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Computing

Simplifying Security

Encrypting files for security purposes should get simpler with new algorithms developed by start-ups like Voltage Security.

Company: Voltage Security

HQ: Palo Alto, CA

Founded: 2002

Management: Sathvik Krishnamurthy is president and CEO. Prior to joining Voltage, he was vice president of marketing and business development at ValiCert, a security software start-up, and he worked at Worldtalk Corp., where he was vice president and general manager of the security division. The founding Voltage team – Rishi Kacker, Dr. Dan Boneh, Guido Appenzeller, and Matt Pauker – developed the underlying technology as part of a research project at Stanford University.

Investors: On May 17, the company announced a $15 million Series C round of funding. JAFCO Ventures led the round, with participation from the Siemens Venture Capital arm of Siemens AG and existing investors Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, Morgenthaler Ventures, and Menlo Ventures.

Business Model: Voltage has developed a next-generation cryptography technique that simplifies the secure transmission of data, including emails, files, documents, and instant messages. Voltage’s approach, known as identity-based encryption (IBE), is positioned as an improvement over public key infrastructure (PKI), which has never enjoyed wide popularity because of its complexity, implementation difficulties, and lack of standards. Voltage’s algorithm, known as Boneh-Franklin IBE, simplifies the architecture for encrypting information by eliminating the need for certificates and complex infrastructure. The technology uses a common identity, such as an email address, as a public key, instead of long strings of numbers. Voltage sells its products to financial services, health-care, and pharmaceutical companies and the U.S. government.

Competitors: PGP Corporation, NetIQ

Dirt: Voltage has received lots of favorable attention for its technology, as well as its classic Silicon Valley pedigree. Any start-up that emerges from Stanford University seems to get a second look (ever heard of Google or Yahoo?). What’s more, the company is backing up its promise with some results: Voltage claims it has averaged 60 percent quarter-to-quarter growth since launch in 2003 and boasts 25 new customers in the first quarter of 2005. It’s also promising that Siemens, the German communications giant, has invested in Voltage. In February, the two companies announced that Siemens was testing Voltage’s encryption technology with 10 of its customers. The test was designed to monitor email communications with smart phones. Since Siemens has joined the latest round of investment, it would appear that Voltage’s technology passed the test.

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Talk Time on Television

The post-bubble venture funding continues to go to the companies that innovate within existing markets. This week, voice-activated television company AgileTV moves toward making the life of a couch potato even easier – and other alarm:clock news from the land of private venture funding.

It’s hard enough to create a new company – why try to create a new market as well? That’s why we like start-ups that target markets which already exist. In fact, we’ve examined this theme in the last few weeks – more often than not, start-ups are best served by approaching old problems in new ways. The advantage is obvious: the demand for the products or services is already in place.

Take AgileTV, which is creating a better remote control for televisions. The trend with remote controls and TV management has been to stick with clunky remotes and produce volumes of onscreen text guidance. But AgileTV would have viewers tossing that hunk of plastic, ignoring the on-screen listings, and simply telling their TV to find the program they want via voice commands.

A TV-watcher can use voice commands to search through broadcast TV, program guides, on-demand listings, and DVR content. The service, called Promptu, uses a database of more than 100,000 phrases, and is currently being tested by cable operators. (No more scrolling through snail-like program guides to find out when the O.C. is on.) Last week the company raised $22 million in its second round of funding to take the product to market.

Another approach to an existing market comes from CafePress, which offers online ordering of custom printing projects, such as t-shirts, coffee mugs, and posters. Sound like small potatoes? Think about any tourist destination you’ve visited recently, where one inevitably finds vendors hawking “I’m With Stupid,” “I got Scrod in Boston,” or “What Happens in Cabo, Stays In Cabo” t-shirts. CafePress has taken off by tapping into this market. They allow just about anyone to easily design low-cost printed items, then resell them on the CafePress site. The company, in business since 1999, has over two million registered users.

Because t-shirts have become a surprisingly huge Internet business, CafePress has attracted a top-flight group of venture-capital investors, including August Capital and Sequoia Capital. Wall Street might not think it’s ready for a t-shirt store dot-com IPO, but we suspect that when CafePress opens its books and reveals its revenues, the Street will be impressed.

Another retooling of an existing concept comes from Five9, this one in the call center market. The idea is to greatly simplify call center operations with new technologies – particularly voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) and an application service provider (ASP) platform. The old version of call centers is characterized by a roomful of customer service representatives making calls via AT&T’s phone network and using software hosted on the premises.

With Five9, and its competitors, the concept of the call center as a physical location has been transcended. Tele-support employees might work from home or abroad and are voice connected to customers via the Internet. Furthermore, they receive information about their customers from their Web browsers, with information coming via Five9.

If Five9, its rival Contactual, and others entering this market make their technology work as well as billed, it will become a lot easier for companies to launch and support their products, since one of the biggest headaches in such businesses is maintaining a call center. Last week, Five9 received a $12 million investment from Partech and HummerWinblad. That should be enough to find out if the concept works.

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