January 24, 2012

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, 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.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:46 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Media, Social Media, Startups

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.)


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:


* 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:


* 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.

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November 30, 2011

Baltimore startup Woofound raises $750K

A Middle River start-up, Woofound, raised $750,000 in equity financing recently, according to an SEC filing today.

That's a good chunk of money for a startup in Baltimore. That's what 410Labs, co-founded by Dave Troy, raised several months ago.

The Middle River-based company has built a web platform that seems to help people identify their interests in the world using a straightforward ME/NOT ME dichotomy. The company is calling it "intelligent discovery," which seems to be made possible by tagging experiences.

Hmm. I'm eager to try it. Especially on mobile.

For the moment, the website is still in beta (I signed up; waiting approval to join). They've got a mobile site, and are working on native smartphone apps for iOS and Android.

So who's behind Woofound? Daniel Sines is one of the folks listed on the SEC filing. Here's some info about him over at

Here's their video describing the product.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:35 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

November 29, 2011

Geek On A Train: Surveying the East Coast Startup Scene by Rail


The East Coast tech scene is a pretty silo'ed place. You obviously have entrepreneurs and investors up and down the coast, from Boston to New York to Baltimore to DC. But everybody usually seems to play in their own market, for the most part.

Some in Baltimore (including yours truly) are yearning for a more regional perspective. After kicking around some ideas on a Facebook group, a Baltimore tech geek named Mike Subelsky (that's him above, in my own mockup illustration -- hope you don't mind, Mike!) came up with an idea:

Why not ride an Amtrak train up and down the East Coast for a day, talk to startups along the way, and blog, tweet, video, podcast like a crazy fool about the "Amtrak Corridor" tech scene?

"My idea was to meet with at least one tech leader in each city," Subelsky said. "Maybe somebody you don't normally hear from, the on-the-ground entrepreneurs."

It's an idea, I posit, that could only come out of Baltimore. This city is basically at the crossroads of the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast. We don't think we're at the center of the universe. We're open to getting to know our neighbors well. For now, Subelsky's calling it "Geek(s) on a Train" -- which makes reference to another nerd effort called "Geeks on a Plane," which takes entrepreneurs and investors to visit tech companies in foreign lands.

I spoke with Subelsky today and he's lined up a sponsor to cover his Amtrak ticket for a day. He's got an itinerary planned out, with stops in cities such as Washington, Baltimore (obviously), Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

He's looking to undertake the trip in January and, most importantly, he's eager to hear from startups up and down the East Coast from Washington to Boston. He hopes to spend an hour at each stop, conduct audio interviews with entrepreneurs, and then hop back on the train and post updates by blog and Twitter. He's also planning a podcast that'll cover his entire trip.

If you're on the East Coast between Boston and Washington and want to be a part of Mike's "Geek on a Train" adventure, he'll take your email at And feel free to cc: me on it, too, over at

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November 23, 2011

Facebook buys Baltimore company that sued it: report


Sometimes the surest way to get noticed by a giant is to just sue them.

A small Baltimore company that sued Facebook two years ago was reportedly acquired by the mega-social-networking company earlier this month.

WhoGlue Inc., a company owned and operated by Jason Hardebeck (that's him above), said in an interview this morning that he sold his company for an undisclosed amount to Facebook in early November. The lawsuit that he had filed against Facebook -- for infringing on a patent titled "distributed personal relationship information management system and methods" -- was settled last year in a "very positive" way, Hardebeck said, and he and Facebook execs kept in touch.

"It's not typically how you introduce yourself to someone, to serve them with papers," Hardebeck said. "My experience with Facebook was very positive, very surprising, given its perception in the press and certainly from the movie [The Social Network]. It turns out that they are really good guys."

Facebook has bought several companies over the years. The WhoGlue acquisition appears to be the first acquisition by Facebook in Baltimore. [List of Facebook acquisitions.]

WhoGlue specializes in designing private social networks, for member groups, such as alumni associations. Hardebeck sees a future where public social networks interact with private networks more seamlessly.

He declined to comment on what exactly Facebook acquired from WhoGlue Inc. As part of the deal, Hardebeck ended up buying back some assets, trademarks and customer relationships from Facebook, and formed a new company, WhoGlue LLC, that can continue to operate the same business. WhoGlue had about a dozen shareholders, including the big tech company Siemens, which created the technology in the patent that WhoGlue held.

Hardebeck declined to say if the patent was sold as part of the Facebook deal. But he made clear that his company's sale didn't mean an early retirement for him. He intended to keep working in the same industry.

"Where we intend to go is where the world is going," Hardebeck said. "Eventually, public social networks will need to interact with private social networks."

"What we've beeen working on for 12 years just gets accelerated," Hardebeck said. "There's a very good chance now that we go out and get big fast."

WhoGlue consists of just two full-time employees, Hardebeck and a developer in Berlin. The company also works with contractors, he said.

I have a request for comment into Facebook. The deal was first reported by the Baltimore Business Journal.

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November 7, 2011

Uppidy raised* $300K in equity for text message app

joshua-konowe.jpgA Northern Virginia and Columbia-based firm that markets the Uppidy app on iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry is seeking to raised $300,000 in equity financing, according to an SEC filing today. according to company founder Joshua Konowe.

* Update: Konowe reached out to me to update with some more facts, after I initially reported in this post that Uppidy was in the process of raising $300K. He said that Uppidy has already raised the $300K.

The investors are Fortify.Vc of the Washington area, Paul Silber of Blu Ventures of Northern Virginia, and an angel investor group from Silicon Valley. They'll be spending the money to round out the tech team, and add premium services and game mechanics "to speed viral growth," says Konowe. What's interesting is that Uppidy has "spent $0 on marketing" so far, and has thousands of users, Konowe said. 

Uppidy, which is led by entrepreneur Joshua Konowe, is an app that allows smartphone users to "share, search and store text messages."

It's basically an app for managing your mobile messages, offering users a dashboard and even a hashtag service (#upp) that they can use to post messages on Uppidy's own Twitter-like site: Uppidy Live.

For people who are heavy texters (not me), it sounds like this app is a big help. TechCocktail has more details on the tech here.



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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 4:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Apps, Big Ideas, East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

August 29, 2011

Hacking email, government: a conversation with Dave Troy


I recently sat down for an interview with Dave Troy -- CEO of 410Labs and longtime Baltimore-area entrepreneur -- over Skype. You'll see a tightly edited portion of that interview in the above video.

A more in-depth representation of the interview can be found at this link.

Troy is not your ordinary computer geek. He's a bit of a Renaissance man, in fact. His interests vary from computer programming to the environment to politics. At the intersection of many of his interests is his belief in the power of technology and the Internet to improve society, and specifically, the functioning of government, for the people, by the people.

I've thought some about how technology impacts government, and I've taken to heart one of the central points of Evgeny Morozov's recent book, "The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom." Morozov gives examples of how the Internet was used in other countries, not only by government critics and revolutionaries, but by the established government power structure to further monitor and repress people.

This is the larger debate we face as a society. Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus are all wonderful tools for connecting people. But there are also powerful interests -- governments, corporations, etc. -- that are increasingly handling their dealings with individuals with more sophistication.

Case in point: Techdirt today reports on a DOJ report obtained by security blogger Chris Soghoian that showed requests for warrantless "emergency" ISP requests quadrupled in 2009.

And in other news: The Obama Administration refused to release the Bush Administration's legal rationale for allegedly illegal wiretapping of Americans.

So yes, the power of the Internet cuts both ways for us, at the same time enabling and hindering our freedoms in the hands of different players.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:11 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Big Ideas, East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Geeks, Startups

August 9, 2011

Baltimoreans can rent out their parking spots thru Parking Panda

parking-panda-image.gifHey Baltimore: Here's your chance to make a buck off your own parking spot.

Parking Panda, a Baltimore web startup, recently went live with its website -- -- which can also be accessed by mobile phone browsers.

Parking Panda is kinda like the Airbnb (a site that lets people pay for or rent out homes and apartments for travelers) of parking.

People who are looking to make a little extra money off their unused or lightly used parking spot can list it for rent on the site. And people who are looking to park in city neighborhoods -- perhaps during big events such as baseball or football games, or the upcoming Grand Prix -- can turn to it to find a spot they can rent with their smartphone.

The site is the work of Nick Miller and Adam Zilberbaum, two young guys from Baltimore who won a startup competition in the city in the spring. They are currently working on their startup in New York City, at the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, but they plan on returning to Baltimore to jump-start their business.

[I wrote a story about Parking Panda and the trend of business accelerators recently.]

And they're hoping the Grand Prix, over Labor Day weekend, will generate demand for their app as people struggle to find parking downtown.

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August 8, 2011

Baltimore-based Localist scores 8 university contracts, a Baltimore-based startup that's developed a social calendar platform, announced today that it had scored deals with eight universities which will use its platform for connecting students with events.

Here are the universities:

* DePaul University - Chicago, Ill.
* Emmanuel College - Boston, Mass.
* Georgetown University - Washington D.C.
* Towson University - Towson, Md.
* University of Delaware - Newark, Del.
* University of Rhode Island - Kingston, RI..
* Virginia Military Institute - Lexington, Va.
* Williams College - Williamstown, Mass.

In addition to these eight, is also using Localist's platform. Eleven other universities are currently using the Localist platform.

This is more good news for Localist, whose founders used to operate it as a consumer-facing Website, but switched gears last year to sell it as a white-label product to universities and other organizations. They're now serving 105,000+ students.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

June 30, 2011

Shortmail: A Baltimore-grown email service

Shortmail.jpgThere's a new email service on the block as of today, and it's called Shortmail. But do we need another email program? you ask.

Well, if you're overwhelmed with spam, tired of long-winded dissertation-type emails, and suffering from inbox overload, maybe you do.

Shortmail, created by 410Labs, is the latest offering in the nascent trend of short email services. It's somewhere between traditional email and Twitter. Whereas Twitter has a 140 character limit on messages, Shortmail has a 500 character limit. It integrates nicely with Twitter, too.

For instance, my Twitter account is @gussent, and my Shortmail address is automagically

You can merge your Gmail and Twitter contacts into your Shortmail contacts.

But I think one of the most useful features of Shortmail is that you can keep a message private, or make it public, via your own Shortmail personal page (i.e. This can definitely come in handy, especially in my job as a journalist.

The folks behind 410Labs include Dave Troy, an entrepreneur and vocal advocate for Baltimore's tech scene, and Matthew Koll, a veteran entrepreneur.

The company also makes other other social communication products, including, which helps you get answers to questions in a social-y, Twitter-y way, and Mailstrom, an inbox analytics tool that aims to be the of your email life.

For more details on Shortmail's launch, which happened officially in San Francisco this week, check the news release here.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:29 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Apps, Big Ideas, East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

June 27, 2011

Bam! A Glen Burnie tech company just raised $35M

It's not everyday -- or every week -- that a Maryland company can boast that it raised $35 million from investors. Honestly, I can't say I see that kind of private money tossed at a company much at all here in the Free State, as someone who follows this kind of stuff. (Oh, but how I wish it were more frequent....)

But today at least, Glen Burnie-based Novasom Inc. can be the braggart. For people who suffer from sleep problems, such as sleep apnea, Novasom has a gadget for you.

