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November 30, 2010

Maryland tech gifts: a guide

Many consumers now think "buy local" when it comes to food, or in choosing to shop at small local storefronts as opposed to national big-box chains.

But how about buying local when it comes to technology purchases, especially around the holidays?
BaltTech compiled a list of products — hardware, software, accessories and games — that originate in Maryland, and could make for holiday gifts. Your dollars also would help to support Maryland's technology entrepreneurs and businesses.

If you're still shopping, here's the local list of tech gifts by category:

Home Audio: Polk Audio is a Baltimore-based company that produces speaker systems for cars, boats and the home. Check out the $299 I-Sonic iPod radio dock. (PolkAudio.com)

Console/PC gaming: Maryland has a pretty robust video game industry. Check out Sparks-based Firaxis Games' popular "Civilization" video games, including the newest fifth installment. $39.99 to $49.95 (Civilization5.com) Bethesda Softworks, based in Rockville, makes a lot of video games for PC, Xbox and Playstation, and even the iPhone. Fallout 3 is a recent title that was designed by a Loyola University grad. $15-$43 (BethSoft.com)

Mobile device cases: M-Edge, of Odenton, Md., makes several cases for the Amazon Kindle, Apple iPads, and electronic readers by Sony, Borders and Barnes & Noble (MEdgeStore.com). The Latitude Jacket for Kindle costs $34.99. ZeroChroma, a new Baltimore company, makes unique cases that double as stands for use with Kindles, iPods, iPhones and iPads. The iPad case, for $69.95, is very useful. (ZeroChroma.com)

Cybersecurity: Got a friend or a relative who hates it when people glance at their laptop monitors while he is working? Oculis Labs' Private Eye software might strike his fancy. The Hunt Valley-based company's software uses a computer's webcam to detect when someone other than the computer owner is looking at the monitor. It blurs the screen when it detects an eavesdropper or if the user turns his head away. $49.95. (OculisLabs.com)

Baltimore-themed: For that recent transplant to Baltimore, help her learn about the city's geography and history with an audio tour. Baltimore Audio Tours sells a CD or digital download for an MP3 player that delivers an auditory tour of the city. $12.97. (BaltimoreAudioTours.com)

iPad/iPhone games: Jumbalaya is a $1.99 word game for sale in the Apple App Store designed by Fastspot, a Baltimore-based interactive design agency that works on iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. It's addicting. And you can give it to someone through iTunes. (PlayJumbalaya.com)

Gift cards: Don't want to burn the mental energy of choosing a gift for someone? Go the gift card route. Save some money by buying discounted gift cards through GiftCardRescue.com, an Ellicott City-based company. Some stores include Cheesecake Factory, Bed Bath & Beyond and Radio Shack. (And for those who receive unwanted gift cards, you could sell them through GiftCardRescue.)

Got an idea for a Maryland-based technology product that might make for a good holiday gift? E-mail it to me and I'll try and share on the BaltTech blog.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:59 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Apps, East Coast, Gadgets, Gamers, Geeks
        

November 24, 2010

Baltimore Hackathon: I'd call it a success

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These folks only had a weekend. Imagine if the Baltimore Hackathon lasted a week!

I'm belatedly and quickly recapping the first-ever Baltimore Hackathon, which took place over the past weekend at the Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore. (Arthur Hirsch of The Baltimore Sun had a nice write-up of it, in case you missed it over the weekend.)

Dozens of hackers, geeks, programmers and tech enthusiasts participated. Millennial Media, a thriving Baltimore startup that's a dominant player in the mobile ad space, doubled the contest cash prizes at the last minute. And people broke out their soldering irons and laptops for a long weekend of hacking and modifying.

The proof is in the Flickr Photostream!

I was only there for most of the last-day presentations, and I must say, I was impressed with what the teams and individuals were able to pull off in a short weekend. There must have been around 20 presentations or so, I'm guesstimating. The judges, who included Chris Brandenburg, cofounder of MIllennial, chose the best individual and team efforts. (Chris blogged about it here.)

Here are the results with some descriptions of each -- sorry, I didn't get the names of the winners.

Best Individual Hardware: Black Candy Audio Scrambler Pedal (a modified guitar thingamabob)

Best Individual Software: iPad Interactive Ebook (a children's book!)

Best Group Hardware: RotoFoto (a rig that enables you to produce 3D rotating photo images with a cheap camera)

Best Group Software: Headline Split-Testing (for auto-test alternate headlines on blogs, and automatically choosing the one that's most popular with readers based on click feedback.)

Audience Favorite - Nickel for Scale (a device that can measure a hand, using a nickel for scale, so you could quickly make, say a ring with a plastic prototyping machine)

One of the sponsors, Tropo.com, gave out prizes for those who made best use of their programs for integrating voice and SMS applications in their projects.

Best Tropo App: Call-the-Door - a service that allows you to call a door, punch in a code with your phone, and unlock it.

Best Tropo App Runner-Up: Parking Spot Locator -- uses a sensor to let you know when a parking spot is free, and auto-dials your phone.

Best Tropo App 3rd Runner-Up (tie): CloudRant and Voicebump -- CloudRant generates word clouds based on commonly used words in conversation. VoiceBump enables a blogger to call a phone number, speak a blog post, and auto-transcribe it to a blog.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:35 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Apps, Big Ideas, East Coast, Events (Baltimore area), Gadgets, Geeks
        

Survey: Kids 6-12 want the iPad

nielsen-kids-buying.png

Hey mom and dad: good luck trying to usher lil' Susie quietly past the Apple Store this holiday season.

Nielsen, the media survey company, came out with an interesting survey just in time for the holiday shopping season: the tech that kids want.

The iPad and iPod Touch are the No. 1 and No. 3 gadgets that kids age 6-12 want, according to Nielsen.

For the older age group, 13+, the iPad drops to the 4th most coveted item, behind a computer, a television set and a smartphone.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 7:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

November 23, 2010

Seeking Maryland-based tech products for holiday shopping guide!

