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January 31, 2012

Look at how easy it is to organize a tech event in Baltimore

There's been a flowering in Baltimore in the area of event planning and organizing, among the tech/entrepreneurial crowd. Social media has really connected people like never before. One of the more dynamic groups at the moment is the Baltimore Tech Facebook group, which is an organic mass of 600+ members. (Are you a member yet? And while you're at it, follow BaltTech on Facebook too, for news updates from me.)

One of the points I make in today's article is that some of the traditional groups normally behind Baltimore tech events -- TEDCO, Emerging Technology Center, and the Greater Baltimore Tech Council, for instance -- find themselves attending as many, or more, independent community events as they now organize for the community. Such as yesterday's Practice Your Pitch event, organized on the Facebook group and held at Naden/Lean in Cockeysville.

Monica Beeman tweeted about Practice Your Pitch here. And I expect local video tech guru Eli Etherton to post a video soon of all the pitches and feedback. I'll post it here when he does.



This is an archived version of the technology blog.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

January 30, 2012

Baltimore's Lookingglass raises $5 million round of financing

Lookingglass Cyber Solutions, a Baltimore firm which makes some cool cyber security software that gives organizations global insight into cyber threats, said Monday morning that it raised $5 million in a series A round of financing.

Lookingglass, which got its start as an incubated company at the Emerging Technology Center in Canton, lined up West Coast and East Coast investors for the raise, which it will use for marketing, sales and deployment to enterprise customers, it said in a news release

Lookingglass's core product is called ScoutVision, which companies use to "continuously monitor their own networks, the networks of their partners and cloud-computing resources," Lookingglass says.

Lookingglass continues the trend of some local companies straddling both coasts to raise venture financing. Some have told me privately that there just isn't enough local interest in startup tech to put together a round that solely originates in Maryland or the Mid-Atlantic. An interesting post in TechCocktail, featuring Josh Konowe's experience raising money for Uppidy, is one of the latest anecdotes.

I haven't yet interviewed the Lookingglass folks, so I don't know about their personal experience.

The main investor is Alsop Louis Partners, an early stage investment firm in San Francisco. Vital Financial, a private equity and capital investment firm in Bethesda, MD, participated in the round.

Lookingglass disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission in August that it was attempting to raise capital, in a Form D filing. At the time, it said it was trying to raise $500,000.

The company listed its revenues as between $1 million and $5 million.


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 10:07 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

January 27, 2012

SpotAgent: Baltimore speed cams account for 27 percent of ticket revenue

spotagent-ticket-data.PNG


Hey, remember when I wrote about these two rascals last year who were using Baltimore city data to help you avoid getting a parking ticket?

Shea Frederick and James Schaffer are still at it with their app idea, SpotAgent.com. And, they're taking they're budding expertise in crunching parking and speed camera ticket data to drop some knowledge about Baltimore's revenues from these tickets.

It's a big money-maker to say the least. Here are some numbers they put together:

* Revenue from speed camera tickets: $9.9 million, accounting for 27 percent of the total $43 million in ticket revenue. (Another $4.9 million, or 13 percent, came from mobile speed cams.)

* Parking meter violations: $3 million, or 10 percent of total ticket revenue.

* Total number of speed camera and meter violation citations issued: 913,000

For the full report, go here to SpotAgent's site.

I'd love to hear from someone in Baltimore City government for some color commentary about these numbers. I'm emailing someone in City Hall this blog post after I post it.

And below are Shea and James from a photo in the Baltimore Sun last year.


spotagent-dudes.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 4:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

January 24, 2012

O'Malley's digital download tax on ringtones, music, ebooks and more

Maybe you haven't heard: One of Gov. O'Malley's tax proposals this year is to extend the sales tax to digital products. That means digital media you download: ebooks, apps, music, newspapers, videos, ringtones, audio greeting cards and more could become subject to the state's sales tax of 6 percent. So that 99 cents iTunes song you buy would cost around $1.05.

That app you buy would go up a bunch of cents.

:: Here's the Senate bill, put in at the request of the O'Malley administration. The part about digital products starts at page 33.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce is skeptical of this tax idea by O'Malley. Their vice president of governmental affairs, in a blog post today, said the organization will work to ensure this digital download tax doesn't become a repeat -- a Tech Tax 2 -- of the failed proposed tax on tech services in 2007.

