Startup Spirit Thrives Again at Demo

Reporter's Notebook: It's starting to feel a lot like the rah-rah dot-com days, as emerging tech startups battle for venture capital attention at Demo.

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.—The Demo conference here feels a lot like the 1990s. Dot-coms and early startups are everywhere, bum-rushing journalists and venture capitalists with elevator pitches of the next "game-changing idea."

But, unlike in the bubble days, its not only about the technology. The nitty-gritty of the business model is an important part of the discussions.

"Things are different, for sure," said Paul Davy, president of UniPrivacy Inc., a three-employee outfit in the privacy/security space. "There is a dot-com feel to this show but without the excess."

Davy is here with chief executive Chaz Berman to showcase DeleteNow, a $2.99-a-month subscription service that trawls the Web to find and delete personal and confidential data from search engines and databases.

The company is self-funded to the tune of $150,000 and the biggest expense has been the hiring of a public relations firm to help generate some buzz for the service.

"Were here to get some attention," Berman said matter-of-factly. "We feel we have a valuable business with no real competitors and were here to demo it for everyone."

Onstage, representatives for more than 60 companies shrug aside network connectivity hiccups to make their pitches. The rules require that companies use up no more than 6 minutes onstage to convince attendees to stop by the booths in the crowded show floor.

Some handle the pressure well. Others struggle.

Feeva Inc., which is testing an ad-driven Wi-Fi network in San Francisco, found time to add some live musical gimmickry to the demo.

Feevas plan is to build out free Wi-Fi networks around the country to deliver targeted advertising on behalf of partners. "Our network can determine the device youre using on the network, your location and your preferences. Once the user logs on, we know who they are, where they are and what they like to do. Thats a big value for advertisers," Feeva CEO Nitin Shah said.

"The Wi-Fi is free and the user gets the kind of advertising they welcome. We give them a personalized experienced wherever they are."

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read about mobility-focused offerings at Demo.

Another company generating a lot of chatter is U3 LLC, a privately held Redwood City, Calif., startup that is hawking a platform that lets road warriors put entire computers worth of data on a finger-sized USB flash drive.

U3 chief executive Kate Purmal moved briskly onstage to show off the power of the platform, which has already been embraced by SanDisk Corp., Kingston Technology Company Inc., Memorex Products Inc. and Verbatim Ltd.

Purmal said the U3 platform extends the use of flash drives beyond simple storage. Instead of just transferring data files, U3 can be used to move software applications like word processing programs, instant messaging applications and even music players with saved settings.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read more about security offerings at Demo.

Several newcomers here are showing off new twists on businesses already dominated by heavyweights like Microsoft Corp., Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

EverEZ Systems Ltd., for example, is here to show off EverDesk, technology that integrates e-mail and file management on the desktop.

Going beyond the desktop search offerings from the big vendors, Trimergent Corp. is reaching out to enterprises with Personal Information Networks, products that aggregate information from multiple searchable sources.

The self-funded company said it believes its technology can enable cross-enterprise data sharing in a simple, secure and synchronized way.

On the consumer side, several photo management and imaging software firms are looking to cash in on the growth of the digital imaging sector. FilmLoop Inc. styles itself as a photo broadcasting network and is here to demo software that turns digital images on a desktop into loops that can be shared in a collaborative way.

FilmLoop, based in Palo Alto, Calif., launched with $5.6 million in venture capital backing from Globespan Capital Partners and Garage Technology Partners, said it believes the technology can also appeal to companies using updated images in branding campaigns.

Light Crafts Inc. wants to take on Adobe and appeal to professional photographers who find the ubiquitous Photoshop program too complicated to use. An early stage startup, Light Crafts is marketing LightZone, an image editing suite that guides photographs through the touching-up phase.

"Photoshop forces photographers to become pixel painters," chief executive Dean Tucker said. "Photographers are struggling with software thats designed design for graphics programmers. We allow them to work themselves without all those complications."

Also showing off new products are, an early stage, venture capital-backed outfit that is looking to apply the concept of social networking to referral hiring. H3s tool uses cash rewards to stretch out the referrals within a network.

gNumber Inc. is showcasing the newly launched Unwired Buyer, a service that lets users handle e-commerce from mobile phones. The service can be used to trigger calls based on real-time price and availability data and can also be used to transact online auction transactions.

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