Umbria acquired

Umbria (new media intelligence and sentiment analysis) announced today that it has been acquired by JD Power for an undisclosed amount.

The 40 person Umbria team should continue to operate from Boulder, according to Tech Rockies. Other Colorado companies in a related space include Collective Intellect and Filtrbox.

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VCIR Presenting Companies

VCIR had 33 presenting companies in three tracks this year. 22 were IT related, and 11 were life sciences. Unfortunately, I only got to see about a third of them.

Envysion – Broadband video surveillance. This targets food service, hotel and retail businesses who want to use the Internet to manage surveillance. They’ve landed customers such as IHOP, Qdoba, Shell Oil, Papa John’s, and Dominos. They compete with startups such as RemoteReality, CoVi, iControl, and 3VR. They’re getting ready to launch their subscription SaaS product. They’re up to about 15 employees and have 6.5M in funding. It’s a matter of time before surveillance turns into a game of cheap cameras coupled with web based software and storage. I’m sure these companies don’t really want to manage all that infrastructure. To me SaaS makes perfect sense here in the long run.

Feed Tribes (covered previously) is making a huge bet – The future of payments will be the mobile phone. The challenge here is distribution – can they do enough deals with POS vendors and establish a presence with merchants? The argument to the merchant is certainly compelling – they pay $0.19 per transaction instead of the traditional base + percentage model. They’ve chosen the path of least resistance and are using SMS for both authentication and opt-in promotion. According to experts, this is very secure. And FEED has a very strong team with great industry experience. And they’re right, I don’t leave home without the phone.

I remember being impressed with Lijit founder Stan James from the day I met him (at BarCamp, I think). Stan had been thinking a great deal about trusted sources on the Internet, and this had turned into a browser plug in where users could vote up or down on various web sites, feeding information about the credibility of sites to each users personal network. I was an early beta tester when it was still OutFoxed, and have been talking about Lijit for a while on this blog. The early focus was on re-ordering Google search results based on user feedback and recommendations. Post-investment, Lijit seems to have changed direction for the better. They’re now focused on vertical search of your personal network and expert identification. For example, you can search my personal network from my blog (in the right column) and you can do the same with the TechStars mentors. The idea is that there are cases where you’d trust these networks and get more efficiency from your search over the general population which is what Google returns. Long term, Lijit wants to be in a position to identify and control search for networks of experts so they can inject highly targeted ad placements.

I’ve come across LogRhythm CEO Andy Grolnick on the tennis court a few times, so it was nice to see him in this “other” setting. LogRhythm is providing enterprise class log management and analysis software in order to help companies deal with regulations like SOX, PCI, HIPAA, and FISMA, or just to enhance their own security and audit capabilities. Early customers include Wild Oats, PetCO, and Amtrak. LogLogic has a strong lead in this category and it’s unclear to me what LogRhythm’s real differentiators are. Splunk also seems to have a nice grass roots following. I’m interested to see if LogRhythm can raise a substantial venture round this year, or if it will just not be sexy and different enough.

Me.dium has been getting tons of buzz lately (both before and after their recent DEMO appearance). It’s just so different, and as Kimbal likes to say “Being around people (on the web) will change everything.” Me.dium is at a distinct disadvantage in 15 minute pitch formats, because their idea is just so radical and hard to grasp. It took me a while to get it. I’m not a huge fan of the “visual map” as I think it adds confusion. I’d rather see an option to get some kind of a text listing sorted either by relevance or simply by what my friends are doing. I think you could also convey more information this way. This will be part of the trick – how to effectively map the intention of seeing the crowds to the UI. I think the company should also experiment with an iFrame based approach to let people get a sense of Me.dium right away without having to install the plug in. Either way, Me.dium is one to watch. I like the mission, and given the team and backers, I expect the execution/UI to improve over time.