The company has a device on the market that measures and diagnoses sleep apnea in a suffering sleeper. These devices are not sold to the general public, but rather shipped to patients at their homes, and covered under certain insurance plans (Novasom essentially makes money from "renting" the device as a service to patients who are covered by insurance.)

The patient uses the device to take measurements when they sleep at nigh over three dayst, and then ships the device back to the company, which shares the data with your medical providers.

Here's what's cool about Novasom: this company is actually making a device, a piece of hardware, and they have a business model. They've hired a 100+ people in the last few years. And did I mention they're actually making a tangible product, and not just another Facebook competitor?

Making an actual piece of stuff doesn't guarantee success in the U.S., and software has been insanely popular lately (App Store anyone?). But economists like to see hardware getting made, especially since it can lead to demand for more and new software.

A few months ago, I was told by Roger Richardson, Novasom's vice president of operations, that the company is making a next-generation device that will enable the electronic delivery of your sleep data over a wireless telephone connection, i.e. a 3G network. No need to wait till it gets shipped back for a data download. And yes, this device has all the regulatory approvals for use.

Imagine if Novasom can get approval to do other sorts of medical-related-things with their wirelessly connected devices. There's a bigger market potential here than just sleep apnea sufferers.

So, the news today is that Novasom raised a new round of investment -- $35 million worth -- led by Safeguard Scientifics Inc., with participation from existing investors including TPG Biotechnology II Fund and Quaker BioVentures.

It plans to use the new money to "fund growth, expand its leadership position in payer and provider markets, and develop additional innovations within the company's proprietary NovaSom(R) diagnostic medical device and cloud-based MediTrack(R) Patient Management Portals."

Novasom, which used to be known as Sleep Solutions Inc., has been around since 1992 and had been based in California. The company moved to Glen Burnie in 2008 and uses a Baltimore County company, Zentech, as its contract manufacturer for its devices.

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June 13, 2011

NEA Partner: Creating a "virtuous cycle" of investment in Maryland

david-mott-NEA.jpgNew Enterprise Associates is one of the heavyweights in the world of venture capital and, lucky for me, they're right in my backyard here in Maryland.

I had a wide-ranging interview today with David M. Mott, NEA partner and former head of MedImmune, the biopharma success story based in Montgomery County, Md.

Mott and NEA invest billions far afield from Maryland, hunting for promising companies across the country and around the world. Lately, he and NEA have been doing deals in India and China, getting involved in services and infrastructure business in those developing countries, such as outpatient treatment centers for oncology and diabetes, Mott said.

Back home in the U.S., Mott observed that Maryland needs more big company success stories such as MedImmune and Human Genome Sciences, where top management and entrepreneurial thinkers from such organizations spin out and start their own businesses.

We've seen some of this effect in Baltimore with the success of, and the spinoff of talent that have led to some new businesses, most notably Millennial Media.

In Montgomery County, this type of "virtuous cycle" has started taking root, according to Mott. Baltimore, not so much -- yet. But Mott touched upon something that I tangentially covered, coincidentally, in my latest story this weekend about startups and business accelerators.You need  entrepreneurs and trained leadership talent -- those who have the "social capital" to convince weary investors of investing in them --  to roll up their sleeves and embark on new startup projects.

What Mott and others at NEA look at when they invest are the quality of management teams. They like to cultivate entrepreneurs and even new technologies, according to Mott.

What may not be as well known is that NEA funds its own virtual incubators, where talented brains work on new medical devices in-house at NEA, leading sometimes to funding and new companies.

"Over half of our investments are internally generated by entrepreneurs in conceptual virtual incubators," Mott said. "We back them to come up with ideas."

NEA has had six medical device companies spin out into their own businesses in the last few years, Mott said. NEA also has launched a seed fund to make investments ranging from $50,000 to $500,000, according to VentureWire.

Mott couldn't talk publicly about the seed fund, but it looks like the kind of move that NEA is making to compete in the angel and "super-angel" end of the investment pool, where there's a lot of activity at the moment.

Startups are also going from conception to high-flying much more quickly, so NEA and other VCs apparently see some necessity in interacting with some of these young companies just as they're forming.

Wait too long as a VC and suddenly, before you know it, startup valuations are through the roof.

I asked Mott the cheap nickel-and-dime question that every tech journalist is asking today: are we in the midst of another tech bubble?

He said he mostly didn't think so. Valuations are wild in a few specific niches, such as social media, but others, such as biopharma and healthcare (his specialty area), are fairly normal, he said.

"These businesses, unlike back in 1999, have some significant revenues," Mott said. "They're becoming big businesses in very short periods of time...and with relatively little capital in a very short period of time, you can build a deep business."

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June 7, 2011

Groupon in Baltimore: hot and cold experiences?

My Baltimore Sun colleague -- and cubicle neighbor -- Jay Hancock has an interesting column that takes a look at Groupon from the local perspective. What are some restaurants' experiences with the social deal website?

He talked to a bunch of restaurants and got their experiences with it, good and bad. It's an interesting topic that's come to the fore again, as Groupon last week filed to go public in an IPO in the future. The company is pulling in tons of revenue, but is not profitable. (Some in the tech world are even calling the company "Grouponzi." Ouch.)

I'm wondering what the perspective on Groupon is from consumers in Baltimore? Do you find yourself buying -- and actually using -- Groupons? Are you happy with the service you receive at places where you redeem a Groupon?

Shoot me a tweet via Twitter at @gussent.

(Sorry...Our comments are temporarily disabled due to spam.)

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:14 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Social Media, Startups

May 26, 2011

Moodlerooms Inc., a Baltimore startup, raising $1.5 million


Moodlerooms Inc., a company that got its start in Baltimore's Emerging Technology Center incubator, disclosed with the SEC today that it is raising a $1.5 million round of investment in the form of debt and unsecured promissory notes that will turn into equity.

Moodlerooms is a company, based in South Baltimore/Federal Hill, that is using the open-source online education platform Moodle and offering add-on services and support to its institutional clients, which range from public schools to colleges and universities. Moodlerooms is competing against such heavy hitters as Blackboard and K12 Inc.

And yes -- I've written about them before.

So far, Moodlerooms has raised $425,000 of the planned $1.5 million.

This is the third time the company has sought to raise money. Last year, the company -- on two separate occasions -- raised $750,000 and $7.1 million. The money has fueled its expansion and growth -- the company moved its headquarters from the ETC offices on E. 33rd Street down to South Baltimore, and it hired more people.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 4:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

May 19, 2011

LinkedIn IPO launches into stratosphere


Buckle in, folks! It's gonna be a wild ride from here on in.

LinkedIn Corp., the social media network for workers, went public today and its shares, which started out priced at $45, zoomed up to $90.50 in morning trading. It's currently at around $85, as of 10:40 a.m. today. That means, on paper at least, LinkedIn was valued upwards of $8.5 billion.

The Wall Street Journal story this morning noted that investors are hungry for similar IPO stories. By "similar stories," the WSJ probably means everyone is waiting to see how IPOs for Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and Zynga might do.

LinkedIn has been the under-rated, less sexy social media company, compared with those other four. But it was the first one to go IPO. I'd hate to be the last of those companies doing an IPO. Who'll have money to invest at that point?

Seriously though, I have to wonder if how well LinkedIn performs in the next couple of quarters will either whet investors' appetites for more social media companies on Wall Street, or turn them off on such company stocks. It's not a given that a big first day in the stock market for LinkedIn presages successful IPOs for Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and Zynga. LinkedIn, for one, has a lot of work to do for those investors who bought in between $45 and $90 today.

As Michael Moe, chief investment officer of GSV Capital Management in Woodside, California, told Bloomberg News yesterday: “The valuation for LinkedIn is rich. To earn the valuation, it has to continue to grow very, very fast.”

A lot can happen in the next couple of quarters. Internet competitors and the speed in which the market changes is faster than the speed at which Wall Street bankers operate. If LinkedIn knocks it out of the park the next couple quarters, that bodes well for its peers. If not, well, maybe we'll see more IPOs. Or maybe instead we'll see some acquisitions and mergers.

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April 22, 2011

Mobile apps, mobile work, mobile life: the rise of digital nomads

There are tons of success stories of developers who've built killer smartphone apps into thriving little businesses. But I'd bet there are fewer stories out there like the story of Jen Harvey and Steven Hugg.

This couple helped me kick off the beginning of my story about the rise of digital nomads, or people who increasingly work and live wherever they choose, thanks to mobile connectivity and the Internet. Harvey and Hugg run Voxilate, a company whose had great success with an iPhone/Android app called HeyTell.

Harvey and Hugg ditched their Bethesda lives early last year and went completely mobile, living in short-term rentals and traveling the country whenever they felt the urge to visit a place or visit with friends and family. And they've managed the sharp growth of their successful app (5+ million downloads) and their business while on the road. They're currently in San Diego.

I spoke with other traveler/workers, too, including Heather Van De Mark, a designer with Groove Commerce in Baltimore. She started traveling in August, and works on website designs for Groove from wherever she chooses to open up her laptop.

I also spoke with Cherie Ve Ard and Chris Dunphy, two very experienced digital nomads -- or technomads, by their term -- who've been working in software and traveling the U.S. for the past four years.

It's becoming more viable to do this kind of work/travel arrangement, thanks to advances in Internet and mobile communications. But do you have the boss -- or the business -- that will enable you to do it? What's more: is constant travel really appealing to you?

Below: Heather Van De Mark in Chapel Hill recently, where she is house-sitting.


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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Smartphones, Startups

April 19, 2011

410Labs: Baltimore startup attracting outside investors

We've seen Dave Troy roll up his sleeves and help coordinate and promote Baltimore's tech scene over the last couple years, helping pull off such events as TedXMidAtlantic and BarCamp Baltimore.

He's also dabbled in politics lately, with a public endorsement of Otis Rolley, who's running for mayor in Baltimore.

But the local entrepreneur, who founded and sold ToadNet, an ISP, is coming on strong this year with a new startup venture. It's called 410Labs. The company is all about building nimble communication tools that make managing your flow of digital information better, whether its with Twitter or email.

A new tool that Troy and his colleagues demo'ed at the Baltimore Startup Weekend event is called Mailstrom, which helps people analyze and manage their email inboxes.

Last week, Troy tweeted that his company was receiving some investments to keep doing its thing. So far, 410Labs is about halfway through a $500,000-plus angel round of investing. And its attracted investors from San Francisco, Baltimore, Washington DC and possibly even New York.

Here's a short Q&A I did with Dave recently:

Q) Who are the principals in 410Labs?

A) David Troy, CEO; Matt Koll, Chairman (sold two companies to AOL). We also have two full-time developers and one part-time employee who have a stake in the company.

Q) What do you build?

A) We're building products that add value to people's lives using technology. So that's pretty broad. Our first product, Replyz, helps people find answers to questions. Our second product, Shortmail, is experimenting with innovations in email, which hasn't seen much innovation in a very long time. We anticipate having about four products in our portfolio by the end of the year.

Q) Why take investment?

A) We're not taking much, and the investments are strategic in nature. We want to build support within our industry, both in San Francisco and here in Baltimore. So it's really more about relationships, but this will also allow us to hire people and move faster than we have been. We also appreciate the vote of confidence and insights that we gain by working with outside investors.