For years, there's been a steady debate in Maryland about how to address the "sales tax loophole" on the Internet. Consumers who buy goods -- digital and physical -- from online sites that don't have any physical location in Maryland aren't charged the sales tax by the online retailer. Bricks-and-mortar retailers complain about unfair competition. (Note: See my second update below: there is a provision for this type of tax collection in the proposal.)

What other states are taxing digital downloads? I scoured the web for some info on this and I found a Wikipedia list; a proposed bill last year in Congress tried to solve the "who can tax what" conundrum when it comes to digital goods; and Amazon recently striking a deal with Indiana to collect sales tax a few years from now.

On the one hand, states such as Maryland are hurting for tax revenue to close budget holes. Maryland collects taxes on the sale of music CDs, for instance. But when that same music is digital and electronically transmitted, it does not, thus missing out on revenue.

On the other, there may be small businesses out there engaged in the digital download business who worry about new taxes.

Where do you stand?

If you're a ringtone addict, do you think you should now pay a tax? Or, if you're an iPhone app developer for instance, what does it mean to have to collect sales tax on your app sale in Maryland or elsewhere? How would this complicate your business? Or is it not that big a deal?

 

UPDATE at 3:25 pm: I've gone over the bill a little more closely and, of course, I have more questions. For one, how would the state go about taxing "chat room discussions" and "weblogs" (page 34)? Would this be where a user pays a fee to read or participate in these types of online media, and thus a tax is assessed and collected? (i.e. Online news paywalls?) And what about digital streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime and other services on Apple TV and Roku, for instance? The bill talks about taxing downloads, but is vague on the act of "streaming."

Update #2, at 3:50 pm: Ok, folks, some more closer reading of the bill indicates that there is indeed a so-called "Amazon tax provision" -- see page 42, 11-701(b)1 -- "engage in the business of an out-of-state vendor." O'Malley, like many other governors, does appear to want to collect sales tax from Amazon affiliates, to use the Amazon example, based on my read of the bill.  A business that's sold more than $10,000 worth of goods in Maryland over the previous four quarters, starting July 1, would be subject to collecting sales tax from customers. This type of bill provision has failed in the past, I'm told. 


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 1:02 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

Abell Foundation: Waiting for a sustainable online journalism site to fund?

Robert_c._embry%2C_jr.jpgWhen you run in fast local media-gossip circles like I do (ha!), you can't resist the opportunity to ask a local power player whether his foundation is still interested in buying The Baltimore Sun.

Yesterday, I interviewed Robert C. Embry Jr. (left), president of the Abell Foundation, about the philanthropic institution's increasing emphasis on funding local technology startups. Abell has just committed $75,000 to a new group called the Innovation Alliance, which will use the funds to conduct a big survey of what the tech community wants and needs.

Toward the end of my interview with Mr. Embry, I asked if Abell still has any interest in buying the Baltimore Sun. (Abell was reportedly part of a team of local investors, led by Ted Venetoulis, who had floated the idea of buying the Sun about five/six years ago.)

Embry told me that the Tribune bankruptcy (Chicago-based Tribune Co. owns the Baltimore Sun, as well as the Chicago Tribune, LA Times and other papers) muddled the prospects for an acquisition several years ago. Indeed, bankruptcy is a sort of limbo for companies in most cases.

If and when Tribune emerges from bankruptcy, Embry said, "then we would re-open the question."

I also asked Embry if Abell, which has funded high-tech energy and biotech companies lately, has any interest in funding new online journalism startups?

Said Embry: "We've spent a lot of time considering that. A lot of people have approached us with ideas, but we haven't been presented with any that are self-sustaining."

I don't know what Maryland-based online news sites have presented themselves to the Abell Foundation for funding, but I can rattle off a bunch off the top of my head that are a steady part of my local media diet.

There's Baltimore Brew (which did a fantastic job raising $24,624 on Kickstarter -- well over their $15,000 goal.)

There's CityBizList, for Baltimore area business.

And MarylandReporter.com, for state house politics news.

Are these sites "sustainable"? I don't know. At this point, they seem to have had some longevity. They are veterans, in terms of online years. That counts for something.

In fact, in addition to the Sun, which still dominates, there's still a healthy selection of print and online sources of good journalism and opinion-ating around Baltimore, and a little beyond. There's CityPaper, the Daily Record, Caroll County Times, Urbanite, the Patuxent publications, the Gazette, the Washington Post, and Center Maryland. (Update: Yes, I'm sorry, I forgot to mention the Patch sites.)

The not-so-hidden players in the local media scene anymore are Twitter and Facebook. The public has more power than ever before to push stories to the top of a traditional reporter's agenda. And the public can respond to a story -- and the newsmakers behind it -- with online persistence and inquisitiveness.

