Assay Depot speeds new drug discovery

A startup has emerged that has designed a new way to connect scientists with pharmaceutical research service providers, helping to streamline the drug discovery process. San Diego-based Assay Depot, an Internet marketplace for the pharmaceutical services industry, announced yesterday they have raised $1.8 million in series A financing from private investors.

Industry and academic scientists that are researching new drugs require samples of their work to be analyzed by third party labs, or service providers. Assay Depot makes this process more efficient by providing a marketplace that brings many service providers together in one place. A researcher (customer) will go on the site and select an option from a research services menu, then mail their sample in a pre-paid overnight express envelope to Assay. That order is then distributed to one of many service providers in Assay’s network, at which point the sample is forwarded by Assay to the corresponding provider. Once they complete the research service, the results are uploaded to Assay who then provides the customer with a full data report. Assay provides a variety of additional services to research providers as well: marketing, legal agreements and billing are all able to be handled on Assay Depot’s side.

The company plans to launch its service in early 2008.

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MyBuys helps tell you what you want to buy

1191892062651MyBuys, a behavioral one-to-one recommendation service for online merchants, recently raised $10 million in a series B round led by Palomar Ventures with help from previous investor Lightspeed Venture Partners.

MyBuys helps people find what they want on web merchant stores. Based on data gathered by the retailer in addition to personal info offered by the consumer, MyBuys suggests products on a one-to-one customized basis to shoppers. In addition, the service will alert you when a product that you want becomes available. Found a great pair of shoes but only want them if they have a pair that’s pink size 12? MyBuys will alert you when it comes in stock.

The service, which has no upfront costs for the client and is ran on a pay for performance model, is already in place on Ritz Interactive in addition to smaller sites Lancome Cosmetics and Hancock Fabrics. In June of this year MyBuys released version 3.0 of the service, expanding the modes of delivery for their recommendations from email and RSS to include real-time recs right on the merchant’s website.

Check out a podcast interview with Paul Rosenblum, VP of Marketing for MyBuys (hosted by Get Elastic). Rosenblum says that when recommendations to consumers are accurate and useful, “it’s really not advertising anymore. It’s about service.

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MSNBC acquires Newsvine

Newsvine was just acquired by MSNBC for an undisclosed amount. For now, the seven-employee startup will remain operating as an independent company.

For those unfamiliar with the company, Newsvine is a community-driven social news site that aims to provide a clear sense of what people ‘are really talking about.’ Members of the site select articles from outside sources to be presented and then vote on them for relevance and display priority (individual comments in response to articles are also voted on). Newsvine also encourages members to write and publish their own articles, creating a portion of original content for the site. This unique content along with the site’s professional newspaper-like layout are what separate Newsvine from Digg, the most popular crowd-sourcing news page.

Recently, Newsvine’s CEO and founder Mike Davidson was in the news for altering an image on his servers that was being unfairly used on John McCain’s MySpace profile, resulting in a fake message from the Arizona senator being displayed on his MySpace announcing his support of gay marriage (discussion over on TechCrunch). While one could say this was an unprofessional action by Davidson, the flip-side is that it revealed that he doesn’t always play by the rules — a trait that is generally found in true entrepreneurs.

This acquisition is another example of big media trying to realign themselves to survive in a Web 2.0 media landscape that seems to be slowly but steadily outpacing them. Om Malik notes that the first media giant to purchase a social news startup was News Corp. when they acquired Newroo in April 2006.

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OAuth - Breaking down barriers

OauthThe “final draft” version 1.0 of OAuth was released yesterday. OAuth is an Open Authentication spec that is attempting to become the standard for cross-platform information exchange.
- The Problem -

Let’s say you have accounts on a wide number of websites: Facebook, Netflix, Flickr, Amazon, Twitter, etc. Combined you have a network of sites that perform unique functions as well as store your personal information. Currently, however, information about you that is available to one site is inaccessible to the next. For instance, Netflix has no idea what you’ve purchased on Amazon and vice-versa, information that would allow both sites to offer better, more personalized recommendations that would help you find more movies you want to watch while increasing sales at the same time.

Cross-functionality isn’t an option either; there’s currently not a way to automate a Twitter post letting your friends know that you have just posted a new photo album titled “____” on your Flickr account. In order for this to work, each account would need your personal login and password credentials of the other, giving both sites full access to sensitive information as well as the ability to modify it. While the sharing of unique personal data and the utilization of cross-functionality would be useful, the difficulty of safely transferring info from one site to another has not been surmounted, leaving each account existing in a vacuum.