Q) How much currently raised and how much targeted?

A) We are raising $500-$600K in this current round and are about half done. As I said, the investments we have secured so far are firmly in the "Angel" category.

Q) Who are your investors? (Is it Twitter and Living Social, per se, or individual executives from those companies?)

A) I can't speak to it in full before we close the round, but individuals at both Twitter and Living Social have committed to angel investments in the company. It's going to be a nice mix of people in San Francisco, Baltimore, Washington DC, and probably New York.

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

April 18, 2011

Baltimore's Startup Weekend -- the winners!

So this weekend, I ran a few errands: I went to the bank, dropped off recycling, cleaned my house, worked, and tried to pay some fatherly attention to my kid.

Sounds like a typical weekend for a lot of folks, right? Well, not for the uber-ambitious people who spent 2 1/2 days of their lives breathing, eating and sleeping the Baltimore Startup Weekend experience. That's some of them below.


I wrote a story about the event for entrepreneurs and techies here. But it didn't quite do it justice. There were a TON of great ideas there, and super-motivated people who made a lot happen in a weekend. I saw prototypes, alpha versions, beta versions, and almost-ready-for-primetime versions.

In the 2+ years I've been covering these types of events in the Baltimore area, I have to say that, in my outsider's view, this was perhaps the strongest one, in terms of raw idea power and get-up-and-just-do-it initiative.

Baltimore's tech scene indeed has come a long way.

It helped that about half of the crowd seemed to be coming from out of state. This is, net-net, not a bad thing. We want outsiders being attracted to Baltimore. Let them move here. Let them connect with talented folks here. And hopefully, let them find some office space to call home here for their business. It is a good thing when Baltimore is seen as a place that's friendly to the shiny brightness of risk-taking entrepreneurs.

That said, Startup Weekend was a competition and there were winners. Here they are:

* 3rd place: @Dapprly, an app that enables people to crowdsource opinions of their outfits before they go out on the town, and @talkchalkco, a powerful Facebook app that enables teachers and students to do their work on the social networking site.

* 2nd place: @ispylocal, AKA Localize, AKA Proportunities, which enables owners of vacant buildings to essentially poll the neighborhood for ideas on what businesses should move in to the empty space, via text messages.

* 1st place: @Parking_Panda, an app that enables people who own driveways to rent them out, to make a little extra cash and help alleviate parking problems in the city.

If anybody puts together a list of all the ideas and pitches that came out of Baltimore's Startup Weekend, please let me know and I'll re-post here.

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April 15, 2011

Lessons learned? Twitter's original angel investors who sold out early

oops-image.jpgThe Business Insider published a really interesting look at how a bunch of original Twitter investors feel about cashing out of the hot social media startup at its really early stages.

They sold out for $5 million five years ago, and now Twitter has reportedly received valuations of up to $10 billion. Yikes!

Here's the link:

As you might expect, some of the investors have gone with the flow and seem to have accepted how life and startups work out. Others seem more bitter about missing out on a crazy growth opportunity.

Twitter is a funny beast. Unlike Facebook, which seems like everyone introduced to it early on knew it would be a huge success, Twitter seemed to skyrocket thanks to the early, passionate adoption by users, especially by journalists and civic-minded folks who started using it as a breaking news tool.

It gained momentum that completely surprised Twitter management.

So really, if you're to believe the narrative the tech press is currently spinning about Twitter, then it may be safe to say that Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey are not only smart, they're also pretty darn lucky that they somehow managed to create a product that really resonates with people.

Smart AND lucky is a great combination for startups!

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 11:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups, West Coast

April 12, 2011

Maryland motion-control tech company raises $5.5 million

Loop-pointer.jpgHillcrest Labs brought us the Loop -- a circular device that you hold and use to control your PC while it's hooked up to your TV. That's it on the left.

Now the Rockville, Md.,-based company has just raised a good chunk of money, presumably to expand and bring more cool gadgets to market.

According to a Securities and Exchange filing today, the privately held company has raised $5.5 million in an equity round of investment.

The firm touts itself as creating the world's first motion-controller for television, the world's first complete Web browser for television, and the world's first cursor-controlled apps for television (huh? who really wants a cursor controlled app on their TV? I'm confused). Anyhow....

Hillcrest made headlines three years ago when it filed a patent infringement suit against Nintendo, for its Wii controller. The company has had millions in investment pumped into it from major venture capital players, including NEA and Grotech, both local-regional firms.

Hillcrest has partnered with LG Electronics and Logitech on products, among others, to develop cool new tech.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:52 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

March 31, 2011

TidalTV, Baltimore video ad startup, raises $30 million

john-ferber.jpgBig news in Baltimore startup land today:

TidalTV, founded by Scott Ferber (left), who co-founded in 1998, announced that it raised $30 million in new financing from investors -- an amount that nearly doubles the $16 million the company raised in 2009.

The investment round was led by New Enterprise Associates, with involvement from existing investors Comcast Interactive Capital and Valhalla Partners.

TidalTV said in a statement today that it plans to use the increased funding to "support the aggressive expansion of TidalTV’s technology into new global markets throughout 2011 and the deployment of its proprietary ad decisioning solutions into new multi-screen applications for advertisers, media agencies and publishers."

TidalTV's technology helps serve targeted advertising to mobile and online video watchers.

The company cited industry estimates from eMarketer, which showed eMarketer estimates that "by 2015, 76% of internet users, or 195.5 million people will be watching online video each month. In the same period, it predicts online video advertising spending will surge from $1.97 billion to $5.71 billion."

The technology that underpins TidalTV appears to be heavily guided by mathematics and science -- a quantitative approach that Scott Ferber, and his brother John, brought to, which is now owned by AOL.

The Ferber brothers sold to AOL in 2004 for nearly a half billion dollars.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:54 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Startups

March 16, 2011

Baltimore parking tickets no more!

I love the smell of irony in the morning.

As part of its Open Data initiative, Baltimore city releases a trove of public data, including parking citation, speed camera and red light ticket data. And the first app to go public by developers is one that helps citizens dodge those very same tickets.

I'm talking about Yesterday, I wrote about this site and its creators, two Baltimore geeks named Shea Frederick (left) and James Schaffer (right).


Frederick and Schaffer meet each other a couple months ago through mutual acquaintances. Both were intrigued by the parking data that the city had released for different reasons. Frederick, who says he's never gotten a parking ticket in Baltimore, saw it as a rich data set for mining cool information, while Schaffer was just tired of getting parking tickets and wanted to figure out a way to beat the meter maids.

So they paired up to create, and they are building mobile apps, too. They're using data from the Baltimore's Open Data project.

Frederick and Schaffer caution that the app isn't perfect and can't predict whether you'll get a ticket or not, but it can offer you a sense of what's happened in the past on the block where you choose to park. Take that information for what it's worth.

Anybody else building cool apps with Baltimore city data?

By the way, Shea shared some interesting statistics from the parking citation data he's been crunching. For 2011, Shea found:

- The bulk of citations are given to MD residents, with PA and VA rounding out the top three.

- 17% of citations are given to repeat offenders.

- The most ticketed vehicle in 2011 already has 6 citations, totaling $1512 in fines.

- Speed cameras citations generate twice as many fines as expired parking meter citations.

- Ford vehicles are given 35% less citations than luxury car makers like Lexus, BMW and Mercedes.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Apps, Startups

March 14, 2011

Watch the Royal Wedding at work without getting busted

Oculis Labs, a Baltimore-area startup, came up with a quirky -- and fun -- way to show consumers how to use their main product. The software is called Private Eye and it uses your computer's web cam to "catch" when others are looking at your screen.

So, for instance, if you want to watch the upcoming Royal Wedding at work, you can do so with assurance that your co-worker or boss won't be able to sneak up on you.

For more coverage of Oculis Labs on BaltTech, hit this link.

Update: Apparently the people at Oculis Labs have been busy making online commercials. Here's another one:

Update No. 2: Oh, but wait...There are two more Private Eye commercials!

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Startups

March 8, 2011

Baltimore becoming a "Startup City"


Many places, such as Baltimore, have the elements of a successful startup scene in place, but they may be missing a spark that create a chain reaction of invention, investment, financial success, and cyclical growth. Programs that jumpstart technology entrepreneurs with small infusions of cash and lots of mentoring have been sprouting up in places around the country the last few years.

Now, Baltimore is getting a program of its own.

Leading the development of the Startup City are two Baltimore tech scene raconteurs: Mike Subelsky, co-founder of Ignite Baltimore, and Monica Beeman, regional director of FundingUniverse Maryland.

So what's Baltimore's Startup City plan about? There's a background and details document here. In its own words:

Startup City will help create those initial successes via a twelve-week program for ten companies that offers each company:

* $15,000 in seed capital
* Weekly master classes with experienced entrepreneurs
* Regular access to mentors
* Introductions to potential customers and follow-on investors
* Free, beautiful office space collocated with the other participating companies
* Legal, accounting, marketing, and technical assistance from Baltimore’s Emerging Technology Center
* Vigorous coverage of their stories in our blog via video and written profiles
* Exposure to investors, journalists, and business leaders at a Demo Day occurring at the end of the 12 weeks

The founders of each company are required to reside in Baltimore between 7/1/11 and 9/30/11. After that they are free to go where they want, but we hope they will have such a good experience that they will decide to stay in the city.

Each Startup City investor will contribute $16K to the fund in exchange for equity in the portfolio (about 5-10% of each company). 15K of the funds go to the companies and 1K is used for administrative costs such as leasing office space.

Investors are invited to attend all Startup City master classes and events, and we'd like to be able to call upon them for advice if any particular company in the portfolio gets stuck on something.

Budget permitting, we plan to arrange a second demo day in New York City to give the Startup City companies exposure to their robust investment community and startup sector.

Want to read more about Startup City? Bmore Media has an article, too.

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March 3, 2011

Greplin: personalizing search for your online world


An Israeli teenager, Daniel Gross, is behind one of the more interesting entrants in the search engine field in recent times. He and co-founder Robby Walker launched Greplin last month in California's Bay Area, and have quickly raised around $5 million in investment capital.

The site allows you to plug in your various social networks -- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn -- and Google's Gmail, Google Docs, Calendar, plus your info from DropBox and Yammer. Greplin indexes all the information in your various networks and makes them all searchable. You can search for people, or events, or streams, or files. (It would be great if it connected with Yahoo and Flickr, too.)

With all of us now storing more information in the cloud -- from interactions with friends and coworkers to photos, events and documents -- it makes you wonder why a search service that helps you find needles in your social haystacks didn't come along sooner.

Greplin's startup story has been written up in:

* Inc.


* Wall Street Journal

* Huffington Post

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, Startups

January 25, 2011

Former MedStar CEO pushing a startup, JournalDoc

Fresh off the presses at the Securities and Exchange Commission comes a disclosure about a new Chevy Chase firm called JournalDoc. Inc. I have no idea what JournalDoc is all about (if you can find any trace of it on the Internet, please help a reporter out), but UPDATE: JournalDoc, apparently, is a part of Nelson Information Systems Inc. in Chevy Chase, and is a "a customized medical-information database for doctors," according to a local site. (Thanks to "Allison," a reader who sent me the Patch link.)

