Hong Kong focuses on BlackBerrys; Moffett Field -- where the company's chief product officer works -- focuses on the iPhone; Hyderabad handles server side work, interface design, global support and localization for the India market.

ReQall's goal is to help people "recall" information without having to hunt it down online or somewhere tucked in the back of their minds.

Envision a personal assistant that "taps you on your shoulder" to give you the information you need when you need it, Machiraju said.

"The idea here is we allow the people to have the privilege of forgetting," Machiraju said.
ReQall's product records and transcribes verbal notes and pulls out keywords that can be used as memory triggers for things such as to-do tasks, ideas, shopping lists or visual reminders.

It can mesh the recordings with calendar entries and e-mail, while also allowing keyword searches as a means of a recall aid. The creator of the technology calls it a "memory prosthesis."

An upside to the downturn
Machiraju already has recruited Buddibot, a small company with two people working out of Ventura. The company is developing robots people can use to check in on elderly family members, interact with them or remind them of medications. Robot prototypes could soon be navigating the hallways of the incubator.

When it comes to growing high-tech companies, Machiraju doesn't believe the down economy will stifle innovation. Instead, it may help drive it.

"Some of the best companies actually come out of deep recessions," he said.
That's true of companies such as Intel, Apple and Google, he said. People will continue to need solutions and that will continue to drive innovation and invention, he said.

"People are going to continue to be very creative about it," he said.
To see more of the Ventura County Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to Copyright (c) 2008, Ventura County Star,
Calif. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints,
email, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send
a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee
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