Right now, I think that NewsGator is my favorite Colorado company (would have loved to have been an angel investor on this deal). They make my life easier every single day – the sign of a great company. I’m a huge consumer of RSS, and haven’t read a newspaper in over a year. I get my information from RSS and my social network. I use Go on my BlackBerry, NetNewsWire on my laptop, and once in a while I’ll use the online version. I can’t imagine using an RSS reader that wasn’t synchronized perfectly like NewsGator does it. The business for NewsGator, of course, is in the enterprise. So far, they haven’t forgotten the consumers like me and I feel fortunate that’s the case.

The basic idea of OpenLogic is to make it easier and safer to adopt open source. They’ve certified and aggregated over 200 open source projects and have landed some nice customers including AIG, Bank of America, General Motors and Lockheed Martin. When open source projects are versioned, OpenLogic takes the time to figure out if they can certify the new release, and what dependencies need to be considered, etc. Makes me think they’d be a natural early partner for Solidware, whose products can automatically identify areas of risk in code, including the change in risk distribution over time.

Oxlo is one company I had heard quite a bit about, but wasn’t exactly sure what it was they did. Basically, they’ve build a web-based messaging switch that provides a way for extended business partners to inter-connect their processes and workflows. They’re focused on automotive as an initial vertical and count many of the major auto dealers as customers. I love the idea in general – find industries still using older communications infrastructure, get in between disparate systems, handle and monitor message flow, then provide business analytics for your customers to give them new insights into their business that they can’t easily get on their own. If I had to guess (based on not much more than the obviously auto-centric logo and the fact that large industries like vertical focus), I’d say the company may end up with different brands in each vertical, simply reusing the technology and infrastructure in each market. I really like the idea (and execution thus far) of this business.

Rally Software Development says it’s the SalesForce.com of agile software development. Agile is a huge and growing trend in the software industry (even my 13 year old public safety company has recently adopted it). I’ve used web based development toolsets in the past (feature/project/bug tracking, test tracking, etc), and they really work great for distributed teams. With the off-shoring movement, this is even more important today. Incidentally, at one point CEO Tim Miller was talking about how Rally applies to open source. He said – “80% of CIO’s ‘admit’ to using open source.” I’m sure Tim meant nothing negative by that, I just had to laugh out loud though.

Skyetek is an RFID software and hardware company who wants to unlock RFID’s “real” potential by making it an embedded product feature that “provides internet connectivity, customer visibility, and personalization”. The pitch started off with CEO Rob Balgley putting “supply chain management” up on the overhead, then crossing it out – essentially informing the audience that this is not just another RFID tracking play. The company is “tagnostic” in that they don’t manufacture or dictate with tags are used, but supply software and universal readers that are 2 times smaller and two times cheaper than the closest rivals. Not much to say here, except, um, is WalMart a customer? ;-)

Thought Equity Motion is cool. Having no idea what they did and never having heard of them, I was fortunate that somebody dragged me in there and told me I’d like it (I’d about had it by then). Basically, these guys aggregate licensed video content and then make it highly searchable so that producers can view it as a huge library of high quality stock video footage. They have licensing deals in place with Sony Pictures, National Geographic, HBO, the NCAA, etc. I had heard of the competitors in this space such as Getty, and didn’t even know there was a major player here in our back yard. In addition to content deals, the company hopes to grow via acquisition and by enticing producers to create the content that they see demand for in near-real time. Play around with the video search engine – it’s pretty nifty.

Umbria is a new-media consumer market research firm. They want to try to give you tomorrows news today, by listening to the blogosphere and applying natural language processing techniques to try to assess the age, gender, and sentiment of the speaker. I’m very skeptical that this can work well in an automated fashion for a vast majority of cases. CEO Janet Eden-Harris gave the example of a teenager saying something like “Umbria is so cool. Not.” We’ll have to give them the benefit of the doubt. I suppose on the high end where Umbria plays (typical customers are Verizon, Citibank, Mattel, Hallmark, etc) this sort of insight into not just general sentiment but rather into how specific types of people are reacting to your brands is important. I think that for SMBs, who could probably never afford this sort of analytics based approach – the larger problem is that they simply have no idea that people are talking about them on blogs, forums, or social networks at all. Umbria is not trying to solve that particular problem, and is a much higher-end solution. There’s a big market for this, but I expect it to just get more and more crowded. I know nothing about it, and have no idea if it’s true, but I do hear stories of internal rumors of trouble and management rifts within Umbria. Hard to imagine with only 26 employees, huh?