I noticed that one of the people involved in the company is John P. McDaniel, the former CEO of MedStar Health, based in Columbia. McDaniel is listed as a "promoter," or founder, of JournalDoc. McDaniel, who stepped down as MedStar CEO in 2008, had at one point been considered to lead the University of Maryland Medical System.

He is currently chair of Washington Real Estate Investment Trust. He was also a past board member of 1st Mariner Bancorp, Ed Hale's bank in Baltimore.

JournalDoc filed a notice declaring that it intends to raise $1.5 million in equity funding. Others listed in the JournalDoc filing including John M. Nelson, of Chevy Chase; James Nelson, of Old Greenwich, Conn.; and Peter Seaver, of Kalamazoo, Mich. Bloomberg BusinessWeek lists a man named Peter Seaver in Kalamazoo as someone who is a founder of a consulting/investment firm called the Apjohn Group LLC.

[To see the full SEC Form D disclosure, hit the jump page...]

Continue reading "Former MedStar CEO pushing a startup, JournalDoc" »

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 12:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Startups

January 24, 2011

Twitter advertising to triple in 2011

Attention Maryland marketers and advertisers:

Heard the news? Twitter supposedly is going to attract roughly triple the advertising revenue this year, at $150 million -- compared to $45 million last year. An article in eMarketer had some numbers, including a forecast that Twitter will grow through 2012 to encompass $250 million in ad revenues.

What I want to know from Maryland companies is: Are you going to advertise through Twitter this year?

Twitter's seems to be rolling with its "promoted tweets" feature, but it's unclear -- to me, at least -- how effective its product is for advertisers.

Twitter is no where near the size of Facebook in terms of ad revenue, but eMarketer forecasts that Twitter could become bigger than MySpace in coming years. I guess that's not saying much, though.

So will Twitter become a more robust platform for advertisers and marketers? And if it does, will the increased presence of ads just annoy users who want less "noise" in their Twitter experience?

Part of the monetization challenge for Twitter is that corporate America generally does find it to be a useful communication tool for engaging customers and protecting their "brands," but how can Twitter make money off such a usage pattern?

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:39 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, Social Media, Startups

O'Malley's plan to jump-start venture capital in Maryland


It's not every year we get to see a big plan for small start-ups in Maryland. But that's what Gov. Martin O'Malley will be unveiling today, with his "InvestMaryland" proposal. It's a $100 million infusion over the next five years of state tax revenues into small Maryland-based, technology-based startups. It's not a total giveaway of revenue; rather, the state will be taking stakes in dozens of small companies over the next several years, and then hopefully, watching their investment grow as these companies grow and raise more money, merge, get acquired or go public with an IPO.

I took a close look at the plan in this article over the weekend. Below are the opening paragraphs:

Hoping to spur jobs, innovation and economic growth, Gov. Martin O'Malley wants to tap tax revenue to invest $100 million in fledgling technology, life sciences and other companies across the state.

O'Malley, a Democrat, plans to unveil details of the "Invest Maryland" program Monday as a centerpiece of his economic agenda in this year's General Assembly session. The state would invest in small businesses and start-up companies — partially through the dormant Maryland Venture Fund — and would reap both the risks and rewards.

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January 13, 2011

10-20 Media raises $800K to continue home and garden data venture

10-20 Media, a Howard County firm, this week raised $800,000 in debt financing, which it will apparently be pouring into its business as a "home and garden marketplace data aggregator," according to an SEC filing this week.

The company has an iPhone app called GardenPilot, which puts 14,000 choices of flora from multiple retailers into the hands of consumers. It also builds online tools that helps retailers show off their offerings on their websites.

The $800,000 round is the latest of multiple investments in 10-20 Media over the past two years. The company has raised a combined $1 million in debt through three previous filings.

By the way, the term 10-20 is a trucker/CB radio term signifying your location.

Below is a snapshot of the Garden Pilot app.


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November 15, 2010

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.


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.


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.


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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.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:33 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Startups

November 9, 2010

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.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:38 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: *NEWS*, East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

October 13, 2010

CashFlow: some startups that raised cash

dollar-sign.jpgHere's the latest edition of CashFlow, my weekly spotlight on some technology companies across the country that raised money for their ventures:

* This Waltham, Mass.-based company raised $20 million, in a funding round led by New Enterprise Associates. provides an online site for people to find caregivers for children, adults, seniors and pets.

* Microstaq: This Austin, Tex.-based company raised $10.2 million and is seeking to raise another $8.4 million. It makes electronic fluid control technology that "reduces energy consumption in air conditioning systems by up to 25 percent."

* Philo Media Corp.: This New York City-based firm raised $1 million. It's a website that allows TV watchers to tap into their social networks and share and talk about what they're watching. Like Foursquare, you get "rewarded" for your participation on the site.

* Glowpoint Inc.: This Hillside, NJ company raised $1 million. The company offers telepresence and video conferencing services for businesses looking to save money on meetings and travel.

* Quick Hit Inc.: This Foxborough, Mass.-based company raised $2.5 million. It built an online, NFL-backed football game, which integrates with social networks. (Anybody play with it?)

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Startups, Venture Cap

October 12, 2010

Baltimore startup Videntity wins $10K prize

videntity.gifA Baltimore startup named Videntity, which is based in Canton, won a $10,000 prize last week in connection with a software developer challenge in San Diego.

Videntity, which is run by Alan C. Viars, won the prize from the West Wireless Health Institute, a nonprofit medical research organization that's promoting the application of wireless technology in health care. [Full press release]

For the contest, Viars' company integrated consumer devices that generate real-time health data, such as a Wii balance board, with a social network (Facebook). In short, Viars created a demo where you can step on a Wii and it uploads your weight to the Internet.

And he also made a Facebook app for walkers to share their pedometer data with their Facebook friends. Viars, a computer scientist, has developed an open-source framework that enables medical devices and communication devices to communicate with each other. (I.e. a blood pressure monitor that can text message your reading? Viars has figured out how to do that.)

The implications of making this technology possible are vast. People -- and companies and even our government -- could start to use this new technology in social gaming tied to their health, nutrition and dieting efforts.

Viars is also taking advantage of an effort in health care information systems to give people and patients more access and control over their own health data.

From a health care and healthy living perspective, "the government and managed care providers are very interested in behavior change from a cost saving perspective," Viars told me.

The good news about Viars' work so far is that it's all open source, meaning that other software developers can take his programs and start to build their own applications with it.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

August 24, 2010

Batter up: "pitching" at Maryland TechCrawl East

In a Major League Baseball town such as Baltimore, perhaps it is no surprise that a budding technology event has been built around a batting analogy.

The “pitchers” at the Maryland TechCrawl East on Sept. 16 will be startup entrepreneurs. They’ll be pitching their business plans to each “batter” — skeptical investors, journalists or technophiles — who step up to the “home plate” at each company’s booth to hear the 60-second presentations.

The event, in its second year, now has its sights set beyond Baltimore. The last TechCrawl event was held in December and attracted 20 pitching companies, 20 investors and 200 guests. This year, the event’s founders want to attract startups from all over the East Coast. (Follow their Twitter here.)

Already, startups from New York, West Virginia, New Jersey and Philadelphia have applied to give pitches. Organizers are hoping to attract 50 companies to present.

“The primary goal is to strengthen technology companies,” said Heather Sarkissian, co-founder of the TechCrawl and chief executive of Baltimore-based “It’s not just about getting investment; it’s about forging relationships.”

Startup companies are often lacking for cash, connections and a polished pitch and product.

Sarkissian said that entrepreneurs can come away from the TechCrawl with potential improvements in all four areas. They could meet new investors, network with peer companies, refine their presentation skills and get early feedback on products.

“This is about getting everybody in one room for one night and establishing relationships,” Sarkissian said.

The Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore, a booster for the region, is a new event sponsor. Tom Sadowski, the organization’s president, said the group is trying to get more involved with entrepreneurs and startups in technology.

“We need to connect all the dots, from the biggest companies down to the startups,” Sadowski said. “There’s a lot of opportunity for new tech development.”

This year’s TechCrawl will take place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Morgan Stanley building in Fells Point, in the 900 block Thames St.

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July 22, 2010

Right Side Capital: Making seed stage startup funding more efficient

rscm-logo.png The guys behind Right Side Capital Management believe the early seed stage of funding for technology startup companies is very inefficient.

Kevin Dick and David Lambert, two of the three founders of Right Side of San Francisco, were in Baltimore today to pitch their investment fund to some of the city's most eager startup entrepreneurs at the Emerging Technologies Center in Canton.

They're traveling all over the country with their pitch, talking to both startups and larger investors and technology companies who are excited about getting access to a pipeline of new little companies that they could perhaps invest in.

Here's what I gathered is Right Side's vision and strategy:

1) Any tech startup can apply to their group for funding.

2) Each company investment will be in the $50,000 to $1 million range, with the median around $250,000.

3) They'll give the entrepreneur a decision (yay or nay) in two weeks -- so no waiting for months on end for an answer.

4) They'll value your company and you'll get notice of their investment, which is pretty much non-negotiable.

5) They'll standardize all the legal stuff, to drive down deal costs by about 70 percent -- which means more money in the startup's pocket.

6) They'll like to see a good, competent team with at least some solid operational experience.

7) They'll take a preferred equity position in your company, usually no more than 30 percent, but won't sit on your board.

8) Oh, and they want to invest in 100 to 150 startups a year, which is ambitious. But for their investment model to work, they have to go for that scale.

Basically, the reality for most early startups is that they are little more than an idea on paper, or perhaps a little more.

Such individuals and companies are looking for an infusion of capital to hire a couple of people and get to work on an early version of their product.

Another reality, on the investment side, is that angel investors and venture capital firms may only do a handful of deals a year.

But Right Side is looking to do more with more -- the more they diversify their investments, the greater the chance they'll get decent returns for their investors when the company you started sells for a couple million a few years from now.

Yet, Dick and Lambert expect 50 percent of their investments to be duds. It's the other 50 percent that they hope to make a killing on.

What do you think? If you're an entpreneur with an idea for a new business, what more information would you want to know about Right Side?

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:57 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

July 20, 2010

Tech firms' mergers signal potential growth

Check out Gus' story in today's Sun on recent mergers and acquisitions in the Baltimore tech scene.

Two technology firms in the Baltimore area merged with out-of-state competitors last week, part of a trend that analysts hope will mean more deals after corporate financing had been crimped by the recession.

In one of the deals, eMagination, among the largest and oldest Internet development companies in the city, was acquired by a Massachusetts company for $4.3 million. And Owings Mills-based AirVersent Inc., a company that makes supply chain software, merged with a Pennsylvania company but didn’t release financial details of the deal.

The acquisitions came on the heels of other Maryland technology companies turning to Wall Street to raise money through initial public offerings.

While no one is predicting a return to headier days, industry analysts are forecasting an uptick in technology deals. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicted earlier this year that mergers and acquisitions in the tech sector would increase compared to last year.

More technology companies also are expected to turn to IPOs this year, meaning that investors in early stage companies stand a chance of recouping their investment and potentially funneling more money into new projects, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“I’m definitely seeing an improvement in activity,” said Rick Kohr, chief executive of Evergreen Capital LLC, a corporate finance advisory firm in Columbia. “But everybody is more methodical than they might have been in 2007 or 2006.”