Alright, techies, gadget hounds, gamers, and geeks -- I need your ideas!

As I mentioned on WYPR with Nathan Sterner this morning, I'm assembling a holiday shopping list of products - hardware, software, accessories, games, etc. -- that are made, engineered and/or designed in Maryland.

There's a "buy local" movement in other fields, from food to stuff you find on Etsy -- but I don't think anyone's talking about the "local" in your backyard when it comes to tech shopping.

So, shoot me an email at gus.sentementes@baltsun.com if you know of a tech-related product that might make for good holiday gifting this season. Or post it in the comments below.

I plan on releasing my list on Cyber Monday.

Thanks for your help, BaltTechies!


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:26 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

KEYW: "Embrace the Parrot"

KEYW is a curious lil' company in Maryland. It works in the super-secret world of electronic and signals intelligence as a government contractor to defense/intell agencies, but it is -- as of last month -- a publicly traded company, with all the public disclosures that that status brings.

The company's executives, including the CEO Len Moodispaw, have an affinity for Key West. Hence, "KEYW." It seems to be a light atmosphere at KEYW's headquarters in Hanover, with stuffed parrots perched around Moodispaw's office. Last Thursday, the company rang the NASDAQ opening bell and gave investors and analysts a briefing they dubbed: "Embrace the Parrot." Seriously.

Anyhow, here's the story I wrote about KEYW today. Check it out. Below are the first few paragraphs:

Several big investment banks advised Leonard E. Moodispaw that he shouldn't do it — but the CEO of KEYW Corp., a cybersecurity company in Hanover that's been in business for just two years, wouldn't listen.

Restless and eager to expand quickly, Moodispaw took KEYW public last month — after canning the Wall Street naysayers who told him to wait for a more hospitable stock market. The company, with the help of smaller investment banks, raised $89 million on the day of its initial public offering. Within weeks, its market cap rocketed to about $300 million.

"We fired the big guys and did just fine without them," Moodispaw said in a recent interview.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Government Tech
        

November 22, 2010

Note to Rupert: My iPad's Web browser will eat your "Daily" newspaper for lunch

It's a brisk news day in tech this Monday before Thanksgiving. Here's what I find interesting:

* First up, iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch users woke up to a little dash of Christmas right before the holidays: It's the new iOS 4.2. The software update brings some goodies to the iDevices, especially the iPad. For me, three features that tap the devices wireless capabilities are new: AirPlay (play music over Wi-Fi); AirPrint (print stuff over Wi-Fi) and Find My iPhone (find your lost or stolen iPhone via 3G or Wi-Fi). Hit Engadget for a review of iOS 4.2

* Next, Netflix just launched a new "streaming-only" monthly plan, for $7.99 a month. But they jacked up prices on "streaming + DVD" plans to $9.99 a month and up. People are complaining on the company site that Netflix doesn't offer new enough content on its Watch Instantly stream to justify a streaming-only price at $7.99. I tend to agree. I'll be taking a closer look at Hulu Plus through my Roku now.

* Here's a hypothetical: if you're a billionaire media tycoon who makes a lot of money off newspapers, but feel threatened by the Web, what would you do if a device like the iPad magically appeared? Why, try to re-create newspaper economics on this Internet tablet of course! This isn't a hypothetical: Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. is working on an iPad-only digital "newspaper", called The Daily, that publishes once a day on the device. Really? Really. Bwahahahahahaha!

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(Photo of Rupert Murdoch via PaidContent)


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:57 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets, Geeks, Good Reads
        

November 19, 2010

iPad selling for $399 at T.J. Maxx this holiday season

Word on the street is that T.J. Maxx, the discount retailer chain, is selling Apple iPads for $100 off the retail price that you'll find them for sale at the Apple Store and other retailers.

Engadget's got some proof in the way of store photos -- apparently, the chain is holding back most of its supply for Black Friday.

If you're completely itching to buy an iPad before Christmas, the $399 price for the 16 GB Wi-Fi version is certainly a bargain at T.J. Maxx.

But there's already tons of speculation that Apple will be releasing a version two iPad in the first quarter next year. So, if you have the nerve to wait a few more months, you can probably get the newer device -- though at a price point premium.

But if you can't resist the $399 deal, by all means, get ready to scavenge for them at T.J. Maxx.

ipad-tjmaxx.jpg


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets
        

November 17, 2010

Samsung Galaxy Tab: The first real iPad competitor

My review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab on Verizon:


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The Samsung Galaxy Tab fits in my pocket.

Let me say that again: Samsung's Galaxy Tab, the first credible Android tablet -- and iPad competitor -- to hit the market, actually fits in my front pants pocket. That simple fact alone makes me consider the Galaxy as a much more portable and mobile device than its larger competitor, the Apple iPad.

The Galaxy tab is easy to use with one hand, while the other hand holds it. It's not too different than holding a paperback book, in fact. It weighs about 0.8 pounds -- or little less than half the weight of an iPad.

To me, setting aside certain differences in software and hardware, the potential Galaxy Tab customer will do well to know how they plan to use this device. Do they think they'll just keep it mostly at home as an easy/quick access device to the Internet? Or will they be bringing on the go with them a lot, and potentially subscribing to a wireless access plan?

I, for one, have an iPad and use it 90 percent of the time at home. Thus, I want the bigger 9.7 inch screen on the iPad for easier reading and watching videos. However, the 7-inch form factor of the Galaxy Tab is appealing for me, for the simple fact that I'd like to have something like this to slip in my Dockers. And no, I don't carry a man purse.

The Tab starts at $600 for sale by most wireless carriers. PC World has a great breakdown of prices among AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint. Take your pick.

Here's what else I like about the Galaxy Tab:

* The overall fit and finish of Samsung's hardware is very good, very solid. They've done well with it. It isn't sexy chic, like the iPad. But it feels good in the hand.

* The screen is bright, vivid and all around gorgeous. My eyes are just drawn to it. * It's got front and rear facing cameras that shoot video (the iPad doesn't have cameras yet, but look for next year's model to catch up.)