I didn’t get to see about 10 of the other IT presentations, but I was told they were all excellent and interesting. There has been some nice national reaction to the VCIR conference, which is nice to hear.

I previously promised I’d cover a few of the life sciences companies that I got a glimpse of. Instead, I’ve asked Adam Rubenstein (who writes the Colorado Life Science Dealflow and OnBioVC blogs) to guest post on ColoradoStartups with his thoughts on the life sciences companies from VCIR. That will save me from sounding any more like a dork than I already do, as I know almost nothing about this world. I’m expecting that from Adam later tonight, and will post it as soon as I receive it.

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The view from Room 214

James Clark is now working on his fourth startup, a web marketing agency called Room 214 in Boulder.

It’s a great story. The founders of Room 214 (James Clark and Jason Cormier) have a strong PR and web development background. Three years ago, they had a friend who was helping to source manufacturing in China, and so together they set up a company called VitalSourcing. As you can imagine, this is fairly competitive space and VitalSourcing soon realized that search engine optimization would play a large role in any success they would have. Faced with the challenge of marketing their business over the web, James confessed that at that time “we didn’t know what the hell we were doing”. He gathered bids from PR firms that were all over the board in terms of price. Instead of hiring a firm, James dove head first into the mysterious world of web search marketing.

It must have worked. A search today for “china manufacturing” returns VitalSourcing in the first position followed by page after page of competitors.

James explained how Room214 got started: “In normal public relations, there are huge inefficiencies. For many companies, traditional PR is a waste. That’s why we decided to start Room 214 – we wanted to take our expertise and focus in on small growing companies to help them to really leverage the web for marketing purposes.”

On September 24th, Room 214 announced itself to the world. Already, they’re making a difference for some not-so-small customers like Coors, Centura Health, and ViaWest. They provide a range of Internet marketing services such as web site and search optimization, reputation management, and helping companies take advantage of social media. Clients like Alltel are even using Room 214 to get their message out utilizing NFL and Nascar podcasts. Clearly, Room 214 is using their own expertise to get their message out effectively.

Room 214 can act as a consultant, teaching a web savvy team how to best leverage the web. However, the company is finding that most of their customers want to completely outsource these functions.

One of the products offered by Room 214 is really compelling for startups that may not be completely in touch with new media and the related technologies (not you, you’re reading this blog by RSS, right?). It’s called RSSready, and out of the box it allows organizations to monitor and join the conversations about them that are already taking place on the edge of the web (I’m sure their copy will turn up this article, for example). Many young companies may not realize that their customers are already talking on blogs, Myspace, or in specialized forums that simple Google searches will not turn up.

Room 214 also publishes a site called Capture the Conversation which provides some useful free resources on these topics. There are video tutorials on creating online press rooms, using RSS readers to monitor what conversations are occurring, working with PR firms (or not), and more.

“Listen, you can learn how to set up an RSS reader yourself and track what people are saying about you. It’s not that hard.” – Founder James Clark on why Room 214 created CaptureTheConversation.com

It’s a smart strategy. Room 214 provides white papers and valuable free information to get companies started monitoring new media sources, and RSSready to help you take your first step. Once their customers realize the potential of such sources, they’ll start to “get it” and end up as a Room 214 client pretty fast.

“You don’t just walk into a crowded bar and start yelling. It’s much easier to join a conversation than to start a new one.” – Founder James Clark on how to communicate on the web

In case you haven’t noticed, there is some great work going on in the RSS space here in Colorado. Room 214 and Umbria both play in the services market, while companies like NewsGator and ClickCaster are creating software solutions. It’s been really interesting to watch these companies help transition RSS from a geeks-only technology into a mainstream tool.

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