As companies merge and are acquired, investors can free up investment capital and use it to fund new companies, said Matthew Gorra, a law partner in DLA Piper’s corporate and securities group. And news of just a few deals can trigger a herd mentality and a deal spree.

Companies start to look at mergers and acquisitions as a necessity to keep pace with their competition, he said. Other companies may see the economy improving and want to jump at the chance to acquire a complementary company as an opportunity for quick growth.

“There were a lot of people trying to wait it out last year,” Gorra said. “This year, people are more willing to make investments.”

With credit markets still relatively tight, small and young companies are struggling to finance their growth and might have investors who are looking for a return on their investment — thus the pressure to merge or be acquired, industry observers said.

On the IPO front, SafeNet Inc. of Belcamp, which specializes in cybersecurity, recently disclosed plans for a stock sale and hopes to raise $300 million. Bridgeline Digital Inc. of Woburn, Mass., bought eMagination last week. eMagination builds websites and electronic commerce programs for commercial and government customers and reported sales of $5.4 million over the past year. Bridgeline promoted the deal as a way to expand its client base into the government sector.

Airclic Inc. of Trevose, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia, merged with AirVersent Inc. of Owings Mills in a deal that creates a profitable company with revenue of $22 million a year, executives said.

Rick Pontin, Airclic’s chief executive, said the two private companies, both of which specialize in software that helps firms manage mobile workforces, didn’t overlap in terms of customers and they were starting to see more demand for their services.

“There are a lot of mergers and acquisitions when markets are about to come back,” Pontin said. “People are thinking about how they can grow the business.”


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Posted by Liz Hacken at 12:24 PM | | Comments (0)

June 17, 2010

Hacking Apple iPad for the car

Local car-computing gurus featured on their blog this week a cool video showing how an iPad was modified to work in a car. Pretty sweet! But please, folks -- don't take your eyes of the road.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: For The Road, Gadgets, Geeks, Startups

June 16, 2010

CrowdPitch today in Towson -- and the winner is....

fist.jpgDrat!!! <clenches fist>

Somehow, the second CrowdPitch event of the year didn't make it onto my calendar -- it was today at Towson University.

I really want to see one of these events in action. They're hosted by FundingUniverse and they're meant to give really, really new startups a chance to raise some money and obtain access to business services. Here's the link to the Baltimore chapter.

From the Website:

This event will bring entrepreneurs, innovators, mentors, support providers, and investors together in an informal and energetic setting. Think ´American Idol´ — selected entrepreneurs will have 4 minutes to pitch their company to both a panel of experts & a live audience, followed immediately by a 3-minute Q&A session with the panel.
I followed some of the action belatedly on Twitter, after @nadenlean (Andy Rose) brought it to my attention.

Rose and others were avid Twitter broadcasters of the event -- take a look here. I'm still trying to figure out who won the event. Anybody who was there want to give a brief rundown in the comments?


UPDATE: Andrew Rose (@nadenlean) reports that ArtiNNet Corp. of Vienna, Va. won with its pitch for its mobile software that uses voice recognition to protect your cell phone

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: *NEWS*, Events (Baltimore area), Startups

Maryland's top startups honored

The 10th annual Maryland Incubator Company of the Year awards were held last night in downtown Baltimore at the Center Club. Barbara Dreyer, CEO of Connections Academy, was the keynote speaker -- you may remember her from a Q&A I did with her a couple weeks ago.

The awards are a chance to highlight promising young startups across the state, to get them some publicity for their products or services, and to ultimately promote economic development and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Yesterday, I blogged about all the finalists for various award categories. Today, I present the winners:

* Life Science Company of the Year: CSA Medical Inc., of the Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore.

* Information Technology Company of the Year: Moodlerooms Inc., of the Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore. (I wrote about Moodlerooms recently.)

* Technology Service Company of the Year: B&D Consulting Inc., of the Technical Innovation Center in Hagerstown.

* New Incubator Company of the Year: Kempbio Inc., of the Frederical Innovative Technology Center.

* Technology Transfer Company of the Year: FlexEl LLC, of the Technology Advancement program at the University of Maryland College Park

* Homeland Security Company of the Year: Lookingglass Cyber Solutions, of the Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore.

* Graduate Company of the Year: Get Real Consulting, graduate of Shady Grove Innovation Center.

* Green Company of the Year: Clean Currents, of the Rockville Innovation Center.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: *NEWS*, Events (Baltimore area), Startups

May 24, 2010

Live video: TechCrunch Disrupt conference

TechCrunch is hosting its first annual Disrupt conference in New York City this week, and it's being made available via a live video stream. Here's a chance to watch some tech pundits and innovators go at it for a couple days, from the comfort of your computer and BaltTech. :--)

Watch live streaming video from disrupt at

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: East Coast, Startups

Connections Academy of Baltimore in the spotlight


I recently did a Q&A session with Barbara Dreyer, the CEO and co-founder of Connections Academy, a fast-growing Baltimore company specializing in K-12 online education. It's part of a growing trend of online learning that's really seeping into all levels of our society and economy. Here's the original link -- and I republished the interview below:

Virtual education firm making real-world progress
Barbara Dreyer, CEO of Connections Academy

By Gus G. Sentementes, The Baltimore Sun

May 23, 2010

Barbara Dreyer runs a virtual online education company that the longtime entrepreneur and educator hopes is making a real-world impact.

As online universities soar in popularity, Dreyer's company, Connections Academy, is one of the leaders in the field of K-12 online education and partners with public and charter schools; it also offers its own online private school. It employs about 1,000 people nationwide, with nearly 300 in the Baltimore area at its headquarters in Baltimore and at a warehouse in Elkridge.

Dreyer, 55, co-founded Connections Academy in 2001 and has guided it to steady growth. It briefly operated a pilot program in Baltimore County and now operates in 17 states, with more than 20,000 students taking online courses through its programs.

Connections Academy has grown quickly as more states explore online learning programs. The private company's annual revenue now stands at $120 million and has risen an average of 35 percent a year, according to Dreyer. The Baltimore Sun caught up with Dreyer to talk about how Connections Academy operates, what it offers parents and students, and its future in Maryland.

Question: How does your industry fight against a perception that virtual education isn't as "real" as a traditional brick-and-mortar education?

Answer: Nowadays, there's a lot more open consideration of it, but there are still people uncomfortable with that model. You remember, there were those same debates on whether you could take an online course in college. Today, there are plenty of people at very prestigious universities who are taking classes online. It can be a very powerful facilitator.

Q: So what's a typical day for a Connections Academy student who is in, say, the fifth grade?

A: A fifth-grade student is probably going to have, and should have, a parent or some other adult available to them daily. You would expect to see Mom and Dad or other relatives available, or people who do this as a cooperative.

We're going to tell you the classes and the content you have to cover, but we're going to allow you to have some flexibility. If you need to do five math periods in one week, some students may want to do them all in one day. You can't do that in traditional school. … What happens if you're a particularly bright kid? You can go ahead. In a traditional school, the child can get bored sitting there with his book closed.

You're going to work a specific amount of time, depending on the school district you're in, say 5.5 hours. We're going to fill your day with that amount of classes. But there's variability in when you start. We have families who start school at 6:30 in the morning. We do not have the kind of homework that a traditional school has. What we found for the most part is that you can get what you need done during the school day. We build in the homework through the course of the day. There's a lot of stuff in school that's built in that takes extra time, such as assemblies.

We can take that day and make it really focused on instruction. Oftentimes, your assignment will send you offline. We send you physical science supplies. You're outside, writing a journal. It's important to let people know that [their child] will be online part of the time but also offline a good part of the time.

Continue reading "Connections Academy of Baltimore in the spotlight" »

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:34 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

May 6, 2010

Bmore Fiber wins.... in Philly!

Bmore Fiber, the Baltimore grassroots group that applied with the city for the Google Fiber for Communities project in February, won a competition -- in PHILADELPHIA -- for its ideas on how it would use one gigabit of Internet connectivity.

This is a nice coup for all the volunteers behind the Bmore Fiber effort, who worked closely with city officials to file Baltimore's application to Google in March.

The Bmore Fiber team won a $1,000 "popular genius grant" in the Philly competition, which was sponsored by leaders in that city's startup community. The win means Bmore Fiber is also eligible for a $10,000 "genius grant" prize, which will be awarded later this summer.

Okay, so $1,000 -- or even $10,000 -- can't compare to Google pumping a billion dollars worth of investment in Baltimore's Internet infrasture. But for Bmore Fiber's volunteers and organizers, it's great to get some props from our neighbors in the City of Brotherly Love.

Here's a video of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake discussing Baltimore and Google Fiber:

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:14 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Big Ideas, East Coast, Geeks, Startups

April 30, 2010

Start-up story: Baltimore's Moodlerooms Inc.

This week, I learned about Moodlerooms Inc., a Baltimore start-up that's starting to fire on all cylinders. They're a company based out of the Emerging Technologies Center on E. 33rd St. in Baltimore, and they're growing like a weed. Basically, they built open-source software which enables teachers to run courses and connect with students online.

For those who like reading about start-up stories, Moodlerooms was started by three Baltimore educators more than five years ago. It brought in a professional management team (that's Martin Knott, CEO, above) and has started to gain traction in the market for online learning management systems.

I wrote about Moodlerooms in today's print edition. Check out the online version of the story here.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:50 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Startups

March 22, 2010

Get your startup on at Bootstrap Maryland

bootstrapmd-logo.jpgI learned from the Baltimore edition of StartupDigest this morning that the second annual Bootstrap Maryland conference is right around the corner.

The gathering is about expert panelists sharing their advice and experience on how startups can gain traction with limited (or no) funding. From the website:

Expect a crowd of entrepreneurs with a passion for technology and our region. Don't expect lectures. You will learn from really sharp people who will help you to launch the next big thing.
Did you go to last year's event? If so, drop a note telling us how it was. Thanks!
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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:07 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Startups

March 8, 2010

Startup story: Millennial Media

I interviewed Millennial Media's Paul Palmieri and Chris Brandenburg for a story that appeared in the Baltimore Sun's Sunday's Business & Jobs section.


Sipping a venti coffee at a Starbucks in Timonium, Chris Brandenburg, a computer engineer and caffeine junky, was ready for a new challenge – and Paul Palmieri was about to give him one.

On that day in April nearly four years ago, the men were at a crossroads in their lives: Brandenburg (pictured left) had just left and Palmieri (pictured right), a veteran wireless industry executive working for an investment fund, was hungry to make his mark with a startup.

Palmieri had several ideas, but the one he talked about most during their coffee shop meeting was an advertising network that would tap the nascent market of advertising on cellphones. Brandenburg was game. Within two weeks, he would go on to build a rudimentary computer server that could dish ads to cellphones – and showed it off to Palmieri.

“He walked me through the demo and it was just like, ‘Wow, we’ve gotta do this. We’ve gotta go hard after this,” Palmieri said.

Soon after, Millennial Media was born.

In less than four years, the Baltimore company has raced to the top of its industry. Millennial Media has raised $40 million from investors, including several million during a brutal economy, enabling it to expand and hire this year. Two of its biggest competitors were recently bought by Google and Apple for hundreds of millions of dollars each – which has driven Millennial’s own worth up, analysts say.