- The Solution -

OAuth is a protocol that enables the secure transfer of login credentials across platforms, making the examples above easy tasks. With OAuth, people can enjoy cross-functionality among different accounts without ever exposing their passwords. In addition, people are able to select the level of access granted to other sites for each of their accounts. For example, a person could give Match.com access to their Facebook interests, but not to their wall posts or friends lists.

Programmers developed OAuth by combining what they saw as the best features from other protocols (such as Google AuthSub, AOL OpenAuth, Yahoo BBAuth etc.), and they hope to solidify it as the open authorization standard. One feature that really sets OAuth apart from the rest is that its built with support for not only websites, but desktop apps and mobile devices as well.

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Move Networks raises $34 million

MoveIf you’re watching video online, chances are it’s Flash driven. Although watchable, the quality of Flash video is generally not very high due to the bandwidth constraints HQ video places on viewers.

Move Networks has found a way to change that. Move has developed a video player that allows video to be stored in small bit-by-bit pieces, resulting in much quicker download speeds that allow for fast, high quality streaming video. The company recently closed a $34 million investment round, bringing their total funding to $45 million.

Move Networks’ video looks remarkably better than normal video you’ll find around the web on sites like YouTube. A cool feature of Move’s platform is that it scales depending on your connection speed. For a demo, check out the ABC Move player.

A caveat for Move is that it requires the viewer to download their plugin before they can view anything. However, Move has been signing contracts with major broadcasters whose unique content will definitely help expand its plugin reach: ESPN, Fox Network, the CW, ABC, and Discovery have each made agreements to use Move Network’s software.

While these media companies won’t have much of a problem persuading viewers to take a few seconds to install a plugin in order to view their content, smaller video sites probably won’t be making the jump to Move’s platform soon.

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Shopatron raises $5 million

Hdr ShoplogoShopatron, a company that connects manufacturers, retailers and consumers through its e-commerce platform, announced today that they have raised $6 million in a series B round. The round was led by Kern Whelan Capital and Rivenrock Capital.

Shopatron, based out of San Luis Obispo, Calif., provides manufacturers with a way to sell their products “directly” online while utilizing retail distributors at the same time. Here’s how it works: Shopatron hosts a branded e-commerce store for a manufacturer, such as popular sunglass maker Spy Optic. When a visitor to the online shop places an order, it is immediately placed in a waiting-to-fill database that is viewed by all participating retailers Spy has chosen to allow in the system. Every day, retailers log in and view a breakdown of every order along with the price the consumer has agreed to pay. If the retailer has the item in stock and is willing to sell at that price, they click yes to “bid” on the item. Shopatron’s system then assigns every order to the closest retailer that bid on it, relative to the consumer’s location. From there, the retail outlet will box and ship the item, or the consumer can opt for in-store pickup. All customer service questions and returns are then fielded by the retailer. If an order receives zero bids, it is then filled directly by the manufacturer for a higher margin.

The platform provides value for all parties involved. It gives consumers the convenience of shopping online along with the personal customer service attention provided by a local retailer. Retailers are able to view a daily list of what customers are looking for, giving them a much clearer idea of sales trends and what items to keep in stock, in addition to the increased business sent to their store from web shoppers. Finally, manufacturers are alleviated of many customer service responsibilities while providing consumers more convenient access to their products.

Shopatron, which manages over 400 manufacturers and 6,000 retailers, plans to use the $5 million to further expand into more markets and perform hirings to flesh out their team.

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Online video site Joost launches

Joost-1Joost, the streaming video site that has been getting a lot of buzz lately, officially launched today. The date came later than expected (earlier we reported the site would launch in June), but the previously invite-only Joost beta 1.0 is now open to the public.

Prior to today’s release into the wild, the site already had a sizable user base (over one million private sign ups), making it less likely to see a quick hockey stick movement in registered user numbers — although, in Web 2.0, we know anything can happen.

From presentation to functionality to content, Joost simulates a real television viewing experience. Unlike YouTube’s small viewing windows and search engine-esque layout, Joost defaults to a full screen viewing mode from within which users can access video controls and browse video “channels.” The company has made a few high-profile content deals: Joost secured a contract with Viacom in February to give the site access to shows from MTV, BET and Comedy Central. Other networks the company has licensing deals with are CBS, CNN, Major League Baseball and the NHL. However, while the quality of Joost’s content is above average, the quantity leaves something to be desired. After all, all of these licensing deals combined would only be the equivalent of having a TV with just 7 channels on it. While shows from these networks don’t make up all of the content found on Joost, the site doesn’t come close to having a library nearly as deep as YouTube’s. Joost needs to leverage their current momentum to solidify more broadcast agreements.