* Awesome contact and calendar integration with Google and Facebook. Your Google and Facebook contacts and calendar items (i.e. birthdays of all your friends) gets sucked into the device's Calendar app. VERY COOL.

* Other Google software, i.e. Maps and Places, are a unique, location-based offerings that you won't probably won't get on non-Android devices.

* It plays Flash video/animation. In the few sites I experimented with it on, Flash worked. But I've heard it's a battery drain. And the sites often take some time to load up. I'm not convinced that Flash-based content yet "works" in the mobile environment.

Here's what I'm so-so on about the Galaxy Tab:

* The web browser is meh. It just doesn't feel as responsive and as precise as the mobile Safari browser on the iPad. On some sites, such as BaltimoreSun.com, it kept forcing me to view the mobile site, when I wanted to read the main site.

* There are a lot of pre-loaded Samsung and Verizon apps to choose from, some of which just appear duplicative and confusing. There's a "Gallery" app, a "Video" app, a "VCast App", a "VCast Music" App, a "Music Player" app, and a "Media Hub" app. Huh?

* The Android Market apps that you download generally don't make use of the entire 7-inch screen. They're sized for the smaller mobile phones. That means you have wasted bands of black space around the apps you're using. Kindof a bummer.

* General navigation using Android's latest software iteration, "Froyo.", or 2.2. Here, I have to show my bias for the simplicity of Apple's iPhone/iPad software, which is so easy a baby can use it. Android's screens add a minor layer of complexity, but it's a layer nonetheless. You have a home screen, where you can navigate left or right to find your apps and widgets. Then, you also have an "apps" directory that allows you to navigate more pages of apps. I just find it a little too much for my primitive brain. Maybe I need more brain cells.

Conclusion:

Honestly, this Galaxy Tab is the first Android device that I've actually really liked and would strongly consider buying. The iPad indeed has a competitor. But Samsung and the carriers would be wise to work on dropping the price into the $500 range, to compete with Apple's iPad entry at $499.

 


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Gadgets
        

November 16, 2010

Beatles come to iTunes

For the first time, you'll be able to download Beatles songs to your iDevice, courtesy of Apple and the deal they struck with the surviving Beatles and their heirs. The news was announced this morning. Here's the news release from Apple:

LONDON and CUPERTINO, California—November 16, 2010—Apple Corps, EMI and Apple® today announced that the Beatles, the most influential and beloved rock band in music history, are now available for the first time on the iTunes Store® (www.itunes.com). Starting today, the group’s 13 legendary remastered studio albums with iTunes LPs, the two-volume “Past Masters” compilation and the classic “Red” and “Blue” collections are available for purchase and download on iTunes® worldwide as either albums or individual songs. Fans can also get a special digital “Beatles Box Set” featuring the “Live at the Washington Coliseum, 1964” concert film, a worldwide iTunes exclusive which captures the Beatles’ very first US concert.

“We’re really excited to bring the Beatles’ music to iTunes,” said Sir Paul McCartney. “It’s fantastic to see the songs we originally released on vinyl receive as much love in the digital world as they did the first time around.”

“I am particularly glad to no longer be asked when the Beatles are coming to iTunes,” said Ringo Starr. “At last, if you want it—you can get it now—The Beatles from Liverpool to now! Peace and Love, Ringo.”

“We love the Beatles and are honored and thrilled to welcome them to iTunes,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “It has been a long and winding road to get here. Thanks to the Beatles and EMI, we are now realizing a dream we’ve had since we launched iTunes ten years ago.”

“In the joyful spirit of Give Peace A Chance, I think it is so appropriate that we are doing this on John’s 70th birthday year,” said Yoko Ono Lennon.

“The Beatles on iTunes—Bravo!” said Olivia Harrison.

“The Beatles and iTunes have both been true innovators in their fields,” said EMI Group CEO Roger Faxon. “It’s a privilege for everybody at EMI to work with Steve Jobs and with Apple Corps’ Jeff Jones and their teams in marking a great milestone in the development of digital music.”

Each of the Beatles’ 13 legendary remastered studio albums, including “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Revolver,” “The Beatles [The White Album]” and “Abbey Road” include iTunes LPs, which create an immersive album experience with a beautiful design and expanded visual features including a unique mini-documentary about the creation of each album. The two-volume “Past Masters” compilation and the classic “Red” and “Blue” collections are also available.

Single albums are available for purchase and download for $12.99 each, double albums for $19.99 each and individual songs for $1.29 each.

The special digital “Beatles Box Set” ($149) contains the 13 remastered studio albums with iTunes LPs and all mini-documentaries, “Past Masters,” and the “Live at the Washington Coliseum, 1964” concert film, a worldwide iTunes exclusive which captures the Beatles’ very first US concert in its entirety. In addition, Beatles fans can stream and view the “Live at the Washington Coliseum, 1964” concert film from iTunes for free for the remainder of this calendar year.

Apple Corps Ltd. was founded by The Beatles in 1968 to look after the group’s own affairs. The London-based company has administered the catalogue of The Beatles releases of the 1960s that have sold to date more than 600 million records, tapes and CDs. Since the 1990s, Apple has piloted new Beatles projects that have become benchmarks for pioneering accomplishment and which have included The Beatles Anthology projects, the 29-million selling album The Beatles 1, The Beatles LOVE show and CD and the 09/09/09 release of The Beatles Remastered catalogue and The Beatles Rock Band game. Further information on The Beatles’ projects can be found at www.thebeatles.com.

EMI Music is one of the world’s leading music companies, representing artists spanning all musical tastes and genres. Its record labels include Angel, Astralwerks, Blue Note, Capitol, Capitol Latin, Capitol Nashville, EMI Classics, EMI CMG, EMI Records, EMI Records Nashville, Manhattan, Parlophone and Virgin.