The company is positioned at the forefront of an industry that many say has excellent long-term growth potential. For Palmieri, launching Millennial was the culmination of a long obsession with the combination of wireless technology and marketing.

Millennial’s successful growth thus far is largely a Baltimore story. Several of the company’s top executives are refugees of, which is owned by AOL. The company’s offices are in the city’s incubator space in Canton. When technology observers talk about the next local startup company that could attract a generous buyer or unveil a lucrative public offering, Millennial is usually at the top of the list.

“They are a high-flying company and I think they have great upside potential; they have the talent, they’re building a great team,” said Steve Kozak, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, an association for local tech companies.

Kozak compared Millennial to Timonium-based Bill Me Later – “a quiet little company that nobody knew about”—that ended up getting bought by eBay in 2008 for $945 million. “I don’t know what their exit plan is, but I would not be surprised if some really good news came out of that company,” said Kozak.

What has fueled Palmieri’s vision for the company is his belief that mobile advertising is a new, largely unexplored world compared to traditional online advertising. People interact with their cellphones and smartphones when they’re on the move in unique ways, and the gadgets themselves can do things a desktop computer can’t, such as offer location-based services.

But the industry is still young and fragmented, with wide variations in technology, offerings and marketing adoption.

For years, industry prognosticators have talked about the money-making possibilities in mobile advertising. The platform itself offers various choices for marketers, such as text-message campaigns, or advertising within applications or on mobile Web sites.

But it’s only been in the last year or two – with the growing adoption of the iPhone and other high-powered smartphones – that industry analysts see mobile advertising beginning to fulfill expectations. The Interactive Advertising Bureau has projected that the mobile advertising industry will grow from $416 million in 2009 to $1.56 billion in 2013 – fractions of the many billions spent on online advertising in general.

Both men had worked at for a time, but didn't know each other well while there. Instead, they got hooked up by a mutual friend at the company after they had both left. Here's a little background on them.

(click through to read more)

Continue reading "Startup story: Millennial Media" »

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:36 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups, Wireless

December 23, 2009

The case of the "racist" HP webcam

By now, you may have seen the viral Youtube video (above) where a black man and a white woman point out the shortcomings of an HP Media Smart web cam when it came to tracking the man's face. It's a video -- titled "HP computers are racist" -- that's done with some fun, but it's darn effective in pointing out an embarassing shortcoming of the HP product in a way that quickly became a PR headache for the company.

The topic of facial-recognition tech intrigued me, so I called up Bill Anderson, head of Oculis Labs in Owings Mills, which makes Private Eye, a sophisticated face and gaze-tracking software for security uses. Bill's been working on face-recognition tech for awhile. Below are key points and quotes from my interview with him today:

* There can be settings or environments where a facial recognition system finds it very hard to understand what it's looking at, Bill said. "A very white face like mine ... will not get picked up on some backgrounds if they are a pinkish or yellowish kind of color."

* "It's a relatively hard problem to make a facial recognition packgage smart enough to find faces in arbitrary environments," Bill said.

* "There's actually less difference between human skin tones [black vs. white], as far as the camera is concerned, than meets the eye."

* Computer software can't compete with the brain in terms of facial recognition. "The human brain has a disproportionate amount of its processing power dedicated to face recognition. A huge part of the brain is hard-coded to recognize faces. It starts since birth. It instinctively locks onto faces.... You can think of it as the human brian is several orders of magnititude more capable than the best supercomputers we have on earth, in terms of recignizing faces. That's the competition."

* Software typially is only capable of a "few bag of tricks" in its capacity to find and recognize a face, Bill said.

* Typical steps in software to find faces include: The software first is designed to locate an oblong shape (the head), then it goes looking for the eyes, which are typically two darker spots in the upper part of the oblong shape. Then the software goes looking for a nose, or a mouth, or lips. Once through those steps, the software determines whether it has a candidate for a face. That's just the "first pass."

The second pass involves gauging skin tone, considering intensity and color. "There a narrow band of intensity [regardless of actual skin color] that's unique" to all human skin, he said. "It's looking at something that looks like skin," he said.

The third pass will look for motion, to determine if the image is "acting like a face," and not a static object, like a poster of a human face, Bill said. "Our software looks for motion, because a face moves."

* What Bill thinks might have gone wrong in HP's case: "My guess is that of the various parameters the software uses to determine a face, that face was probably triggering only some of those parameters. It probably found the head and eyes.... but there was something else it didn't find. Something didn't pass that threshold. I don't think it was skin tone because his skin was clearly not the same as the background behind him. It wasn't a contrast problem... Now, it could've been the color band of the skin set by the software was a little bit too low, and the software was looking for skin tone that fit within a certain color band. It could've been the way that his skin tone looked at that particular lighting

* Bill has 250 people in his beta program who help test Oculis software. "We've had issues too, where software would not recognize a face."

* There are good (software) packages out there, but there are no perfect packages out there... and there probably never will be. They're just working at an incredible computational disadvantage compared to the human brain."

* Said Bill: "Having looked at that ["HP computers are racist"] video, I think the software we're using would've found it's face. I'd love to try. I'd suspect that HP has a little bit of work to do to fix their algorithms. I'm sure they'll fix them, but it's a little bit disappointitng they didn't have it working right the first time."

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:31 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Gadgets, Geeks, Startups

December 15, 2009

Maryland TechCrawl is tomorrow. Here are the presenters...

The Maryland TechCrawl will be a show-and-tell of technology companies in the Baltimore area, tomorrow, starting at 4:30 p.m., in the Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore.

You'll be able to get a hands-on introduction of what each of those companies does. (Say hi to me if you see me there -- I'll be milling about.)

Techcrawl Presenters Information Sheet

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events (Baltimore area), Startups

December 4, 2009

Startup lessons from Bill Me Later's success

bill-me-later.pngToday I attended a talk given by Mark Lavelle, one of the four co-founders of Bill Me Later -- a Baltimore area online payments company that was snapped up by eBay/Paypal for $945 million last year. (Yes, that would be almost one billion dollars.)

He was speaking to a group of ambitious entrepreneurs at the Emerging Technology Center in Canton, sharing some nuggets of wisdom about his company's startup experience, growth and eventual big payoff-sale. He and the three cofounders were in the banking business but left it to start their own company in the 1990s. They each had different skill sets, but knew they wanted to do something that involved online transactions, because of a lucrative potential market. Launching in 2000, their first office space was in the Renaissance Harborplace hotel in downtown Baltimore.

Here are some of the "lessons learned" by Bill Me Later, according to Lavelle, who is VP of business development:

* For startup businesses, you have to double or triple the timeline to self-sustainability and quadruple the cash you think you'll need. "That's exactly what happened to us," he said.

* "Don't underestimate the time you'll have to spend pitching your product." Lavelle said he probably spent 80 percent of his time on pitching the company to potential customers and investors.

* Focus on the team. "If you have a partner, make sure it's the right partner." Also, know how and when to hire as your company grows. Many entrepreneurs can have a hard time letting go of control.

* Doing a startup is a commitmen, "so you have to be all in and you have to be in it for something other than an exit or money."

* Speed: You can move quickly and push your company hard, but sometimes progress and new business will happen at its own pace -- and you can't sometimes control that.

* Integrity -- you don't want to damage your reputation with partners and clients. So don't over-hype or over-promise what your product can do. Before the company was finally bought by eBay last year, it had raised $300 million in venture capital over an eight year period.

Lavelle said he probably pitched 300 venture capital firms in an effort to raise money. In the end, only three jumped in with Bill Me Later. That's a 1 percent success rate. "That one percent was tough," Lavelle said.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 3:27 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

November 16, 2009

Millennial Media scores new round of funding

millennial-media.gifToday, Baltimore's Millennial Media, which started up in 2006, announced it raised $16 million in new financing from some venture capital firms, including New Enterprise Associates. (Check out my story here.)

Last week's news that Google was buying mobile advertiser AdMob for $750 million probably didn't cause venture capitalists to throw money at Millennial (such deals usually take more than a week to put together), but it also probably didn't hurt the growing little firm.

The conventional wisdom now is that Google's purchase of AdMob "validates" the nascent mobile advertising industry. When a big company like Google drops a ton of dough on a small company in a still-emerging market, you know that will attract many more serious investors and players to the industry.

According to eMarketer stats via the Interactive Advertising Bureau, here's what the mobile ad market looks like:  



I'm gonna bet that the Google-AdMob acquisition, though the first big one in the mobile ad space, won't be the last. My guess is we may be a few months, perhaps even weeks, away from similar acquisitions of smaller mobile ad firms by big Google-esque-like competitors. What do you think?

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October 30, 2009

NY Times on angel investing

In case you're a startup entrepreneur or small business owner looking for capital, here's a good little article from the New York Times titled: "The New Rules of Angel Investing."

The article has a more national focus. I wrote a similar article a few weeks back with a focus on angel investing and startups in the the Mid-Atlantic and Baltimore region. You'll find that article here.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Startups

Bootstrap Maryland recap

Jimmy Gardner has a recap of last night's Bootstrap Maryland panel in DC over at TechCocktail. Check it out.

And if you want to follow the Twitter stream, here's the #bootstrapmd tag.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:35 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events (DC/No. Va. area), Startups

9 common mistakes to avoid as a startup

jimchungMtech.jpg At the University of Maryland Start-Up Boot Camp last week in College Park, Jim Chung, left, presented his list of common mistakes to avoid as a startup.

Chung is director of the MTech Venture Accelerator program at the university.

Here's his list (paraphrased):

Common Mistakes:

*) You have technology that's looking for a solution (as opposed to tech that immediately solves an existing problem).

*) You make too many assumptions about market share you stand to gain (you engage in top-down assumptions vs. bottom-up validation and lack customer understanding).

*) You have a "nice to have" vs. a "need to have" solution.

*) Thinking: "We have no competition."

*) You have no clear revenue model or path to profitability.

*) Your team is incomplete.

*) You don't have any metrics to measure your progress.

*) Lack of focus.

*) Failure to address the risks head-on.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 7:58 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Big Ideas, Events (Baltimore area), Startups, University Tech

October 23, 2009

Live blogging the tech startup bootcamp at University of Maryland

Updates will appear at the top of this post:


2:12 pm -- I just spent the past hour interviewing several highly entrepreneurial UM students and a faculty member. Their ideas were fascinating to listen to (aside: I love my job!) I'm gonna spend the next hour working on my print edition story for tomorrow, and then come back around 3:30 pm to cover the 1-minute "Pitch Dingman" sessions, where students will give 1-minute pitches in front of the audience and judges for a $100 prize. Stay tuned!

1:00 pm -- Gordon, the Valhalla Partners research director, was also asked about how entrepreneurs should approach attracting venture capitalists and raising money, without losing too much control of their companies. Gordon advised that it was wise to attract more than one investor. "Venture capitalists are like martinis. One is great, two is better...four is teetering toward catastrophe." Ha! Chuckles across the room.

12:57 pm -- Dan Gordon was asked what venture capitalists look for in an entrepreneur before they invest. His answer, in part: "We look for entrepreneurs who can show evidence they know what they will spend the money on...We want someone who's thought through how the business is going to build." My paraphrase: Don't be a fool!