In the old days, journalists would work hard to find new angles and keep a good story alive every day. (We still do.) Today, the public does the same thing on Facebook and Twitter, if the story means enough to them (us).

Just yesterday, I watched as a story I wrote about the Abell Foundation and the Innovation Alliance immediately got some push-back in the comments section of the Baltimore Tech Facebook group.

Within a couple hours of posting the story, Newt Fowler, head of the Innovation Alliance, was immediately responding to questions from the tech community.

This is truly a revolution in news, information-sharing and accountability.

Sure, we lost the Examiner a few years back, but we've actually seen the remaining publications -- and new ones, including us at The Baltimore Sun -- start to adjust to the online world.

Anybody can make and break news, and anybody can immediately question the newsmakers -- and the news writers. This rocks.


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 10:46 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Media, Social Media, Startups
        

January 23, 2012

RIM gets rid of its Noah's Ark problem

noahs-ark.jpg Finally, RIM's two co-CEOs are stepping down. Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie have been running the company for years, and while at the helm they've enjoyed many, many successes. But the two have also failed to position the company to respond to the dual threats of Apple and Android, in the smartphone and tablet wars.

RIM, who practically gave birth to the modern smartphone with the BlackBerry, has had its lunch eaten by its competitors over the last four years. Actually, make that two lunches: Lazaridis's and Balsillie's.

The company has caught a fair amount of flack for having two CEOs. I've always thought it was so odd that, in a hyper-competitive field, this one big company chose to muddle the chain of command by having two top dogs in these key positions. But wait, turns out they also had two chief operating officers, too! Noah, have you gotten all your animals aboard the Ark yet? How many RIM executives does it take to do one job?

For comparison's sake, here's Apple's executive leadership team. Notice Tim Cook is the CEO and his (apparently) direct reports are all senior vice presidents, with one also being the lone "chief" -- the chief financial officer.

At Google, the search giant recently clarified its upper echelon by making Eric Schmidt executive chairman, Larry Page as CEO, and Sergey Brin as "co-founder." Where Schmidt was once supposedly the adult in the room, while listening to Page and Brin, Page is now in charge.

Here is a previous executive team (an old web page I found via the Wayback Machine.) At one point, RIM had two CEOs, two chief operating officers, and a chief *operations* officer.

And here is RIM's new executive team web page. A bit leaner. They went from eight top execs, to five.

Having these "co-" positions at the highest levels could indicate some problems in management performance and board leadership. Sometimes, people get promoted to a "co" position as a reward for them staying with the company -- and the company doesn't have the fortitude to push someone else out. It's called executive bloat.

Sometimes, it signals the need for what is perceived as a lot of "strategic" thinking and direction, and the thought is that two people are better than one. But the lines of responsibility and accountability get muddled. And there's a danger that the co-executives sometimes end up listening more to each other than the little people down below -- their people on the front lines.

I'm not saying that happened at RIM.

I'm just saying these are the dangers of diffusing leadership responsibility. In RIM's case, they've had four people doing two key roles, and the company has been dogging it the last few years. Let's hope the new guy at RIM -- Thorstein Heins -- takes the reins of leadership firmly.

Image via The Sun/UK.


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 9:24 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

January 18, 2012

Updated: Seven of Maryland's 10 Congresspeople have not taken a stand on SOPA/PIPA

{Note: This post was updated below to indicate that Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, who had been listed on ProPublica's website as not having a view on SOPA, does not in fact support SOPA in its current form.}

 

Everyone is talking today about SOPA, the controversial House bill (Stop Online Piracy Act) and what effect it may have on the Internet, freedom of speech, and e-commerce if it becomes U.S. law.

For a good overview of the bill (and it's sister bill in the Senate called PIPA), check out the Wikipedia entry for it. Wikipedia is one of thousands of websites that have gone on a voluntary blackout today to protest SOPA/PIPA. It's a fascinating day for Internet citizens. They are making their voices heard.

The Obama White House last week came out against the bills as they've been written. Here in Maryland, our state's citizens who are tuned into the debate are eagerly waiting to see what their representatives to Congress think of the pair of bills.

Sen. Cardin supports the bill in broad terms as a co-sponsor, but stated this month that he wouldn't back it in its current form. “I would not vote for final passage of PIPA, as currently written, on the Senate floor," he said in a press release quoted in Talking Points Memo.

According to ProPublica, Maryland's other senator -- Barbara Mikulski -- and eight seven representatives in the House have been silent on the bills.