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork, and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple is reinventing the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced its magical iPad which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:25 AM | | Comments (1)
        

Diamond Fans unite on Facebook -- thanks to a Baltimore jeweler

diamondfanslogo.jpg One of the most popular destinations on Facebook with ties to Baltimore isn't connected to a sports team or a national brand, but to a downtown jewelry shop.

Ron Samuelson, of Samuelson's Diamonds on West Baltimore Street, operates the “Diamond Fans” page on Facebook, which recently surpassed more than 500,000 fans and is now the largest jewelry page on the social media site.

By comparison, Zales Jewelers, a national chain, has 27,000 Facebook fans, while Kay Jewelers has fewer than 600 fans. Another local company, Baltimore-based Under Armour Inc., has 390,000 Facebook fans, while the Baltimore Ravens football team has 252,000 fans.

The most popular page is Texas Hold ’Em Poker, with 27 million fans of the Facebook game.

 “It’s just so incredible,” Samuelson said. “Here we are sitting on Baltimore Street and we have the largest jewelry page on Facebook.”

AllFacebook, a website that tracks Facebook news, recently ranked the “Diamond Fans” page as the 63rd most popular page in the fashion category of Facebook, beating out Hugo Boss, Levi’s and Versace.

Thousands of small and large businesses, pro athletes, celebrities and nonprofits maintain fan pages on Facebook. Facebook users become “fans” of the pages to keep up with news, events and promotions that are offered through the pages. Increasingly, having a Facebook fan page is an integral part of a company’s marketing strategy.

Samuelson claimed the “Diamond Fans” page about 2 1/2 years ago, and he has been diligently updating it with photos and links to news, facts and trends in the world of diamonds. He does occasional promotions through the page for products for sale at his Baltimore store — but pushing advertising about his business isn’t the main purpose of the page, he said.

Instead, Samuelson is using the page to build a worldwide community of fans of diamonds, who incidentally might choose to buy jewelry from his store. He regularly polls the fans of the page to gauge changing tastes and trends in jewelry. For instance, do they prefer yellow or white gold, or platinum settings?

His Facebook fans can tell him which kinds of products to focus more on selling in his bricks-and-mortar store, he said. Online revenue from leads generated from the Facebook page is still small, he said.

“This page, much like social media, is not about pushing deals in people's faces,” Samuelson said. “Much like any other medium, it’s all about establishing trust and communicating with people, and then the business comes.”

Samuelson’s grandfather opened the shop in 1922, and the grandson has taken the family business into the age of social media. An early adopter when it comes to Facebook and Twitter, Samuelson has used the services to build the brand reputation of his jewelry business. Thousands of followers of the Diamond Fans page live abroad, he said.

Samuelson also has a Facebook page and a website for his own business, under the name Baltimore Diamonds. But when you search for just diamonds on Facebook, Samuelson’s “Diamond Fans” page is typically the first one that shows up.

Samuelson’s strategy “looks brilliant, to use a term for diamonds,” said Jeff Davis, partner with Sawmill Marketing Public Relations, a Baltimore firm with an expertise in social media.

Davis said that Samuelson was smart in claiming the generic name “diamonds” on Facebook, because that term would be searched more than his business’ name.

Looking at the degree and quality of interaction on the Diamond Fans page, Davis said it appears that Samuelson is having great success with his followers.

“That’s an incredible number of people ‘liking’ the fan page,” Davis said. “So obviously they've seen value in the content.”

(Below, the Samuelson's Diamonds store in downtown Baltimore.)

samuelson-store.jpg


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:06 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: *NEWS*, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Social Media
        

TEDCO broadcasts 100th project award today via UStream

From the news release:

Harikrisha Tandri, M.D., Assistant Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Department of Cardiology, will be presented with an award for the funding of his technology, “Method and Device to Rapidly Induce Hypothermia.” Visual information on the technology will be provided during the live-stream.

Dr. Tandri and his team have designed the Rapid Hypothermia Induction Device to chill blood entering the brain during cardiac arrest, ultimately improving neurological outcomes for patients post cardiac arrest. Prior to this invention, there was a six hour delay when administering hypothermia to cardiac arrest patients. This device can be used by Emergency Medical Service (EMS) personnel and hospital staff during standard cardiac arrest resuscitation protocols. Cardiac arrest is the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in the U.S. and rates of full functional recovery are as low as four to seven percent.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:00 AM | | Comments (0)
        

November 15, 2010

Facebook announcing new email feature

Watch Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook execs discuss the new email/messaging feature:


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

Baltimore's ZeroChroma launches: unique cases for mobile devices

I did a Q&A with Brian Le Gette, original co-founder of 180s (you know the company that makes those funky behind-the-head ear warmers) and we talked about his latest venture: ZeroChroma.

Le Gette (below left) teamed up with Dave Reeb (right) to design a patent-pending collapsible swivel stand that pops out of the back of a flat case. The design has great potential for many different kinds of applications, but for now, Le Gette and Reeb are focused on the mobile device case market.


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The pair are doing a product launch push this week and, early next year, their hope is that their cases for Apple iOS devices are stocked in the Apple Store and Best Buy.

For those investment banker types out there, ZeroChroma is a self-funded operation that's based here in the Baltimore area but does manufacturing in Taiwan. Le Gette said their goal is to keep the company small and nimble and largely "virtual" and "in the cloud." They don't have a fancy headquarters office yet, in other words.

So far, I've tried out their cases for the iPhone and iPad and have been impressed with their finish and functionality. I particularly appreciate the iPad case, which is flexible enough to rotate from portrait to landscape mode. If you find yourself watching a lot of video while sitting at a desk, or in an airplane, this case may be for you.


zerochroma-back.JPG


You can even lower the iPad to a gentle typing level, which is very useful for those of us who do a lot of typing on the iPad. The cases range in price from $35 to $70.

zerochroma-side.JPG


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech

November 11, 2010

CashFlow: Some small tech companies getting the moolah

cash-wad.jpgIt's now time for the latest edition of CashFlow, our look at random startup tech companies from across the country who are raising money for their ventures.