 12:52 pm -- Dan Gordon, research director for Valhalla Partners, a VC firm, Craig Dye, director of venture investments for the UM business school's Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, and Murali Nair, program director for SBIR/STTR and National Science Foundation, fielded questions from an audience of about 60 people during their session. One question: Dye was asked where can entrepreneurs go looking for investors? His answer, abridged: check formal and informal channels. The formal: tap the Angel Capital Association and a website called Informal: start tapping networks.

12:50 pm -- I'm back and catching up: I sat in on the "Where's the money?" session and came back with some good stuff. Will update in a moment. 

11:41 am -- I'm gonna shift gears and leave this session and duck into another session called "Where's the money? Funding for high tech ventures." Stay tuned. I'll bring you more updates in a few minutes.

11:35am -- Raviv: What we mean to become more innovative: it means communicate better; work in teams; appreciate diversity. Also: solve problems; open to changing point of view; expect more than one solution; and think outside the box. Have common sense; become more intuitive; be imaginative and take risks. Lots of characteristics for an innovator. "We all can be taught to become more innovative, better innovators."

11:32 am -- "Lets' focus on some aspects of becoming an innovative individual." Talking about Leonard DaVinci: artist, architect, inventor, etc. His seven principles: curiosity, learn from mistakes, use your senses, embrace uncertainty, balance both modes of your brain, cultivate fitness, connect to all.

 11:30 am: Raviv: "When we thought cd players will dominate the market for many years to come, we got mp3 players."

11:28 am -- Daniel Raviv has started his talk on great ideas and innovation, giving examples of inventions and innovations, from a new Samsung digital camera to Cuban refugees building a boat out of a truck.


11:16: Hinman finishes up his keynote. Now, we're taking a networking break. Everybody's milling around, getting coffee, going to the bathroom. The next session starts at 11:30 am -- I'll be liveblogging from the Business plan track, in the session: Great Ideas: Spurring Creativity and Innovation", led by Daniel Raviv, professor at the dep't of electrical engineering at Florida Atlantic University.

11:15 am -- Hinman says he loves his job working for a venture capital firm but sometimes misses the thrill of starting a company. "There's something about being part of a team and building stuff that's hard to ever get out of your system" - Brian Hinman

11:06 am -- Hinman talks about another company Greenvolts, which builds high concentration photovoltaic systems (huh?). Here's what I'm getting out of Hinman's talk: there's a LOT of innovation going on right now in clean energy tech, with many different approaches. Pretty fascinating stuff.

 11:00 am -- Just met a UM student who wants to start his own business. I'll interview him later during the lunch break and let you know what I learn. I'm looking to interview some student entrepreneurs to get their story because I'm writing a newspaper story for tomorrow's print edition, too!

10:53 am -- Another company Hinman's venture firm is supporting: Sundrop Fuels -- using solar energy to drive a chemical plant to make synthetic fuel. Basically, use the sun to drive a chemical plant. 

10:48 am -- One company Hinman's Oak Partners invests in is Aurora Biofuels, which used patented UC Berkeley tech to develop algae as a source of bio-oil for fuel. Algae as fuel could be a big part of our energy future. How about that?

10:47am -- Gives a snapshot of Oak Investment Partners' "Oak Clean Tech" investment portfolio: $273 million invested in 11 tec companies. Largest investment: solar energy: 28 percent; second largest (tie) batteries and carbon markets (13 percent each).

10:45 am -- Talks about venture capitalists lengthening their expectations from 10 years to 15 years or more for their investments in clean tech. The steps are complicated and costly. Stages of development: lab proof science; field proof of science; pilot production site; commercial scale deployment. "This whole cycle can take 5 years, 10 years," Hinman said.

10:42 am -- Hinman talks about the catalysts for market creation in clean technology: right now major government funding. Sources: Dept of Energy grants and loans, tax credits EPA renewable fuel standard program and something called the California Renewables Portfolio.  "Hopefully subsidies are only here for a period of time so we can build these businesses," he said.

10:30 am -- Brian Hinman, a UM alumni, is giving the keynote address. He was involved in brianhinman.jpgstarting three telecom companies. He majored in electrical engineering and signals processing. Last three years, spent his time working in the clean technology sector.

"It's been a fascinating time for me." Gives three reasons on importance of clean energy innovation: economic crisis, national security, and environmental impacts.

"When you put these three things together, it seems to me it's one of the biggest challenges of our lifetime."

10:19 am -- In case you're wondering, this event is being put on by the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute, aka MTech, which is part of UM. UM has made a great effort to integrate business, technology, science and intellectual property in their incubation efforts.

UM President C.J. Mote has a goal to start a 100 new companies out of UM over the next 10 years, according to Dean Chang, director of MTech Ventures and Education.

10:12 am -- Anik Singal, CEO of Lurn Inc., started a little company while at College Park that's taken off in the field of online marketing training.

Right now, he's talking about how he was set to major in Biology and go to Harvard, but instead, turned to business school at Maryland. He talks about tapping every resource imaginable in his senior year, and went full-time into his business.

"I was working 22 hours a day, literally. there was nobody helping me," Singal said. So he turned to resources at UM and asked for help and they turned him on to the Venture Accelerator program.

"Probably one of the best things that ever happened to me," he said. Lesson: No one he knew in his circle of friends and family could help him refine his business plan, so he went looking for the right help.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 2:16 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Startups, University Tech

University of Maryland's Tech Startup Bootcamp right here, right now

I'm here at the University of Maryland's Tech Startup Bootcamp, which is a full-day event featuring local startup CEOs, academics, entrepreneurs, investors and others sharing their knowledge on what people need to kickstart a start-up. The crowd is officially at a little over 600 people. Wowsers! (About half the crowd raised their hands when asked how many were here because they want to start a company.)

I'll be blogging about it all day, so I'll give you a quick peek at the schedule ahead, so you can tune in later, if you wish. But you may just want to keep this blog open all day and just periodically refresh.

Here's the agenda:

*) Dean Darrell Pines and Dean Chang kicked off the event with introductions.

* ) Bob Proctor, CEO of FlexEl Inc. and Anik Singal, CEO of Lurn Inc., are both UM alumni who tapped the university's resources to start their businesses. They're giving the crowd an overview of what those resources were that they used.

*) 10:25 am -- Brian Hinman, venture partner with Oak Investment Partners and cofounder and former CEO of Polycom Inc.

*) 11 a.m. -- Networking break

* Three tracks for participants to choose from the rest of the day.

-- Track 1: Developing a great business plan

-- Track 2: Biotech ventures

-- Track 3: Technology ventures (for people further along with their biz plan)

I plan on bouncing around on some of these different tracks and looking for the best nuggets of wisdom to bring back to you here on BaltTech, so stick around!

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Startups

October 9, 2009

How to raise money for your tech startup

Dave Troy here with Kris Appel, our guest blogger for today. Kris is the founder of Encore Path, a medical technology start-up in Baltimore.

As a first-time entrepreneur, raising the money to launch launch a medical device was a significant undertaking.

I am not only a first-time entrepreneur, but I chose to start a company in an unfamiliar field. I have a background in linguistics, but my company develops medical technology for stroke rehabilitation.

So I started this endeavor with two strikes against me. This month, I will close my Series A round, and my first product was launched this summer, a rehabilitation device that improves arm function in survivors of stroke and other brain injury. Here is how I was able to attract investment:

Continue reading "How to raise money for your tech startup" »

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Posted by Liz Hacken at 4:29 PM | | Comments (3)

October 8, 2009

Five Questions with Gabriel Weisz

gabriel weisz 

Guest blogger week here at BaltTech may be winding down, but Mike Subelsky still has a few Q&As to share with us. Here's his latest.

Continuing on with my series of interviews with local entrepreneurs, here's Gabriel Weisz (pictured at right), co-founder of Salar, Inc, a medical software company, whom I met through the Greater Baltimore Technology Council.

Continue reading "Five Questions with Gabriel Weisz" »

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Liz Hacken at 12:35 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Big Ideas, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

October 5, 2009

Innovate Baltimore kicks off

What are you up to Wednesday night? Guest blogger Mike Subelsky wants you to check out Innovate Baltimore.

There's a promising new event debuting on Wednesday October 7th at the Gin Mill in Canton: Innovate Baltimore, described by its organizers as "an evening of fun mingling with other Baltimore area business leaders, entrepreneurs, creative and digital technology enthusiasts". It runs from 6:30 to 9:30 pm. Attendance is free but the organizers say you need to RSVP ahead of time.

Even if you're a habitué of Outlet Baltimore, Refresh, or TechNite, here's why you should check it out: it's organized by two people with a background in the games industry: Benjamin Walsh, a producer at Bethesda Softworks, and Tina Tyndal, a game marketing and brand consultant who writes the blog Girls Who Game. We haven't seen much gamer involvement in Baltimore's tech scene, so I'm betting Innovate will attract some new folks.

I'm totally on board with their mission: "...providing individuals with networking and educational opportunities which will allow them to generate new ideas, foster entrepreneurship and strengthen the professional community in the region. Our meetings spotlight local businesses, talent, emergent technology and trends, all while sharing a drink (or two) with friends."

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Liz Hacken at 4:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Events (Baltimore area), Geeks, Startups

October 2, 2009

Five Questions with Christopher Ashworth

Here's the second of guest blogger Mike Subelsky's posts interviewing local technologists. 

christopher ashworth qlab

I interviewed a few of Maryland's most interesting technologists to find out more about their successes, failures, and lessons learned; the interviews are lightly edited and condensed by me for the blogging format. The second interview is with Christopher Ashworth (at right), creator of QLab show control software. Chris' mention of "lots of small risks" brings to mind a Tim Ferris post about Bill Gates and Dave Troy's Idea Garden.

Continue reading "Five Questions with Christopher Ashworth" »

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Posted by Liz Hacken at 12:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Big Ideas, East Coast, Startups

September 30, 2009

What does our local tech culture need?

Our guest blogger for today is Mike Subelsky, an organizer with Ignite (which David Troy just wrote about in a BaltTech guest post) and co-founder of Chime in with your ideas on what the Baltimore tech scene needs to thrive.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that Baltimore has a vital and thriving technology culture. We have many good companies, events and organizations in town in various stages of growth, and it's a very creative time for starting new things. The activation energy for a new tech culture project is getting lower all the time!

This is my attempt to add fuel to the fire: a list of things our tech culture would use. I don't claim ownership or authorship of any of these ideas, and I really hope someone will see one of these and get it going. If you do you'll find a great deal of support and encouragement from the whole scene!

Continue reading "What does our local tech culture need?" »

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Posted by Liz Hacken at 7:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Big Ideas, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Geeks, Research, Startups

September 28, 2009

Beehive Baltimore celebrates nine months of coworking

While Gus is on vacation, we'll be checking in on what the folks at Beehive Baltimore are doing. Today co-founder David Troy gives us a look at what the Hive's all about.

What if there was a place where freelancers, creatives, entrepreneurs and financiers could meet up to collaborate on up-and-coming startup ideas? That place exists today, and it's called Beehive Baltimore.

On October 1st, Beehive Baltimore will celebrate its first nine months of operation as a coworking facility, located in the Emerging Technology Center in Canton.