Joost’s founders are Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom, previous creators of Kazaa and Skype, who received a portion of the $2.6 billion eBay-Skype acquisition that they used to fund development of the internet TV site. Joost runs on peer-to-peer technology (P2PTV) provided by the same company that developed Skypes’.

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STN: The first TV Network for Startups

startup tvStart-up Tv Network Inc. (STN) is a startup that brings together entrepreneurs and investors using online video and digital media. Here’s how it works: An entrepreneur submits his or her company to STN, at which point it is put under review. If approved, STN goes out and films the entrepreneur giving a 2 minute elevator pitch, which is uploaded and displayed on their website. From there, investors who are members of the site are able to view the pitch and choose whether they would like to invest. STN makes money on both sides of the equation: entrepreneurs are charged around $100 a month to have their video on the site, and although investors can join for free (only accredited investors are allowed membership), they have the option of paying to view other investors’ due diligence along with 3rd party research reports.

STN has filmed 50 companies to-date. The company is primarily focused on high tech startups, and is not planning on dealing with small retail or consumer product companies. In addition to membership fees and paid premium services, they plan to add revenue from advertising as well — whether ads will be embedded in the actual videos remains to be seen. Eventually, the company wants to expand to actualize its name by becoming a streaming video channel, both online and on cable.

For the past year STN has mostly remained in stealth mode. They recently raised $500k of a $1.5 million second round, with their initial seed round undisclosed.

This is an ambitious, unique idea for a startup, that if successful could eventually change the landscape for angel investors. Although many of the companies angels and VC’s invest in are dealing with the latest technology, the process of finding them remains largely offline. While this won’t replace the face-to-face pitch that investment groups are used to, it could prove to be an easy way to seed startups.

Start-Up Tv Network Inc. is located in Folsom, Calif., and is being backed by Velocity Venture Capital.

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Santa Monica video startup raises funding

LogoDeca is an online professional-video startup based in Santa Monica, Calif. that bills itself as “the first hybrid production and commercial model specifically for mainstream digital entertainment.” The company just announced it has raised $5 million in a series A round. Investors were Atomico Investments (last.fm, technorati), General Catalyst Partners, and Mayfield Fund. The site, which hasn’t launched yet, aims to provide video content on par with what comes out of Hollywood. Quite a lofty goal. The company’s services are three-tiered: Deca aims to finance, develop and distribute video. However, their actual website won’t showcase any of the content; all of the distribution is being handled by outside partners.
Deca was founded in 2007 by Michael Wayne and Chris Kimbell, both of whom have combined past experience at Sony Pictures, ABC, and Yahoo! Music. Wayne said the following:

Digital entertainment is not simply about posting something to YouTube; digital entertainment needs to be compelling, high quality, social and interactive. DECA brings the online and entertainment worlds together in a studio model that understands how new entertainment formats need to be created, funded, marketed, and distributed.

While this could seem like just another addition to the crowded online video space, the experience that the founders bring with them could prove to separate Deca from the pack. While online video appears to be saturated, people are still trying to figure out the right model to deliver “professional” content. Will big broadcast networks like NBC dominate the web market with sites like Hulu, or will startups have a shot? Big broadcasters definitely have first-mover advantage with their production studios constantly generating quality content, but that model may eventually be uprooted by companies like Deca.

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iPhotoMeasure closes seed round

Image04Yesterday, iPhotoMeasure’s CEO and founder Paul Minor announced that the company recently raised $400k in seed money. IPhotoMeasure, based in Tarzana, Calif., has software (Mac & PC) currently on the market that allows people to (according to the company) accurately scale the dimensions of a room or structure by simply taking a digital photo. Known formerly as Digicontractor, the program is geared towards contractors involved in construction projects, although it seemingly has a wider consumer application as well.

What allows the software to produce correct dimension readings (the company advertises 95.5% accuracy) are sheets of paper called DigiTargets. The targets are either 7.5″ sq (indoor measurements) or 15″ sq (outdoors). Print one of the targets and stick it to a surface, snap a digi photo (they recommend using at least a 2 megapixel camera), then load the image into iPhotoMeasure’s Flash-based software and let it do the rest.