UPDATED at 3:20pm: However, Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, has come out against SOPA in its current form, in recent weeks. He has communicated his position with his constituents (you can see the email in the reader comments below), and an aide to the Congressman alerted me to a blog post today where he re-emphasized his position against SOPA.

UPDATED at 3:45pm: Rep. John Sarbanes put out a statement today saying he was against SOPA in its current form. I predict that we'll suddenly see a few more folks come out against SOPA now that it seems like it's becoming radioactive in Washington.

What do our other reps really think about SOPA and PIPA? Well, we don't know. Yet.

Another site, called SopaTrack, shows how much money each of Maryland's representatives have attracted from pro- and anti-SOPA/PIPA donors. Each representative has received more funding from supporters of SOPA/PIPA -- in some cases, a lot more -- than from the bills' critics.

At this point, SOPA and PIPA seem like a pair of dirty words in Washington. Does anyone really think these bills are going anywhere and won't be dead in the water in a few weeks' time?

Oh, and if you're looking for what some local (Baltimore) musicians think of SOPA, check out the latest from our entertainment blogger Erik Maza.


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 11:45 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

January 12, 2012

NFL using court orders to shut down Chinese knockoff-selling sites

In my story today, I looked at how the NFL and its teams, including the Baltimore Ravens, are now closely monitoring the proliferation of China-based websites that are selling counterfeit merchandise to unsuspecting (and, of course, suspecting) U.S. consumers.

The NFL has filed a pair of lawsuits over the past year in New York that have served to take down around 800 websites that they alleged were selling counterfeit jerseys and other unlicensed NFL products, league officials told me.

The NFL, which supports the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), is going after these website operators in what has turned into an online game of cat and mouse. It follows in the footsteps of other big brands, such as Polo Ralph Lauren and North Face, in terms of using civil actions to shut down these sites through injunctions and so-called "ex parte" orders.

The most recent NFL case, NFL vs. Momo Lee, et al. was unsealed last month in federal court in New York.

The NFL and the Ravens told me that their efforts are really new within the past year, in terms of tracking these counterfeit sites and trying to shut them down.

Some consumers are savvy and know that they're not buying "the real thing" on some of these sites -- they're just hoping for a cheap facsimile in hopes of saving money and just having something to wear on game day.

But some consumers, like Barbra Skarzynski, were genuinely duped by a website claiming to be official. She ended up with a discolored Lardarius Webb jersey, with his name spelled "EWBB." That's a picture of it below taken by Baltimore Sun photographer Kim Hairston:


ewbb-jersey.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 9:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*
        

January 6, 2012

Fun facts from Millennial Media's IPO filing

Did you hear? Baltimore's Millennial Media filed to go public yesterday, letting everyone know they hope to raise $75 million from Wall Street to fuel their mobile ad business's growth (and make its founders and early investors rich.)

palmieri-and-brandenburg.JPG

Up above, those are co-founders Chris Brandenburg (left), chief technology officer, and Paul Palmier, chief executive officer.

Below are some fun facts from Millennial Media's S-1 registration statement with the SEC for its initial public offering:

* Quite literally, the money paragraph (note the improvement in gross margin) and the rapid closing of the gap from a $7 million loss in 2010 to a $417,000 loss in the first nine months of last year: "From 2009 to 2010, our revenue increased from $16.2 million to $47.8 million, or 195%, our gross margin improved from 29% to 34%, our net loss improved from $7.6 million to $7.1 million and our adjusted EBITDA improved from a loss of $7.0 million to a loss of $6.4 million. For the nine months ended September 30, 2011 as compared to the same period of 2010, our revenue increased from $29.1 million to $69.1 million, or 138%, our gross margin improved from 33% to 39%, our net loss improved from $5.4 million to $417,000 and our adjusted EBITDA improved from a loss of $4.9 million to earnings of $650,000."

* Employee growth: "We grew from 54 employees at December 31, 2008 to 190 employees at September 30, 2011." And more up to date: "As of December 31, 2011, we had 222 employees, of which 72 were primarily engaged in product and technology and 69 were engaged in sales and marketing."

* Fascinating chart of the ramp-up in spending among the top 100 advertisers with Millennial over the last three years:


millennial-media-advertisers-spending.PNG

* The top four executives at Millennial are all over 30 -- and the CEO Paul Palmieri and COO Stephen Root are over 40. (Sorry for pointing this out, Paul and Stephen. But I think it should be made clear Millennial's success as a startup so far is because of some relatively veteran executives, not fresh-faced kids out of college.)

