From Flingo to Lantos to Shodogg: U.S. Startups Carve Out Niche at CES

For the first time ever, the International Consumer Electronics Show created a zone called Eureka Park specifically to showcase startups from across the country. Fledgling companies have come to CES before and can still be found elsewhere at the conference, but Eureka Park is a new way to highlight them at the 2012 show. At an event where companies such as LG and Samsung occupy huge territory, startups such as Kogeto in New York and Flingo in San Francisco have space at The Venetian to stand out, albeit away from the digital carnival at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Kogeto CEO and founder Jeff Glasse made his way to CES bringing his company’s panoramic camera lens attachment called Dot iCONIC. “Of all the events we’ve attended with technology companies, this is the first place where I’m not the only hardware guy in the room,” Glasse says. “That’s kind of nice.”

The Dot iCONIC attaches to smartphones’ camera lenses and lets users capture panoramic 360-degree video. The lenses went on sale last October for the Apple iPhone 4 and 4S. Glasse also brought to CES demo versions of lenses for Android phones, which he expects to release within the first half of this year.

Glasse says grouping startups together at CES is an interesting move by the conference hosts to keep the event relevant as the dynamics of innovation change. “I felt like, as a [CES] outsider, that place’s days are numbered,” he says. “I think they’re adapting to a world where there are things like TechCrunch Disrupt.”

Compared with the show floor at the convention center, Eureka Park looked a bit barebones with its small booths and tables, but Spartan aesthetics tend to go hand-in-hand with startups. Some startups at CES could still be found outside of Eureka Park. Shodogg from Valhalla, NY, for example, set up a more elaborate display in another part of The Venetian to debut its technology for sharing video across Web-connected devices. Shodogg has raised $1.7 million from angel investors, and its backers include actor Seth Green, known for such roles as Scott Evil in the Austin Powers movies and co-creator of the “Robot Chicken” television show on Cartoon Network (he’s the voice of Chris Griffin on “Family Guy” too). Green dropped by the company’s display to meet with Shodogg CEO Herb Mitschele (see photo above).

While some big electronics players such as Samsung have proprietary platforms to share video among their own devices, Shodogg is agnostic. Shodogg users can share content regardless of the brand of television, computer, or smartphone. “It’s a validation of our model,” says Rajiv Lulla, Shodogg’s chief innovation officer, regarding the moves by major electronics makers.

Back in Eureka Park, MIT spinout Lantos Technology, a startup in Cambridge, MA which raised $4.1 million last August, set up shop to show off its imaging technology.

Lantos developed a device that creates 3D images of the human ear canal. Shahid Azim, founder and senior vice president of Lantos, says the company is edging its way into the consumer market, which in part drew it to CES. “This a great place to get feedback and build relationships,” Azim says. The company expects to release its product in the second half of the year, he says.

Meanwhile, Alvir Navin, co-founder and vice president of client services of San Francisco-based Flingo, says he was surprised by the attention his company is getting at CES. “We’ve had a lot of people who are really interested in what we are doing,” he says. Flingo develops software for sharing media with Web-connected televisions. “There are a lot of social tools for people on connected TVs,” Navin says. Flingo is self-funded and has a staff of about a dozen, he says.

Education technology could also be found at Eureka Park. LectureTools, a startup from Ann Arbor, MI, displayed its online platform for educators to teach students interactively. Students with laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other devices that connect to the Web can respond to questions posed during lectures. “We’re helping instructors engage their students in learning,” says Bret Squire, a software engineer with LectureTools. The technology was born at the University of Michigan to help large lecture-style classes function more personally. LectureTools was founded in 2010, is primarily bootstrapped, and an iPad app version of the software is in development.

One of the more futuristic ideas presented at Eureka Park came from Innovega, a Bellevue, WA-based company developing eyewear technology that would put images into the wearer’s vision like a personal display. Innovega combines contact lenses that have embedded optics with glasses that use organic LED and LCD displays to project images. The technology is backed by some defense contracts. “We like working with the defense community because they are very aggressive in terms of their expectations,” says CEO Steve Willey. The company is also developing consumer uses for its technology, which attracted him to the conference. “CES is our first opportunity to raise some awareness to this new personal interface system,” he says.

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