However, it may not be exactly that easy. According to a review in February by blogger Ed Holloway, the software does not automatically locate the DigiTarget and requires you to manually draw a perfect square around it before computing dimensions. What’s more, since the square must be perfect, it appears that the software only did well with 2D objects. Also, the app only allowed saving the resulting images in the software’s own native format, with no support for JPEG or GIF. While the review is 6 months old, meaning its quite possible that there have been changes to the product, nothing on the company’s website offers evidence of such changes. Even with these flaws the product looks to be still useful, although the $100 price tag for the downloadable version seems a little steep.

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One Laptop Per Child ‘goes public’

LogoolpcNo, they aren’t launching an IPO, but the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) non-profit group has just announced that they will be selling their rugged cost-effective “$100 laptops,” named ‘XO,’ to the public. The program is called G1G1, give-one-get-one: for $399, customers will be able to purchase two of the laptops, one to keep and one to be given to a child in a developing country. Starting November 12th they will be sold online (at xogiving.org) for an initial two week period, which may be extended if the program proves successful. Previously, the laptops were only being sold to governments in batches of 250,000 units.

While they haven’t been able to hit that $100 price point yet, what OLPC has managed to accomplish in terms of the hardware alone is extremely impressive: a pivoting reversible hi-res monitor, 433 mhz processor, 256 mb DRAM, USB ports, and WiFi support all housed inside of a dirt and moisture-resistant enclosure. And that stuff isn’t even the really cool part; the laptop can be powered by its rechargable NiMH battery, an alternate power source like a car battery, or… this is it…. by hand. Using innovative techniques to shut off the processor when not in use, OLPC managed to get the XO’s power usage to under 2 watts. This allows the laptop to be powered by a hand crank, a pedal or a pull-cord… a necessity, seeing as how many of the XO’s intended owners live in areas without electricity.

OLPC was created in 2005 by faculty from the MIT Media Lab with one goal: to create a fully functional laptop can be produced cheaply enough to be put in the hands of children in developing nations. Out of these two-billion children, some receive very little education with others receiving none at all (one in three completes third grade).

From OLPC’s website:

Using the XO as both their window on the world, as well as a highly programmable tool for exploring it, children in emerging nations will be opened to both illimitable knowledge and to their own creative and problem-solving potential … [OLPC is] providing a means to an end—an end that sees children in even the most remote regions of the globe being given the opportunity to tap into their own potential, to be exposed to a whole world of ideas, and to contribute to a more productive and saner world community.

What a great example of a way to utilize information technology.

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Mozy acquired for $76 million

TechCrunch is reporting that Mozy, an online storage startup based out of Utah, was recently acquired by EMC Corporation for a rumored $76 million. Mozy’s software (Mac & PC) offers a simple backup solution: once you install it, it slowly backs up your data over a period of time. The site offers a free version of their software that gives you 2 gigs of backup space, and for $5/mo you get unlimited storage. EMC Corporation is an information management firm whose CEO Joe Tucci was named #1 in the IT hardware industry for the second year in a row in 2006 by readers of Institutional Investor, ranking one spot ahead of Steve Jobs. [TechCrunch writeup]

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Palo Alto Research Center creates program to foster startups

Startup-LogoThe Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), located in Silicon Valley, has recently launched a program called Startup@PARC that’s focused on incubating promising tech startups. Founded by Xerox in 1970 for the initial purpose of conducting internal research, PARC was incorporated in 2002 as an independent research business. The center is credited for being the birthplace of a variety of significant computing inventions: the mouse, the graphical user interface, laser printing and Ethernet all got their major start at PARC. Not to mention their first commercial GUI product was the Apple Macintosh.

According to PARC, the startup program is “a novel initiative to join forces with entrepreneurs and investors to bring transformative technologies to the marketplace. The Program will help selected entrepreneurs: crystallize opportunities; accelerate time-to-market; enhance competencies; provide facilities resources; and create unique, competitive advantages that leverage our track record in applying scientific insight to real-world opportunities.

According to Mark Berstein, PARC’s president, they aren’t looking for startups based on run-of-the-mill “me-too” ideas, most likely referring to the recent flood of flimsy “Web 2.0″ companies searching for VC money. “We’re looking for people who really have unique ideas [that] match the competencies that we have here,” Bernstein said. “It’s actually looking at bringing entrepreneurs in at a fairly pre-investment stage to develop their ideas.”

The press release mentions PARC’s recent partnership with SolFocus Inc., a solar energy company that they helped transform from a 2 man R&D team to a 50 employee company. The greentech company has raised $84 million in funding to date.