* Those four executives earned this much money in 2011:


millennial-media-compensation.PNG

* Co-founders Paul Palmieri and Chris Brandenburg own 11.3 percent and 9.2 percent, respectively of outstanding shares in Millennial. Investment firms Bessemer Venture Partners and Columbia Capital are tied for the top shareholder spot, at 20.6 percent each.

* Millennial's five-year lease at the American Can Co. complex in Canton is up in July 2013. It's paying between $21 and $22 per square foot for 16,000+ square feet of space. It's annual lease has gone up from $201,000 in the first year, to $361,000 in its final year of the lease.


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

January 4, 2012

BaltTech in 2012

balttech-explodes.png

This is the year of BaltTech.

No, not necessarily my blog. But Baltimore Tech.

I'm going into my fourth (calendar) year of blogging about Baltimore's tech scene, and my oh my, how time flies.There's a lot percolating these days, but more on that in a moment.

I started blogging about Baltimore tech in June 2009.

According to my blog dashboard, I've written 757 posts (and each one was a journalistic jewel, of course) and received 2,499 comments -- of which, probably a third were complete and utter spam. (Boo. )Along the way, I've seen my own approach to how I "do" journalism evolve. I think I'm fairly open about the stories I work on, and often solicit feedback, leads and story ideas on Twitter and Facebook. (The community-powered Baltimore Tech Facebook group rocks it, btw. My Facebook page is here -- like it up for BaltTech updates.)

Most of the time, I'm flat-out overwhelmed by the responses, comments and pitches I get. It's hard to keep up. But without question, the "crowd" has a huge impact on my work, my reporting and the stories that I ultimately end up producing. It's pretty darn cool.

Looking ahead, I have some thoughts about where I want to take my coverage of the tech community this year. (And, of course, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.)

* Biotech: I feel like I am not writing enough about Baltimore's biotech industry. I'd like to do more and I'm open to ideas and pitches. I've done a bunch of "big picture" stories in my time on the beat, and I think in many instances, I need to be looking for broader trend stories. There's very little in terms of "hard news," because big breakthroughs, discoveries and projects often take years to put together. But, I think there's a mix of powerful motivations in biotech. You have researchers who want to cure major diseases, and companies that want to do the same -- plus make a ton of money. And our universities sit in the middle of the mix. Then you have economic development officials and political leaders here in Maryland really taking big, long-term bets on biotech as a major industry in the state. There's a ton more to write, and I've barely scratched the surface. How are those state biotech tax credits really working out, btw?

* InvestMaryland: It's the state program championed by Gov. O'Malley last year that's supposed to pump around $70 million in Maryland startups in the next few years. It's a complicated beast. How will it play out this year? What companies will get funded? Will it really make a difference in the startup ecosystem in Maryland? I expect to follow it closely. The first deadline is Feb. 1st -- that's when insurance companies are supposed to express their interest in participating in the state-run auction to sell off tax credits, to raise money for investing in startups. (Here are links to all I've written about the program.)

* Baltimore's tech scene: I feel like there's an interesting story to tell about Baltimore's tech scene right now, when one looks at it in terms of the universe of the Greater Baltimore Tech Council and the Emerging Technology Center. There's been a lot going on, from leadership changes to the launch of a new accelerator by the ETC. (And at least one more that's apart from the ETC effort, by entrepreneurs Greg Cangialosi and Sean Lane.) There's a lot of debate within the community about whether efforts are being spread to thin. And then of course, you have the big news of Millennial Media, which brings me to my next point......

* Millennial Media: Even before its IPO announcement last week, I had been watching Millennial pretty closely because I knew they were poised for IPO or acquisition. The good news for Baltimore is that Palmieri & Brandenburg and crew are sticking to their guns and going for IPO. This is big news for their business, and the mobile ad sector, of course, but it also has the potential to be extremely influential in Baltimore's tech-and-startup ecosystem. Founder success usually begets new founder success. Mid-level execs who are currently working at Millennial may one day have their own idea for a startup, and with their connections and talent, spin off and do their own thing. In many ways, Millennial has the elements of a deliberate and classic startup story. How Millennial handles its IPO and growth will be an ongoing story that we'll all be watching.

 Adding to the mix, I pay attention to cybersecurity, social media and work/life trends at the intersection of technology. I'm following various companies and startup ventures to see how they progress. I also do regular Q&As with Baltimore biz folks, including techies. What am I missing? What would you like to see me cover more of?


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 5:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*
        
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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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