ITEXPO StartupCamp 3: Entrepreneurs win at ITEXPO


John Stepp, president of Free Tech Consultants, is on the ground in Miami covering ITEXPO and StartupCamp 3. Here are his thoughts on the presentations from 1st and 2nd place StartupCamp respective winners, Hoot.me and Hookflash.

We all would like to think we can come up with the next great product or service.  But for every Twitter, there are many failures.  It takes guts and ideas to make a go with any new venture.  There were a lot of both on display at StartupCamp 3 at the ITEXPO in Miami Beach with several great new ideas for future successful companies.  Larry Lisser, the brains behind StartupCamp since its inception, was the emcee for the event.  Craig Walker and Wesley Chan were keynote speakers and led a panel that critiqued each presenter on their five minute presentations to the audience.  Craig started GrandCentral and Wesley helped acquire GrandCentral (now Google Voice) for Google. So there was significant expertise to evaluate the startups and their pitches.  After each presentation the panel and the audience asked questions of the presenters.  At the end the audience voted via text for their favorite presentations.  It was like America’s Got Talent, except many were Canadians and there was no dancing.

I got to sit down with both the first and second place companies for an in depth sneak peak prior to the event and was very impressed with what I heard.  I think both have a great chance to be successful in the market place and both companies had audience members that offered to invest on the spot.

The winning startup was Hoot.me, a startup out of the University of Texas.  Cofounder and CEO, Michael Koetting, a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin explained that Hoot.me, which officially launched at the StartupCamp, is a Facebook application that is customized for education.  College students invented Facebook, so it makes sense that a college student would improve on it.  The Hoot.me application allows students to use Facebook in “study” mode.  So a student that is stumped by a biology question can seek out other students who are also in study mode to get help by clicking on a person logged into the biology study group.  If the issues a student is having with a particular subject cannot be solved by their peers, then they can hit a tutor button to access the tutor marketplace.  There they can view the tutors Facebook picture, their bio, their craft score rating, and the cost per time frame to choose the tutor that is best for them.  They also may see a designation like the “House of Tutors” at the University of Texas that would lend credibility to the tutor.  The monetization for Hoot comes from taking a cut from the student to tutor transactions.  Since 24% of students use tutors, the monetization of the web site appears more secure to me than many established companies in the social media space today.

Michael Koetting of Hoot.me, just after winning StartupCamp3

Some of the existing and planned value added features of Hoot for both high school and college students are video in the browser, smart chat and screen sharing.  Initial rollout is at University of Texas, but will soon spread nationwide.  To me, this is a natural fit economically and demographically.

In second place, Hookflash, an old telephony term for a novel company is led by startup veterans Trent Johnsen and Erik Lagerway, co-founder of Xten (now CounterPath). Trent, CEO and founder of Hookflash from Calgary is going the Twitter path of offering free stuff and the money will follow.  The Hookflash offering is in two parts:

  1. A SIP VOIP mobile endpoint to interface with a corporate telephony infrastructure
  2. An automated provisioning and management system for the mobile endpoints

The way that it works is that the mobile user downloads Hookflash from their operating system app store onto their mobile phone and it becomes their client, a universal GUI for their corporate phone system with the ability to transfer calls and maintain call control form the enterprise phone system.   The cost of the client is zero.  The phone system administrator attaches client(s) to the phone system and downloads the administration/provisioning tool to manage the clients.  The cost of the tool is zero.

Johnsen explains that what he wants to do first is gain wide scale acceptance of the Hookflash platform within the industry, and after that hurdle is cleared, provide a way to monetize the product.  Already, Hookflash is under NDA with two major manufacturers and is finding the acceptance of the product overwhelming.  The plan is to go live with the product in June.

Since the issues surrounding the mobile workforce and the proliferation of mobile devices with disparate operating systems is one of the major problems in the VOIP world, it makes sense that Hookflash can be successful in creating a brand that will enable them to create value for the company and the investors.

From L-R, Trent Johnsen of Hookflash, Larry Lisser of StartupCamp and Erik Lagerway of Hookflash
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