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The Paper Chase

With a new investment from Intel, E Ink comes a step closer to broadly commercializing its electronic ink technology.
March 20, 2005

Company: E Ink

HQ: Cambridge, MA with an office in Tokyo, Japan

Founded: 1997

Management: Russ Wilcox is President and CEO. He was previously at PureSpeech, Inc., a speech recognition company that was acquired by Voice Control Systems of Dallas, Texas.

Dr. Michael D. McCreary is the vice president of research and advanced development. He held various positions at Eastman Kodak Company.

The core technology emerged from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Laboratory, where it was developed by Dr. Joseph Jacobson, J.D. Albert, and Barrett Comiskey.

Investors: On March 22, E Ink announced that Intel Capital invested an undisclosed sum in the company. To date, E Ink has raised $120 million in total financing from Air Products and Chemicals, Inc., Applied Technology Ventures, Atlas Ventures, CNI Ventures, a division of Gannett Co., Inc., Degussa AG, owners of Creavis Technologies and Innovation, Gruppo Espresso (Italy), The Hearst Corporation, The McClatchy Company, Motorola Corporation, New Venture Partners, Oriel General Trading Company, Philips Components, Solstice Capital, TOPPAN Printing Company, Ltd. (Japan), and Vivendi Universal Publishing.

Business model/technology: E-Ink creates electronic ink, a material that is processed like film and can be “printed” on a display device. The process works through the manipulation of black and white particles known as microcapsules, which are the diameter of a human hair. By charging these microcapsules with electricity, they are arranged to simulate a paper-like reading experience, with high contrast, low power consumption, and a thin form factor.

The print on a display device can be erased and the device can be reused. Applications include eBooks, PDAs, information kiosks, wearable technology, and programmable signage. Technology can also be used in roll-up displays, a kind of digital paper that can be rolled up like a scroll.

Competitors: Gyricon Media, Lucent

Dirt: Intel’s investment in E Ink provides the latest indication that the company and its many financial supporters remain optimistic and, more importantly, patient

Last March, when Philips and Sony announced that Sony’s e-Book reader LIBRIe would be launched in the Japanese market, E Ink finally saw its leading edge technology in consumers’ hands.

The product, which is based on E Ink’s technology, is the size of a typical paperback and allows users to view up to 500 downloaded books in a high resolution typeface that looks like newspaper print.

E Ink started its collaboration with these corporate partners back in 2001, so this consumer release marked a major milestone for a technology that’s been edging its way out of the laboratory for years. E Ink will now try to build on this momentum, particularly with its corporate partner and investor, Philips.

The company’s Polymer Vision subsidiary has developed a 5- inch roll-up display, based on E Ink’s technology, that it plans to introduce commercially by 2007, according to a recent announcement by Philips.


China’s Sleeping Giants

A huge private tech company you’ve never heard of – and other alarm:clock news from the land of private venture funding

The excitement that surrounds the emerging Chinese technology market is probably well-placed. China is geographically huge, its population is enormous and increasingly well-educated, and the government is growing more sympathetic to free market economies.  And as much as we like to remain hardened skeptics, a company such as Huawei Technologies softens us up a bit and hints at the promise of the Chinese tech market.

Huawei, which is a little-known private venture in the United States, has 25,000 employees and billions in revenues. The company sells a broad-range of telecom networking equipment from wireless and wireline products to data networking equipment. It reported sales of $5.58 billion in 2004, a 45 percent   increase over the prior year and also claims to be making a fat profit.

The company started as a low cost provider of generic products, but has invested substantially in R&D and has gained ground on everybody in the sector. If the company continues its present rate of growth, it will surpass Nortel and Lucent; everyone but Cisco.

Another company in Cisco’s territory, which admittedly poses less of a threat than Huawei Technologies, is Calix Networks. The company sells telecommunications platforms that improve voice, data, and video service delivery economics for wireline carriers, or the broadband loop carrier – which is the latest generation of packet-based networking for data services. Though Calix emerged during a telecom equipment boom in the late 1990s that resulted in many failures, the company is legit: it has over 150 customers and recently announced that its revenues for 2004 were in the range of $100 million.

Teneros sells appliances that assure continuous operations of Microsoft applications, particularly Exchange. The object is to provide zero downtime and simple installation. While we are fairly impressed with the company’s management team, we’re having a hard time getting excited about Teneros. Hundreds of companies can offer backup for Exchange. Big whoop.

Procuri sells ASP-based procurement management software, which helps companies manage their supply chain and relationships with customers. The field is sometimes called e-RFQ, e-sourcing, or e-procurement. This was once THE hot market with companies like Ariba and CommerceOne pulling off  major IPOs. It has been a rocky road for Procuri with a fair share of law suits and plenty of marketplace turbulence, but the company has done well to hang on to its customers. Procuri acquired Contract Management Solutions in March 2005, which doubled its customer base to 300.

The ever-growing amount of information on the Web can be difficult to navigate, but a number of new start-ups are working on personalized search programs designed to help you find what you want.

Consider PubSub, which has created an Internet-based matching engine that monitors the web, scanning sites in real time and notifying users when there is relevant news. It’s like a proactive search or a virtual clipping service, with PubSub subscribers entering keywords they want to monitor. The service currently scans over nine million weblogs, more than 50,000 Internet newsgroups, and all U.S. Security and Exchange Commission filings. It’s a cool idea, but probably more of an added feature to your browser than a stand-alone company.

Procuri: PubSub: Calix: Teneros:

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