NWEN “First Look” Forum Tells Story of Software Vs. Medical Startups: Online Travel Is the Winner

4/14/10Follow @gthuang

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the travel industry. He says U.S. air travel is a $300 billion market. But nobody else gives online consumers reliable ratings of things like legroom, gate locations and connection logistics, how old the airline’s planes are, and other indicators of trip quality. The business model is a mix of referral fees and advertising, and the core technology is based on relational databases.

—Daniel Rossi, Nanocel

As devices get smaller, faster, and cheaper, they also get hotter. Nanocel uses a combination of microfluidics and novel plastic materials to cool devices more cheaply than other liquid-based systems and more efficiently than cooling fans, as Rachel wrote in a profile earlier this year. (Rossi also wrote a guest post for Xconomy during the UW Business Plan competition last year.) The startup’s local supporters and advisors include Rick LeFaivre, Patrick Ennis, and Brian Crowley. Nanocel has a working prototype, a $50,000 grant from UW, and three patents pending.

—Mikal Lewis, Qworky

Lewis is a former Microsoft veteran, so he knows about meetings. Qworky’s tagline is “meetings that don’t suck.” But it makes me wonder how much technology can really solve what seems to be a fundamental social problem in which people lose focus and efficiency in meetings. Nevertheless, Lewis’s company has a working prototype and website (and is working on building a community of meeting-goers). It’s also using its system to host its own meetings. The business model will be “freemium,” meaning free for the basic stuff, with paid premium features. And look out—the company will have an iPad app soon.

—Tom Damico, Zendorse

At first glance, this company might sound a bit like DigitalScirocco, another Seattle startup building a new online marketplace for content. But Zendorse is totally different: it is about viral sharing of digital content (music, video, and so forth) and smart recommendations among social networks—what some call “social commerce.” Its “Koitunes” service helps consumers buy and share music with their friends no matter whether they use Rhapsody or Last.fm or iTunes; same with movie reviews across Amazon or other retail sites. Damico says the business is based on selling digital content, and licensing Zendorse’s data and Web services.

The ending of the event felt a little anticlimactic, after a full afternoon of really interesting technologies, markets, and opportunities. But the overall winner, from a second audience vote, was InsideTrip, the air travel rating company. And Nanocel, the cooling startup, was the runner-up.

But ultimately this story isn’t about the winners, it’s about the trends. Software and tech still rules the early-stage investment roost in the Northwest. People are watching the online travel space closely, especially here in the backyard of Expedia, Farecast, and Bing Travel. And there is no dearth of diverse ideas coming from the entrepreneurs around us. Congratulations to all the presenters, and thanks to NWEN for organizing this stellar event.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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  • Ben Straughan

    Greg – thanks for the input, we appreciate your attending the event. I think you raise some valid points – some investors locally have a comfort with traditional tech companies outside the life science/medical device space: often a shorter time to liquidity, corresponding smaller investments, the lack of regulatory clearance. Today in particular most tech startups can get off the ground for relatively low costs.

    On the other hand, many of the medical device/health related companies have meaningful IP rights that can give them an edge over an internet/digital media company that makes the long term investment worthwhile. And many investors appreciate those facts.

    Not sure I’ve explained the results – all 3 software companies made the final grade – nor that we can. But we (NWEN) definitely sees interest in companies across a broad range of industries.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/ghuang/ Gregory T. Huang

    Thanks, Ben. I think NWEN stands out as supporting a tremendous range of ideas, entrepreneurs, and companies. Like Xconomy, you are interested in innovation, not just Internet, mobile, or tech startups. Interesting IP issue—sounds like a theme to explore as we think about medical/healthcare vs. tech companies.

    Greg

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