* Live Gamer Inc., of New York, N.Y., has raised $500,000 (in debt) of a total $1 million round of funding they're seeking to continue to expand its micro-transaction and virtual currency platform. Enabling consumers to spend their money online on websites and games is a hot market right now. Live Gamer has a bunch of investors lined up behind it.

* Quu Inc., of Mercer Island, Washington, is seeking to raise $2.5 million in equity financing for its cell phone-based interactive radio platform. Quu allows you to follow radio stations with your cell phone, and tag songs, participate in polls and do other interactive things.

* Azigo Inc., of Wellesley Hills, Mass., is currently in stealth mode, according to its Website, but has raised $475,000 of a planned $1.4 million. The company appears to have expertise in the information card field.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:33 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Startups
        

A must-read: "The Great Cyberheist"

I know there are many readers of this blog who work in cyber security and government I.T. So, if there's one story you should read today, it's a magazine piece in the New York Times called "The Great Cyberheist." Albert-gonzalez-pic.jpg

It's a fascinating, well-paced and well-told tale of a cyber criminal mastermind, Albert Gonzalez (left), who looted and laundered millions of dollars from stolen credit card data. Oh, and p.s., he was also a paid Secret Service informant.

The story runs long but doesn't feel long. So read it now, on your lunch break or later at home. Here's the link.

Kudos to author James Verini for a great story.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas
        

November 9, 2010

Baltimore is an IBM "Smarter City"

IBM today announced a $50 million philanthropic initiative to donate technology and services to help 100 cities around the world. It's called the Smarter Cities Challenge.

The challenge is a competitive grant process. According to IBM, the company will send "its top experts to those cities that have made the strongest case for participating in Smarter Cities Challenge. IBM consultants will immerse themselves in local issues involving the administration of healthcare, education, safety, social services, transportation, communications, sustainability, budget management, energy, and utilities."

In preparation for the challenge, IBM embarked on pilot programs in three areas: Baltimore; Austin, Texas; and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (Greater Charlotte). Cities who wish to apply for the grant can find more details here.

Here's some basic details on IBM in Baltimore. I'm waiting to see the fruits of their labor and what they recommended to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The mayor is featured in this IBM promo about the Smarter Cities Challenge. Pretty good plug for Baltimore coming from a huge company.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Big Ideas, East Coast
        

iPad adoption accelerating in the enterprise, survey shows

The iPad is about to crash the enterprise's I.T. party, according to a recent survey.

Roughly three-quarters of information technology executives at more than 800 companies expect to deploy the iPad and other iOS devices within the next 12 months, according to a new survey today from BoxTone of Columbia, Md.

BoxTone, which provides managed services for companies that deploy mobile devices to hundreds and thousands of users, surveyed their customer bases on the iPad. Their survey showed that more than a quarter expect to roll-out the iPad "immediately."

Another interesting stat: more than 50 percent of these companies plan to deploy at least one iPad application in the next 12 months.

BoxTone gathered the data during a series of Webinars with Fortune 500 companies, including half of whom were executives from Fortune 100 companies.

Alan Snyder, CEO of BoxTone, said: “The iPad could be part of one of the biggest IT asset expansion and replacement waves of the last two decades. Impressed by its form factor and user experience, companies are just now budgeting for large scale rollouts in 2011, with most organizations viewing the iPad as a high-value application delivery platform."

For more details on the BoxTone survey, see below:


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gadgets
        

Baltimore's 1st ever HACKATHON

baltimore-hackathon.gif

Attention: Geeks, hackers, programmers, engineers .... come one, come all.

On Nov. 19, Baltimore's bustling little tech community will hold the first ever Hackathon, at the Beehive Baltimore space in Canton.

The premise is to encourage teams of people to work over a weekend to build hardware or software, from idea to prototype, in a fun, competitive environment.

The event starts Friday (11/19), 6 p.m. and wraps up Sunday (11/21), 6 p.m. (RSVP and more details here.)

There are prizes:

* Best Software Prototype - Individual ($150)
* Best Software Prototype - Group ($350)
* Best Hardware Prototype - Individual ($150)
* Best Hardware Prototype - Group ($350)
* Audience Favorite ($150)

A source tells me the judges include some luminaries from the Baltimore tech/entrepreneur community, including: Brian LeGette (original co-founder of 180s), Gary Mauler (organizer of Robot Fest), Jen Gunner (interim director of the GBTC), Chris Brandenburg (co-founder of Millennial Media), Mario Armstrong (major tech media dude), and others.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:25 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events (Baltimore area), Geeks
        

WellDoc, a small Baltimore tech company, partners with heavyweight AT&T

welldoc-phone-image.jpgWellDoc Inc., a Baltimore health care technology company, has hit some key milestones since it was launched five years ago. It has raised millions in venture capital, received FDA approval for its mobile phone-based diabetes management software, and even expanded operations to India, where diabetes is a burgeoning problem.

But perhaps the company’s biggest news is its recent partnership with AT&T Inc. The telecommunications giant launched a new business segment last week that will focus on technology solutions for the health care industry. And WellDoc’s software will be pitched by AT&T’s huge marketing muscle to commercial clients ranging from hospitals to insurers to employers.

“We knew we needed to have a partner to scale our solution,” Ryan Sysko, WellDoc’s chief executive, said Monday. “We can continue to focus on clinical application, and they [AT&T] could be our partner to bring it to market.”

WellDoc is on the cutting edge of the fast-growing mobile health field, where mobile phones, the Internet, smart software and medical devices are merging to improve health care. The company’s flagship product is web-based chronic disease management software that works with mobile phones, so that those with certain diseases, such as diabetes, can better manage their care.

The health care industry is experiencing a confluence of technology trends. More and more consumers are using the Internet and mobile phones to track and personalize their health care. For instance, applications abound for smart phones, such as Apple’s iPhone, that enable people to track their weight and calorie counts, or their exercise regimens.

At the commercial level, health care providers such as hospitals and insurers are increasingly adapting to new state and federal guidelines that require using technology to share patient data and diagnoses more efficiently and securely.

