Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Attn entrepreneurs!! - Ideas for iPhone apps, other plans to get hearing from tech initiative - Triangle Business Journal:

Ideas for iPhone apps, other plans to get hearing from tech initiative - Business First

Business First of Columbus - by Kevin Kemper

It normally takes years of hard work to start a company and turn a profit, but a new venture capital and incubation program aims to speed the process and time it to the blistering pace of advancing technology.

TechColumbus, the region’s technology industry advocate, is calling for local software developers and engineers with ideas for Internet and mobile Web applications to apply for a new program dubbed 14ninetytwo. The pilot program is designed to provide seed-stage funding and advice to local entrepreneurs who want to, for example, develop the next Apple iPhone application or Firefox Web browser add-on.

“The targets of this are people who have day jobs,” said William Indest, vice president of formation at TechColumbus. “Say, an engineer in the IT department at Nationwide.”

‘Fail fast’ philosophy

14ninetytwo – a name derived from the year Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas – is accepting applications from entrepreneurs through Aug. 7 to be a part of its first “weekend of discovery,” tentatively scheduled for Aug. 21-23, said Willie Neumann, 14ninetytwo’s program manager. Applications can be found at the TechColumbus Web site, 14ninetytwo.wordpress.com.

The 10 to 15 budding entrepreneurs chosen will spend the weekend attending sessions with technology industry veterans, attorneys, marketers and accountants that will help shape ideas into what’s hoped will be viable products and companies. At the end of the weekend, each entrepreneur will make a competitive pitch for his product that will determine which three companies are picked to join the incubator and get further funding, Neumann said.

The three firms chosen will have as much as $25,000 made available to them, which will come from Ohio’s Third Frontier program, a 10-year, $1.6 billion initiative to create high-tech jobs. In exchange for the cash and help, Neumann said TechColumbus, which manages the local distribution of Third Frontier money, will take a 5 percent ownership stake in the company.

A small investment is the industry standard. At the AlphaLab, a Pittsburgh-based incubator that 14ninetytwo hopes to emulate, companies receive a maximum of $20,000 said Terri Glueck, director of community development for Innovation Works, a venture capital fund that runs AlphaLab.

“The companies are smaller and so there’s a smaller investment,” Glueck said, noting that most are composed of one- to three-person software developer teams.

“It’s not like investing in a robotics company,” she said.

Like AlphaLab and similar incubators, 14ninetytwo sets a fast pace. Companies chosen are expected to have a product ready 90 days from that first weekend. 14ninetytwo is designed to quickly separate the chaff from the wheat because software and mobile Web applications can become outdated in the blink of an eye, Neumann said.

“It’s a fail fast philosophy,” he said.

Gold rush

14ninetytwo is a departure for TechColumbus. Its incubator on Kinnear Road specializes in helping larger technology companies reach maturity over several years. Most tenants require lab space and significant capital infusions.

Indest said TechColumbus agreed to start 14ninetytwo after Neumann and others convinced the organization there was no help available in the region for small developers and programmers.

14ninetytwo is focusing on Internet and mobile phone applications because it’s a market that requires little capital but has great interest among potential developers.

“I would say there are hundreds if not thousands of people in Central Ohio (who) would be interested in this,” Indest said. “The area is so heavy in IT and software talent.”

Interest in Web and mobile application development isn’t just a local trend. Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple Inc.’s decision to offer an iPhone developer’s kit in February 2008 set off a gold rush of third-party application development for the device. As of July 14, the iPhone App Store boasted more than 65,000 applications, up from 35,000 just three months ago.

Another popular area for third-party development is for Mozilla’s Firefox Web browser. Firefox, one of the most widely adopted browsers, uses open source coding that has resulted in programmers creating more than 5,000 add-ons for it.

While 14ninetytwo is, as of now, a pilot program, demand to keep it going likely will be strong, Glueck said. Now in its third cycle since starting last summer, Glueck says AlphaLab has funded 12 companies and receives applications from across the country and overseas. So far, it has had the expected results.

“Some (companies) have gotten follow-on funding from angels, some are in talks with venture capital firms from outside the region, and some have folded,” she said.

But even when a company folds, it doesn’t mean efforts have been wasted, Glueck said.

“Adding to the entrepreneur base,” she said, “is a very important outcome.”

  • Business: Venture capital and incubation program created as a pilot project for budding entrepreneurs.
  • Goal: Creation of Internet and mobile Web application companies.
  • Based: Columbus
  • Project manager: Willie Neumann
  • Partner: TechColumbus
  • Application deadline: Aug. 7
  • Web site: 14ninetytwo.wordpress.com


Blogger Terri Glueck said...

Just a quick correction about AlphaLab in Pittsburgh -- the amount Innovation Works invests in each AlphaLab company is $25,000 (not $20,000 as stated in the Triangle Business Journal article and this blog post). Sorry for any confusion.

July 22, 2009 at 3:55 PM  

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