DEMO: Tech Upstarts in the Spotlight

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Among the usual staple of tech startups nearing or at product release, this week’s DEMO conference featured a new series of “AlphaPitch” companies. These fledgling enterprises, too new to qualify for the full six-minute spot in the conference’s standard program, but too compelling to ignore, each got 90 seconds at the mike to introduce themselves, and access to a small table at the back of the show’s pavilion to go into greater detail with individual attendees.

The back tables included such little gems as Melior Technologies, which showed off a pending expansion of its BountyStorms site, where consumers pay $10 to $25 for custom answers to questions they prepare. Melior (Latin for “better”) unveiled GuruStorms, a crowdsourcing site where curated experts in carefully defined subjects can work out solutions to more complex problems while competing for rewards up to $5,000.

Two tables over was Infochimps, a central repository and marketplace for analytical datasets created by search expert Joseph Kelly. Nearby was Diditz, a University of Maryland spin-out that turns Facebook data into Web pages that can be indexed by search engines and used as tools for viral marketing. And then there was San Francisco-based Keen Systems which hopes to help smaller participants in the $162 billion print industry move their services online.

Back on the main stage

Bringing complex software capabilities to smaller players was an underlying theme to several of DEMO’s mainstream presenters in the Wednesday conference wrap-up, including VicMan Software, whose platform provides Photoshop-scale editing power in the cloud. Aimed primarily at developers of social networks, makes it possible for any site to offer photo-editing capabilities.

Weels Corp, of Milton, Mass., generated interest both because of its drag-and-drop Web browsing interface and its three teenage co-founders, including high school senior and chief software architect William King, 17. His 19-year-old partners, Peter Elias and Martin Shen, both are students at Babson College. Their product, Web on Wheels, allows users to share any aspect of a Web page – pictures, videos, text – with a buddy list simply by dragging and dropping it.

The drag-and-drop function also can be used to do Google and Amazon searches. Ultimately, the trio would like to develop their work into a seamless operating system for the Web.

Liaise, one of several DEMO presenters based at the Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, Calif., has developed a method of capturing so-called KeyPoints — tasks, issues, dates and priorities — from within the text of e-mails, instant messages, blog postings and other text communication. A form of collaboration software, Liaise summarizes those action items, integrates them into the user’s calendar and prepares tracking reports.

San Francisco-based CallSpark replaces a smartphone’s dialing function with an integrated directory that brings in data from social networks and enterprise sites such as to provide an overview of relevant information about the person you’re trying to reach. If the person or business you’re trying to reach isn’t in your phone’s directory, CallSpark goes onto the Internet to find it.

The last full presentation of the show was up-and-comer RumbaFish Technologies, based in Palo Alto, which helps companies create and manage interactive promotional campaigns on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Sitting at the nexus of customer relationship management software and online advertising, RumbaFish says it provides instant metrics about each new campaign’s effectiveness and allows one-click changes to all sites at once to ramp up a campaign over time.

A passing of the baton

This was the last DEMO for long-time executive producer Chris Shipley who formally handed the baton to VentureBeat founder and editor-in-chief Matt Marshall. As part of her swan song, Shipley handed out the show’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Awards to 16 alumni presenters, including Palm’s co-founders Jeff Hawkins, Donna Dubinsky and Ed Colligan, founder Marc Benioff and VMWare founder Diane Greene.

Shipley received a Lifetime Achievement Award – which she dubbed a Mid-Life Achievement Award – from IDG founder and chairman Patrick McGovern, who then joined her on stage to dance to “The Cupid Shuffle.”

Two of this year’s presenters – Emo Labs, maker of an “invisible” speaker system, and Liaise, split the first IDG Million Dollar Media Prize. Each company will receive $500,000 in multimedia promotions and advertising from Inernational Data Group, owner of the DEMO show.

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