This is the profitable, multibillion-dollar niche that AT&T is trying to target with its new ForHealth business segment. AT&T believes the health care information technology market is worth about $34 billion. The telecom company said its own revenues from that market were $4 billion last year.

To use WellDoc, diabetes patients take blood readings with a wireless-enabled glucometer (example), which beams the data to the person’s cell phone. The patient then shares the data with WellDoc’s computer system, which tracks and analyzes the information, and then gives diabetes-management advice to the patient — all via cell phone.

A survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project last month found that 17 percent of adults with cell phones have used their mobile devices to access health or medical information. That percentage was higher — 29 percent— for cell phone users between the ages of 18 and 29, the survey found. And nearly 10 percent of cell phone users have apps on their phones that help them track or manage their health, according to the survey.

Some examples of health care solutions that AT&T is offering, in addition to WellDoc, include medicine bottles whose caps glow and beep to remind patients to take pills; home-based devices that monitor patients’ heart levels; and audio and video feeds that can replace doctor’s office visits.

“We’re very excited to have that strategic alliance with” WellDoc, said Adena Handley, AT&T’s marketing director for health care. “Now that we have WellDoc as part of the entire ForHealth practice, it brings even more credibility to what we’re trying to do from a company perspective.”

Financial terms of the partnership between WellDoc and AT&T were not disclosed. WellDoc, which is privately held, expects to have revenue of more than $10 million this year, Sysko said. The company has five corporate clients and 20,000 users of its software, he said.

WellDoc was founded by Sysko and his sister, Dr. Suzanne Sysko, who was an endocrinologist at the University of Maryland and worked at the university’s Joslin Center for Diabetes.

Two pilot studies conducted by the company with partners such as CareFirst and Johnson & Johnson have shown that using WellDoc’s mobile phone-based program to manage diabetes brought dramatic improvements and stability to patients, according to Ryan Sysko.

In August, WellDoc received Food and Drug Administration approval to market its software for treatment for Type II diabetes. The company hopes to expand its offerings beyond diabetes management to cover other chronic diseases, such as treatments for cancer, congestive heart failure and respiratory diseases, Sysko said.

The company has 75 employees, 45 in Baltimore and the rest in Bangalore, India, Sysko said. WellDoc wanted to be in emerging markets overseas, Sysko said, because diabetes is a big chronic health problem in China and India.

In the United States, diabetes affects about 12 percent of the population, but the disease is growing rapidly in India, where it afflicts 7.1 percent, and China, where 4.5 percent suffer from it, according to the International Diabetes Federation.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:38 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups
        

November 8, 2010

Irony alert: First-person shooter video game stolen by first-person shooters

call-of-duty-black-ops.jpg

Fortunately, no one was shot.

But there's a touch of irony in the news that two handgun-wielding robbers stole more than 100 copies of the highly anticipated "Call of Duty: Black Ops" video game over the weekend.

The heist happened at a GameStop location at the Festival at Bel Air shopping center on Saturday night.

[Here's the full story at BaltimoreSun.com.]

Call of Duty is one of the biggest video game franchises around.

The new Black Ops game is valued at $49.99, which means the crooks who hit the Harford County store stole about $5,000 worth of the game. The game goes on sale tomorrow.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 4:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Gamers
        

November 5, 2010

TEDxMidAtlantic TODAY in Washington DC

Last year, the first ever TEDxMidAtlantic was held in Baltimore. This year, the event -- which features innovative speakers and performers -- is being held in Washington DC. Below is a live video feed. Enjoy!

Watch live streaming video from tedxmid at livestream.com


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events (DC/No. Va. area), Geeks
        

BlackBerry under assault in corporate America

blackberry-array.gif

A pair of stories emerged today that demonstrate how Research in Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry smartphones, is under attack from all sides. For some time, RIM's position as one that satisfied corporate clients with its smartphones was unassailable.

But now with iPhone and Google's Android eating up market share, and Microsoft's Phone 7 coming around the corner, RIM's bread and butter is being threatened, some think. The latest comScore market report shows RIM still holds the market lead over iPhone and Android, but it's lead is slipping.

The news today: First, sources tell Bloomberg that Bank of America and Citigroup -- two of the biggest U.S. banks -- are testing iPhones for corporate use as an alternative to BlackBerrys.

Second, Dell, which is in the smartphone business itself, told the Wall Street Journal that it plans to ditch RIM's BlackBerrys for its 25,000 employees, and switch them over to their phones, which would run Microsoft and Android software.

Corporate I.T. departments are under pressure from employees to support their personal devices, which are often iPhones and Android devices -- so RIM's competitors are slowly creeping into the workplace. Will there be a tipping point soon?

[Thanks to Cult of Mac for image]


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:14 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Smartphones
        

November 4, 2010

Health care reform act delivers millions to Maryland biotech, pharma startups

Federal officials announced this week that more than 130 Maryland early-stage biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies received nearly $49 million worth of tax credits for their investments the past two years as part of a billion-dollar federal campaign to promote therapeutic advances in the medical field.

The Qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project grants were awarded to companies in 48 states.

Some of the Baltimore companies that received the grants, and which I've written about, include BioMarker Strategies, Gliknik and Corridor Pharmaceuticals. Companies were able to apply for a credit for each project they worked on. The maximum single-project award was $244,479. [The full list of Maryland companies is here.]

The federal departments of the Treasury and Health and Human Services oversee and administer the grants and tax credits to the companies, which are part of the Affordable Care Act of 2010.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 4:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, BioTech
        

Microsoft Kinect: Don't make me sweat!

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Microsoft last night launched its new Kinect peripheral, which hooks up to their monstrously popular Xbox 360 video game console and enables the user to use his body as the controller.

