The Under the Radar events are a reality show for entrepreneurs - MIT venture forum meets American Idol. Entrepreneurs pitch their new venture to a panel of VCs. They get 3 slides in 5 minutes or they get gonged. The venture panel asks questions, then the audience, then the winner is picked. The venture panel gets to explain their reasoning, and on a good day can really have fun with the venture contestants. GONG!
This event was an all day affair with four sets of companies: search, social software, mobile apps and digital entertainment. More info and notes are here. I was on a panel for the mobile apps sessions.
Thumbplay - direct to consumer ringtones. Wants to be the Amazon of mobi media. Uses Google ads to acquire customers. Uses carrier billing. Could not adequately differentiate from the myriad of others peddling ringtones. Gong!
Upsnap - mobi search via sms. Type "flowers 415" and up comes floral shops in SF. Localization by area code is useful! The results are listed by a b c, so sms back a letter and get more info. The top listing is paid and has a direct connect feature using voip from merchant to cell phone. Merchant pays/free to consumer. Uses Looksmart search engine and merchant network. Audience picked this one, as did other VCs, as the winner. I had issues of whether they could really put themselves in the middle like this: seems easy to bypass them, and they do reduce carrier 411 fees, so not necessarily a friend of the carriers.
Mobile Operandi - big MO had the best name so far and spurred the MC (Rajeev Chand from Rutberg) to attempt a series of lame jokes - but a worthy attempt, added to the festivities. Direct to consumer mobi media with personalization via a gateway between portals and handsets. Better business model than Thumbplay - pushed by portals and billed by carriers. Has intriguing social network angle. Best of panel for me, close second for other VCs.
Jambo Networks - face-to-face networking via WiFi. Useful for conferences or colleges to find others. Couldn't MySpace or Facebook add this as a feature? GONG!
Oxy Systems - peer-to-peer mobi media over cellphones. How do you get all those 68 billion photos off those phones? Peer-to-peer, direct connection! Oops! What happens if the other end is disconnected? And how does this company cheaply acquire customers, it having a critical mass problem? Sold via carriers? Hmmm. GONG!
Avvenu - second best name, you can hear all those happy feet on the avenue of dreams, 42nd Street! Mobi media gateway without the personalization portal of the big MO. Goes to market via portals brand on the carrier deck, eg. Yahoo Pictures on Sprint. Concern around pulling this off, there being other gateways already ahead of them in the market. Almost won, but ...
GoTV Networks - on demand video for cellphones. 2/3 a studio, 1/3 a tech company. Takes first run content & turns it into 3 minute Speed Episodes. Everything becomes SportsCenter, the fastest 3 minutes on television. Deals with ABC, Sony Music, Fox Sports, has carriage at Sprint, Nextel and Cingular Blue. Seems a better model than MobiTV, which streams video. The on-demand video snippet model is more in tune with the casual nature of cellphone media usage. Winner by audience and venture panel.