It will be interesting to see what comes next from PARC. Based on past experience, I think its safe to say these guys are good. Although most of the innovations this group is famous for were created 20+ years ago, many of them still play an integral part in the computing landscape to this day… a rare feat in the tech world. I think this proactive invitation to entrepreneurs is a great decision on their part and should really help foster some creative ideas and companies.

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Startup turns coal into cleaner gas

GreatpointenergylogoGreatPoint Energy, a startup based out of Massachusetts, is making waves in the energy market with its flagship product “bluegas”: clean natural gas made from coal. GreatPoint plans to build and operate conversion facilities based on their technology and then market bluegas to “regional distributors and customers in the power generation, industrial, heating and chemical sectors.” According to GreatPoint, their conversion process removes half of the carbon contained in coal, in addition to removing other harmful chemicals such as arsenic, mercury, and sulfur. The company was founded by Andrew Perlman, Avi Goldberg and Aaron Mandell, all managing partners of GreatPoint Ventures, an investment firm focused on tech companies also located in Cambridge, Mass.

GreatPoint just recieved $100 million in a third round of funding lead by Citi Sustainable Development Investments and Dow Chemical Co. According to Perlman, the money will be primarily used to construct a demonstration plant to be completed in 2009, citing Wyoming and Montana as possible locations. Previously, the company raised $37 million from Menlo Park firms Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Kleiner Perkins Caufiled & Byers, Khosla Ventures and Advanced Technology Ventures in Mass.

GreatPoint Energy was recently announced as one of AlwaysOn’s GoingGreen top 100 private greentech firms. According to them, greentech is now the 3rd largest investment sector for VC’s, with a total of $6.4 billion invested to date.

GreatPoint Energy’s competitors include Coaltek, which focuses on making coal itself cleaner in contrast with GreatPoint’s method of gassifying it, and Powerspan, which is developing a carbon dioxide capturing technology and is working closely with BP.

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Cramster creates a homework helping community

Logo Top LeftA company that was started back in February, 2003 continues to help students with homework problems semester after semester. Cramster, which provides support for math, science and engineering subjects, allows students to connect to their peers as well as professors in order to help each other solve difficult homework questions. The site provides access to textbook answers (currently supporting over 150 textbooks), lecture notes (over 17,000), sample problems and practice tests. Much of the content on Cramster is original and provided by their users, while a portion is aggregated from around the web. If a student can’t find the answer they are looking for, they can go on the Cramster Answer Board where members can ask and answer questions, all under the moderation of Cramster’s “Subject Matter Experts.” Unlike a traditional message board, responses aren’t confined to text-only; complicated problems often call for complicated answers, which Cramster supports through a custom diagram feature.

Cramster’s focus on community building really sets it apart from other homework-helper sites out there. In the past, a student looking for an answer to a math problem would search around until he/she found the answer, at which point they would most likely copy it and leave. Cramster has managed to combat this pattern by creating a rewards-based system that provides incentives for students to help each other. Its working: a quick visit to any of their Answer Boards reveals thousands of posts made by students eager to show one another how to solve problems. Here’s how the rewards work: when you answer another student’s question on the Answer Board, your response is immediately posted. From that point, other members of the site rate the accuracy and helpfulness of your answer. A high rating provides you with “karma points.” Users that have a high number of karma points are able to ask more questions per day. In addition, the questions these members ask receive higher priority in the response que, meaning they can expect answers to their problems faster (typically within 2 hours). Users can also trade in their karma points for cool stuff, from $25 gift cards to iPods and even Playstation 3’s. Combine all of these benefits with a prominently displayed leader-board system and you’ve got Cramster’s solution to creating a successful online study group.

And the site isn’t just for students: teachers, who can join for free, have a surprisingly large presence on the Answer Boards, where their posts are distinguished apart from the rest of the users. For those who aren’t teaching, Cramster offers two different membership options: free and paid. Free members get access to half of the textbook solutions on the site (only the odd numbered problems), can view all the lecture notes and practice exams, and can ask/answer questions on the Answer Board (initially limited to 1 question per day, although they can raise this by gaining karma points). Paid members can view and print all the textbook problems and are able to ask more questions per day on the boards, in addition to their questions receiving priority responses. Paid membership costs $10/month or $40/year, affordable even for high school students.

Speaking of high school, while the site is currently geared towards college students, Cramster is in the process of making itself more accessible to those who have yet to become undergrads. The site will soon offer support for popular high school textbooks, in addition to breaking down the Answer Board into subsections that are more relevant for high school students such as algebra and trigonometry.

The company, which just released a Facebook app allowing students to compare schedules and textbooks, is located in Pasadena, Calif.

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