It seems like a fascinating, well-engineered piece of hardware, one that advances the state of the art and will likely fly off the shelves for the holiday buying season. I expect it to be a big success, mainly because there's nothing else like it on the market for gamers. Xbox is huge among dedicated gamers and the Kinect will likely attract more casual gamers and young families who are looking for "lite" gaming activities for their young kids. That demographic has long been the domain of the Wii, which has its own Wii Fit set-up for people who want to work out with their video game console.

All that said, you won't catch me ponying up money for a Kinect ($150 for the hardware or $300 bundled with an Xbox). Why? Because I don't want to work that hard while playing video games.

Call me old school, but all I want is a controller. A simple touch screen is better. When I want to veg out, I play Angry Birds, which involves one, maybe two, finger swipes on a touch screen. Dead simple. No sweat, literally. I have a Wii, but half the time, I feel like I'm flailing aimlessly with the handheld remote. And sometimes I break a sweat.

No, I don't want to have to hit the showers after I play a video game.

No, when I play a video game, it usually means I'm tired, I'm coming off a long day, and I want to think less, and move even less. The last thing I want is exercise. I'm not saying I don't need exercise, I just don't need it in my gaming experience. Why would I want to break a sweat, as David Pogue covers in his New York Times column about the device today.

Plus, you haven't truly gamed until you have callouses on your fingers. What will the young whippersnappers of the Kinect era have to show for their video game prowess? Dislocated shoulders? Broken vases in their parents' living rooms? Lower body fat? Pshaw!

[Image from RedEye]


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gadgets, Gamers
        

November 3, 2010

Baltimore inventor wants to give away his patents

My colleague, Lorraine Mirabella, had a great little story this week about a Baltimore inventor who's willing to give away his patented inventions in hopes they will come to market.

Here's the beginning of the story:

Inventor Mario P. DiForte has spent more than four decades thinking of ideas for gadgets, tools and products. If there's a better way to practice baseball, drive a car, talk on a cell phone, prevent illness on airplanes or rescue a person from drowning, DiForte thinks he has a solution in his arsenal.

Now, at 66, DiForte is battling heart problems and fears that nearly two dozen unsold inventions may never do more than gather dust on the shelves of his Glen Arm home. That worry has sparked what DiForte believes could be his biggest concept of them all: He intends to give his ideas away.

The catch: DiForte says he will hand over patents, including pending and provisional ones, on 22 products to "legitimate" companies only if they agree to make the products and create jobs. And he wants to shepherd his brainchildren through production as a paid consultant, even if only on a part-time basis. It's a sweeping offer. It means he would agree to take no licensing fees or royalties from product sales.

To read the entire story, here's the full page.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Gadgets
        

November 2, 2010

Pure Bang Games: Baltimore startup targets Facebook gaming

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Ben Walsh has had a successful career producing video games for big platforms, such as Nintendo’s popular Wii console, Microsoft’s Xbox, and Sony’s PlayStation. But, at 34, Walsh decided to leave that world behind for the startup life.

He quit his job at Bethesda Softworks, a Maryland gaming giant based in Rockville, in January, and used his own savings months later to launch Pure Bang Games – a Facebook gaming company based in Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood.

“There isn’t a big gaming company based here in the city,” said Walsh, picture above with a laptop at his office. “We hope to change that.”

The first game Pure Bang created, called My Pet Rock, is currently in testing among 500 users on Facebook, and is expected to launch in January. Players accumulate and care for pet rocks, which they adorn and customize, and can even do battle with others’ pet rocks.

“It definitely fits our style and humor,” Walsh said of the game concept. “People will adopt pet rocks and personalize them how they want them to look.” (Below is a sample page from My Pet Rock. Hit the jump for the rest of the post)


mypetrockgarden.png

Walsh is part of a new wave of video game designers, including programmers and artists, who are flocking to Facebook to build — and profit from — social games. The challenge for online social game developers, whose games are typically free, is to create a game that goes “viral” and attracts millions of players.

But if game designers can score a hit, then the market potential is vast. A report by InsideNetwork, which tracks online social gaming, estimates that the market for virtual currencies — where players spend real money on online gaming and other virtual products — will be $2.1 billion next year.

The dominant company in the social gaming field, privately-held Zynga Game Network, has tens of millions of monthly users for its Facebook games, which include FarmVille, Mafia Wars and FrontierVille.

Zynga has an office in Timonium, also is home to other gaming companies such as Firaxis Games and Big Huge Games. Walsh hopes that Pure Bang games can contribute to the ecosystem of gaming companies in the Baltimore area.

He’s been a booster of the Baltimore technology scene for a couple years. Last year, he co-founded Innovate Baltimore, a technology and entrepreneur-friendly networking event that attracts 150 or more people several times a year. So far, Walsh has hired four full-time employees and he uses another 11 part-time staff and interns.

To save money, Pure Bang shares a bright and meticulously renovated office with a real estate development company on Eastern Avenue. Walsh has grander dreams of helping turn Highlandtown into a hub for technology startups.

But for now, his next step is to find investors who can help fund the company’s marketing expansion, as Pure Bang needs to start spending money to advertise and attract game players.

Walsh also is exploring the idea of building online games for other companies to market. News media operations, e-learning providers and other companies are increasingly looking to attract and satisfy online users with games, and Pure Bang could build those games, Walsh said.

“Our goal is to build fun, high-quality games,” Walsh said.


This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

November 1, 2010

College a la carte: StraighterLine's $999 online first year

burck_smith.jpgImagine if the first year of college, you took courses entirely online and potentially saved yourself thousands of dollars. StraighterLine wants you to imagine that future.

Yesterday, I wrote a story about StraighterLine, a Baltimore-based startup tackling the higher education market with cheap online first-year courses and a subscription pricing model. The company does not confer degrees, but has agreements with 22 accredited colleges and universities who grant credit for the StraighterLine courses. The company's courses are evaluated and recommended by the American Council on Education, which 26 Maryland higher education institutions use as a standard for granting transfer credit.