If you're not familiar with coworking, it's a shared workspace for creative professionals who might otherwise work at home or in a coffee shop. These days, anyone who works primarily via laptop and the internet is a great candidate for coworking!

Continue reading "Beehive Baltimore celebrates nine months of coworking" »

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Liz Hacken at 2:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Startups

September 23, 2009

Startups have it tough right now

If you want to get a sense of how startups are doing in the Mid-Atlantic region, the story is behind this chart on the right, which gives it to you in a nut shell: Venture capital investment is down, waaaaaaaay down. venturemoney.jpg And that has the effect of putting a damper on early stage investments that angels are making (or not making) in promising young startups. It's a trickle-down effect...and it's a drought, not a storm, of capital.

I wrote a story about this phenomenon today. Check it out here.

Times are tough out there for the poor startup. Entrepreneurs are knocking on doors, looking for angel investors and being turned away. About the only small companies that seem to get a little traction out there, generally, are biotech companies -- which benefit from a generous investment tax credit from the state of Maryland.

Banks are still tight with credit and lending. One angel investor told me of how a friend in banking refers entrepreneurs to him because the banker can't do anything for them.

What do you think is going on out there? Any startups wish to give us a first-person account?

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Startups

September 17, 2009

Four friends and a startup


Today, I wrote about BioMarker Strategies: how they got their start and how well they've been doing recently.

I love telling startup stories because it allows me to get close to people's hopes and dreams, and I see the passion that drives them forward each and everyday. (That's one reason I started the "Startup Tuesday" feature here on BaltTech.)

I saw this entrepreneurial spirit in CEO Karen Olson (middle front) and president Scott Allocco (right), when I met with them on Monday. They posed in a photo I took with three other researchers.

It's no small feat that they attracted the attention of Baltimore's Abell Foundation, which made a significant investment in their company recently.  

BioMarker wants to build a faster test for diagnosing cancerous tumors. Their test would take hours instead of weeks, and guide doctors on the best type of drug therapy to use for each patient. Pretty cool stuff.

Do you know a startup that's been doing well lately? Drop a note in the comments below!

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 8:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BioTech, Startups

September 3, 2009

New feature: Startup Tuesdays!

It's always good to get feedback from a community of smart, passionate people who care about tech in our region. You guys generated this idea:

Every week, I'll do a short profile of a start-up company you've probably never heard of before. The geographic parameters? From Philadelphia to Virginia.

Other requirements: The startup must be less than 3 years old; have less than 20 employees; and be connected to technology, software, cybersecurity, hardware, mobile, Web (design) development industries.

So, here's the information I'll be seeking -- in a total of 400 words or less. (Brevity is key, folks) I encourage start-up company leaders to submit the following information, along with a photograph of your key principals and an optional 1-minute-long "pitch" video, via YouTube, which I will include with the online article.

Here's the format:

* Company name

* Founder(s) name

* Number of employees

* Location(s)/Headquarters

* Field/Industry

* Product(s) and what it does 

* Website/Twitter/Blog links

* The genesis of the idea for your company

* Most important local/regional resource you tapped to start your company


So, companies can send me all this information to this email address:

I will pull it all together every week and publish one or two on Tuesdays. We're gonna call it: Start-up Tuesdays! Yeahhhh!!!! W00t!

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 4:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Startups

August 25, 2009

Poll: Maryland's startup climate

Alright all you techies, entrepreneurs and risk-takers here in Maryland...Now is the time to vote your peace. Do you think Maryland has the right climate for nurturing startups?

Vote here, and tell us why you voted the way you did in the comments below.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:11 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: East Coast, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups

July 21, 2009

Small business and rising health care costs

Are you a startup or small business in Maryland? Are you fretting over whether you can afford to extend health care benefits to your employees or just frustrated at the escalating costs?

I'm hoping to talk to you today.

USPIRG, which does public-interest research, released a study today that looks at how small businesses are coping (or not) with health care costs. A couple hundred small companies across the U.S. were surveyed, including 21 in Maryland.

Next to employee salaries, health care costs comprise a huge chunk of overhead for businesses nowadays.

I'm hoping to talk to a few small-biz leaders today to get their side of the story. Feel free to shoot me an email at gus.sentementes(at)baltsun(dot)com.

Or if you just want to sound off -- whether you're an employee or a business owner -- drop a note in the comment section below.

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 9:04 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Startups

July 7, 2009

The University of Maryland's guitar hero?

coilguitars.jpg I know next to nothing about electric guitars. Several years ago, I was lucky enough to get a tour of Paul Reed Smith's fascinating guitar factory in Stevensville, for a story I wrote about his business. Some big rockers use PRS guitars, including Carlos Santana and Creed.

So, knowing what I know about PRS's local growth into a big-name guitar company, I was interested to read about the work of Bruce Jacob, a University of Maryland electrical and computer engineering professor, in the field of electrical guitar-making. (What a cool field to be working in, huh?)

It seems Jacob -- with the help of students and partners -- created some new electronic gadgetry that allows you to squeeze many more different sounds out of the same guitar. They formed a company, Coil LLC, that, in addition to guitar-building, is also sponsoring audio electronics development at the university with the help of a $135,000 state grant. It's located in the new TERP Startup lab, a tech-incubation program for university faculty, students and entrepreneurs.

Coil LLC, started selling guitars this week via their Website.

To get a full rundown on what Jacob and Coil are doing, check out this news release out of College Park (which, incidentally, mentions PRS guitars.) And to watch young dudes jamming on Coil guitars, check these videos out. Gnarly! Rock on!

Oh, and if you're daydreaming of quitting your day-job and learning how to build guitars, Jacob even offers a course: ENEE 159b: Start-Up 101 - Electric Guitar Design.

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Gadgets, Startups, University Tech

July 6, 2009

Maryland better than New York for start-ups?

There's a new New York-focused study that came out last month which compared that state's efforts with other states in encouraging investment in start-up ventures.

Interestingly, the study claimed that Maryland does a better job than New York in turning federal research and development dollars into viable businesses.

I couldn't get access to the full study, but here's the press release that details it. Here's a snippet:

In 2006, NY universities and academic research centers drew $4.5 billion in primarily federal R & D spending, second only to California. In commitments to state-supported venture funds, however, New York ranked 25th, whereas California, Pennsylvania, Texas and Maryland all ranked in the top ten.

And here's a July 4th news article from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle that gives some perspective.

What's your take on the Maryland start-up and venture capital scene? Strong or weak? I know more small companies than venture capitalists, and the common refrain I've heard in the past is that it's hard to attract attention and investment from the locals. But some think the tide is changing. Share your thoughts here. I'm all ears.

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

July 1, 2009

An Italian biotech consultant's shock, awe and questions

Last week here, I wrote about a rush of small Maryland start-up biotech companies to get in line for a generous state tax credit that was available for investors in the nascent industry. ("Maryland biotech companies crazy for tax credits!")

An Italian biotech consultant saw my post and was shocked -- shocked! -- by what we were doing here in Baltimore, Md. She wanted to know more. (She shot me an email. You'll see it below.)

To quickly recap: biotech companies started lining up Friday morning at the University of Maryland's BioPark in Baltimore to wait in line. The tax credits are doled out by the state every year on a first-come/first-served basis. Last I heard yesterday, 17 companies had stationed representatives in line, in an auditorium at the BioPark, to camp out for five days -- just so they could submit their applications for the tax credit this morning at 9 a.m. (I'm still waiting for the final headcount on how many submitted today.)

Several of the company reps I interviewed lauded the state for offering big tax breaks to drive investment in biotech here. One company, Noxilizer, told me how they were able to attract investors who live in other states, because of the tax credit. Few states have anything like this "Biotechnology Investment Incentive Tax Credit" program to kickstart the biotech industry, they told me.

About $36 million has gone into funding biotech startups over the past three years -- with half of it tax-free for investors, according to the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

What's happening in the state's biotech industry will eventually come under more scrutiny in the future (Gov. O'Malley has a Bio202 initiative to build up the industry over the next 10 years), as the public, politicians and business leaders will expect concrete results after all this investment, including new job creation and blockbuster products. (Mary Spiro ponders this future in her post on Maryland biotech's "boom or bust.")

Now, for the email from Valeria Spagnoli, a self-described biotech consultant in Italy who wants some more insight from biotech companies in Maryland on how they're going about getting funding from the state. Who wants to help her with her questions?


I’ve just read the article about tax break for biotech investors on the BIO smartbrief newsletter. I found it amazing that companies line up days before the application time opens up, they just sign their names on a blackboard…In my country we are overwhelmed by the so-called red tape procedures, papers and papers to fill in, this is why I would appreciate if you could provide more detailed information to this regard, such as: how are companies selected as beneficiaries? Just the first come first served basis ensures they are granted the money? How long does it take to become eligible?

Thank you so much for your kind reply!
Have a nice day!

P.S. to Valeria: As my full story points out, there's only a limited pool of money -- $6 million this year -- so once it runs out, no one can get more funding. Each investor is entitled up to $250,000 in tax credits and no company can claim more than 15 percent of the total tax credit pool of $6 million. That said, there are some other nuances that maybe others closer to the process can jump in and explain for all of us.

(Published June 1, 2009)

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Posted by Gus Sentementes at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: BioTech, Entrepreneurs & Risk Takers, Startups, Venture Cap

June 25, 2009

Maryland Tech: Protecting your computer screen from the "shoulder surfers"

billAnderson.jpgEvery once in a while, I get to see -- and sometimes write about -- a fascinating new product before the consumer masses get to it. It's one of the cool perks of being a journalist, really.

That happened to me recently, when Bill Anderson (left) of Oculis Labs Inc., in Owings Mills, gave me and some colleagues here at The Baltimore Sun a demo of his new software: "Chameleon" and "PrivateEye." (Here's my full story on how he launched his company and came up with the idea.) 

Here's what Chameleon does: it uses sophisticated gaze-tracking technology to dynamically render the words and images on a computer monitor so that only the authorized user can read them. It's accurate down to about one single character. If someone is peeking over your shoulder (aka "shoulder surfing"), all they will see is dummy text that is constantly changing. You, the user, will be able to read the text you choose to read wherever your eyes wander on the screen.

I tried reading the documents -- a Word and an Excel document -- over Anderson's shoulder, and I could not. I had no idea where his eyes were and the text was constantly changing on me.  

For now, big government agencies involved in military/intelligence operations are the most likely ideal customers because it requires some special hardware (the gaze-tracking equipment), and the price tag ain't cheap. Anderson bills Chameleon as a way for people to protect their monitors, which can be critical in battlefield and intelligence operations, where super-spies with powerful telephoto lenses can peer over your shoulder from a very long ways away.

For consumers, there's a lighter-weight version, PrivateEye. Here's what that does: It taps into your computer's Web cam (that's the only hardware you need) and uses face-detection technology so that your computer knows when you turn away from the screen. As soon as you turn away, the screen softly blurs. Ideal for office situations where privacy of information is paramount, such as medical settings, financial institutions, law firms, etc.

Anderson gave us a tour of the software and we shot some video. Check it out below!

This is an archived version of the technology blog. For updated coverage, see the current baltTech location:
Posted by Gus Sentementes at 1:46 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Gadgets, Government Tech, Startups, Venture Cap
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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:

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