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In the Globe
special report: high-tech boston
10 trends that may lead to a comeback

Boston's next buzz

Here's a look at the up-and-coming people, companies, and sectors making an impression on the local radar screen.

      SPECIAL REPORT

High-tech Boston

Boston's next buzz
Following leaders in rival cities
Test driving local gadgets
The Boston boomlet era
Tough lessons for entrepreneurs
Future Forward contest

They've got the funding, or the management team, or the board of directors, or the technology. They are the up-and-comers who might emerge as leaders of Boston's next technology scene.

A few wrong moves, or maybe even one wrong move, and it could all blow up, of course. And dark horses will emerge. But for better or for worse, certain people, companies, and sectors attract the oddsmakers just out of the gate.

Below, some early favorites on the post-bust Greater Boston technology scene.

People
nick_gleason.jpg

1. As the Internet becomes less of a novelty and more of a utility, Nick Gleason's idea makes more and more sense: a Web site management and development company that employs largely low-income residents of urban neighborhoods. CitySoft, the company he founded on those principles, might have enough do-good spirit to carry it through the tough times.

2. Sure, videoconferencing and Internet-based meeting technology have been a year away for the last five years, but there's a reason why the buzz hasn't ceased: Corporations really want the idea to work - so they can cut their bloated travel budgets. And Andrew Davis, founder and managing partner of Wainhouse Research, is the man many of these companies trust to cut through the clutter. The sold-out summit he organized last July attracted an A-list of technologists, vendors, and customers.

3. Now that so many products have microprocessors, why not enable them to talk to each other? Rob Poor worked on this idea at the MIT Media Lab, then built a company around it: Ember Corp. After raising $3 million last month, Poor is one step closer to making an ``Internet for small things'' a reality.
Kismet

4. Kismet is a sociable humanoid robot that hangs out at MIT's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Unlike many contemporary robots, which are designed to do very specific tasks like repetitive factory work, Kismet has been programmed to interact with humans using the ``modalities'' that humans use: facial expression, body posture, voice, etc. Kismet could show the way for a whole new generation of robots.

5. She's a 20-year marketing veteran, but CarolAnn Shindelar, the brand new vice president of marketing at Forrester Research, will be expected to have some up-and-coming ideas for the Cambridge-based analysis firm. With the tech sector in retreat, it will be Shindelar's job to hook Forrester up with some hot new verticals and seize the lead as the go-to research group for emerging technologies.
Michael Bronner

6. Michael Bronner made a fortune as the founder of Digitas, the marketing and Internet services firm. Now he's putting his money and his blue-chip connections behind Upromise, a loyalty marketing company, with a Web site front door. Upromise hopes to launch an educational twist on frequent-flier miles: get tuition money with every purchase. So far, Bronner has been able to sell some major players on the plan, including AT&T, ExxonMobil, and Citibank. If he can get enough families to register at Upromise.com, the concept will start to lift off the ground.

Companies

1. Guardent (www.guardent.com)
Founded: March 2000
Employees: 160
Product: Security and privacy services
Large corporations are particularly vulnerable when it comes to security and privacy. Which is why many of them are hoping that companies like Guardent will get them out of any future jams. After raising $25 million this year, this Waltham-based company is hoping that it will be ready to help.

2. Giant Loop (www.giantloop.com)
Founded April 2000
Employees: 250
Product: Enterprise optical networking
Waltham-based GiantLoop takes a big holistic approach to corporate networking, merging data, storage, voice, and multimedia into one centrally managed, high-performance optical infrastructure. It's ambitious, but investors are backing the concept to the tune of $160 million.

3. Celox Networks (www.celoxnetworks.com)
Founded: 1999
Employees: 290
Product: Telecom mega-switch
Large phone companies apparently think that they can make money on the increased capabilities provided by Celox's refrigerator-sized switches. Which explains why the company was able to raise $155 million, including $80 million last quarter, in a very sour environment.

4. Rovia (www.rovia.com)
Founded: January 2000
Employees: 25
Product: E-textbook technology
When the first generation of e-books arrived on the scene last winter, people stayed away in droves. But Rovia, based in Kenmore Square, just might be targeting the right demographic: college students. Rovia's technology enables students to utilize the Internet to view and interact with digitized textbooks, articles, and research. The company's partnership with Houghton Mifflin is a sign that industry leaders might be starting to see things Rovia's way.

5. Narad Networks (www.naradnetworks.com)
Founded: July 2000
Employees: 140
Product: Broadband Internet Protocol services
The cable infrastructure is out there, widely installed. Narad Networks, based in Westford, plans to enable broadband IP services over it by creating ``virtual fiber'' networks. The product is scheduled to launch in the first quarter of next year; first-round financing of $49 million will help them get there.

6. Bowstreet (www.bowstreet.com)
Founded: January 1998
Employees: 200
Product: Plug'n'play business Web services
Why reinvent the wheel? That seems to be the question driving Bowstreet, which is trying to automate the design and assembly of composite Web applications. Bowstreet promotes use and reuse of components across related families of applications, thereby enabling greater efficiency in successive development efforts. The team behind the company has also been around the block a few times: hence, the $141 million in financing.

7. Boston Digital Bridge Foundation (www.digitalbridge.com)
Founded: April 2000
Employees: Five, plus volunteers
Product: Computer education programs.
Boston Mayor Tom Menino started the Boston Digital Bridge Foundation a year and a half ago with five technology CEOs. The mission: Enlist Boston's digital community to create and support a local technical workforce. An ``Evening on the Bridge'' celebration, scheduled for tonight 9/12 in Franklin Park, is designed to bump the program to the next level.

Sectors

1. Nanotechnology. Tiny, tiny tech is suddenly very big. How do we know? The venture capitalists are getting interested. Later this month, Boston will be hosting a ``Nanotechnology Briefing'' at the Fairmont Copley Plaza. Nanotech engineers and investors will probably be spending a lot of time together over the next few years.

2. Customer relationship management. Can technology help your company get closer to your customers, and your potential customers? Customer relationship management software, known as CRM for short, promises that it will. Local companies Teloquent and Netonomy are among the players who are banking that big companies will see the value in CRM solutions.

3. Embedded technology. Do you think the entire programming community is still focused on your clunky personal computer? Think again: Many of the most adventurous software designers are working on software for the microprocessors and microcontrollers that are embedded in everything from jet engines to toasters. Last week's ``Embedded Systems Conference'' at the Hynes demonstrated that these various platforms are going to continue to proliferate.

4. Biometrics. Face-recognition cameras that scan busy Florida boulevards, security systems that recognize employees when they arrive for work, fingerprint passwords for bank accounts - they are all related to biometrics, the science of recognizing and identifying people by distinguishing traits. Boston-area companies like Viisage and Keyware are among the biometric firms leading the charge.

5. Search. If you think this sector begins and ends with Google, you're missing about a half-dozen flavors: e-commerce search, corporate intranet search, natural language search, geographic search, vertical topic search, multimedia search ... The Internet has inspired millions of us to look for a search box when we need to know something, so there's still a lot of business delivering search results to inquiring minds.

D.C. Denison can be reached by e-mail at denison@globe.com.



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