Below is the story:

 

 

StraighterLine's challenge to the rising cost of college

Baltimore startup offers 'first year of college' online for $999

By Gus G. Sentementes, The Baltimore Sun

After putting off finishing her college degree for more than two decades, Elizabeth Smith this year needed just one more class — an algebra course — to earn her bachelor's degree in theater arts.

The full-time worker and single mother of two didn't have time or money to spare, so she signed up for a course offered by Baltimore-based StraighterLine Inc. She finished the course in seven days over the summer, working on her laptop as her kids frolicked in a pool. And the course cost only $138 — a fraction of the price for a similar course at a four-year or community college.

At a time when a year of college can cost as much as a luxury car, StraighterLine Inc. offers a cheap alternative: online courses starting at $138 a month, or $999 for a year of "101"-style classes typically taken by freshmen, ranging from mathematics to English to business statistics.

The startup has high hopes of altering the economics of higher education by solely offering online courses a la carte — and no degrees. It joins other for-profit companies that offer online education to students seeking lower prices and flexibility in course schedules.

StraighterLine and its competitors aim to become even more appealing to recession-weary students who continue to see huge tuition increases at traditional brick-and-mortar colleges, including some adults returning to school in hopes of making themselves more marketable in a tight job market.

"Most people now are really looking for the flexibility," said Smith, a 42-year-old Northeast Baltimore resident. "Online learning, to me, is natural. If I can shop at midnight, why can't I do my coursework then? I would much rather be using my computer to expand my horizons than buy a pair of shoes."
 


StraighterLine's business model depends on taking out almost all of the costs of running a college, from dormitories to professor tenure, and it has signed up nearly 2,000 students.

"There's a lot to be said for an immersive residential liberal arts experience, but it's also very expensive to deliver," said Burck Smith, StraighterLine's founder and chief executive. "StraighterLine is out there jostling to put a little pressure on the system. The reality is most students are nontraditional. They're not doing that expensive residential environment, but they're still being charged as if they are."

But StraighterLine's efforts to compete could be stymied by the fact that it isn't accredited. While that helps keeps costs down, it may give other colleges pause before granting credit to StraighterLine's students who seek transfers.

Company officials point out that its courses have been reviewed and recommended by the American Council on Education, the main organization that evaluates courses and their credit equivalency. So colleges could choose to grant transfer credit based on that.

And the cost of online education is a big draw. Tuition at four-year public institutions rose 46 percent, to $6,400 for in-state students from 2000 to this year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Four-year private nonprofit school tuition climbed 31 percent to $21,100 in that time. Even private for-profit institutions had a 20 percent jump in tuition, to $15,700.

And affordability is expected to continue to be a problem even as some colleges, such as the University of Maryland, freeze tuition.

That's because the $830 billion national student debt load — which recently surpassed total credit card debt for the first time in the U.S. — could mean that parents are still paying off their own loans when it comes time to send their children to college, said Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid expert and publisher of FinAid.org.

The online education field is dotted with several for-profit companies, such as 2tor Inc. or Colloquy Inc., a division of Kaplan Inc., that are partnering with traditional colleges and universities outsourcing Internet offerings.

And more colleges are chasing after the "nontraditional" student — the working adult learner looking to complete a master's or certification program online, or the undergraduate student who can only take classes part-time while working. That kind of student, such as Elizabeth Smith, who received her bachelor's degree from Charter Oak State College, a public distance-learning institution based in Connecticut, is increasingly the norm.

In January, StraighterLine raised $1.3 million from investors, including an investment from Active Angel Investors Network in Northern Virginia. Burck Smith said his company is using the money to hire staff and ramp up marketing efforts, mostly on the Internet.

StraighterLine doesn't have direct partnerships with other higher education institutions, but it does have agreements with 22 colleges and universities across the country — none yet in Maryland — that will award credit for its students' coursework. It also recently partnered with a company in Kentucky, which approved its coursework for tuition reimbursement for its employees. The company, however, doesn't offer federal financial aid.

"I don't think StraighterLine has a peer," said Jim Selbe, assistant vice president of lifelong learning at the American Council on Education. "I don't know of any other organization that is offering courses in these general requirements. The convenience of being able to sign up for those courses and not having to worry about an open seat available is of great value to many students."

Nonetheless, the company may face a long road of gaining acceptance among many colleges and universities.

"It's just easier to do transfers with other accrediting institutions," said Joseph S. Wood, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at the University of Baltimore. "The accreditation is what gives me the assurance of the integrity of the academic program."

Before University of Baltimore students take a StraighterLine course, he said they should clear it through the university, which awards credit on a case-by-case basis. Similarly, StraighterLine students would have to petition the relevant departments at the Community College of Baltimore County for credit for a course, said Dennis Mitchell, coordinator of transfer evaluation services.

Smith said his company may be seen as a threat by colleges who fear it will poach students. But he also said that StraighterLine could be a partner to community and four-year colleges, offering them a pipeline of students who want to take more specialized courses and need an accredited institution to award them a degree.

StraighterLine students don't have a single teacher guiding their courses. Instead, they have access to instructors with doctorates and master's degrees who are available whenever a student needs help.

And students get access to tutoring offered by another company, Smarthinking, which Smith co-founded in 1999. The Washington-based firm offers online tutoring and writing services to education institutions, including several in the Baltimore area.

Smith is confident that the company's courses will stand up to scrutiny.

"The academic validity of our courses is kind of a moot point at this point," he said. "There's nothing that we're doing different from an academic perspective than what colleges are doing themselves."

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:41 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Big Ideas, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers
        
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About Gus G. Sentementes
Gus G. Sentementes (@gussent on Twitter) has been writing for The Baltimore Sun since 2000. He's covered real estate, business, prisons, and suburban and Baltimore City crime and cops. He was one of the first reporters at The Sun to use multimedia tools and Web applications -- a video camera, an iPhone -- to cover breaking news. He hopes to cover Maryland geeks and the gadgets and Web sites they build, and learn -- and share -- something new every day.

Gus has a wife, a young daughter and two feuding cats. They live in Northeast Baltimore.
This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location: baltimoresun.com/balttech
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