IT’s ship comes sailing in

Kevin is always coming up with interesting ideas that will help his company keep better tabs on customers, stay connected to employees, and so on. But Kevin’s boss is threatened by his entrepreneurial spirit and stifles it at every turn. Kevin has decided he wants to start his own business, but like many wistful thinkers, he lacks The Big Idea.If you’re a Kevin, or just someone who dreams of your ship sailing in, today may be your day. A U.S. newsmagazine recently profiled a number of venture capitalist firms that are looking to invest more than US$50 million in startup firms by enterprising geeks with plenty of creative juice and business savvy.One company, 3i, which is based in Menlo Park, Calif., has US$8 million for anyone who can engineer a wireless home-monitoring network for recuperating hospital patients. The idea is that heath care facilities could save money if they sent home patients who were not critically ill, but still needed to be closely monitored. The company envisions a wireless transmitter that would attach to medical equipment such as portable ECG machines, heart-rate and blood-pressure monitors to transmit vital signs to an on-call physician. 3i will award US$500,000 in seed money to the entrepreneurs who can develop a working demo that can be pitched to insurance companies or health maintenance organizations (HMOs). If an HMO signs on to pilot the system, 3i will award an additional US$7.5 million to bring the system to market.
For those who prefer to march with the penguins, Walden VC of San Francisco has US$3 million to invest in a startup that can develop a suite of open source applications that can maintain a company’s IT backbone. The idea behind it is that IBM, HP and other behemoth software companies still dominate the maintenance market, and if a comparable open source alternative were available for network management and help-desk inquiries, the SME market would eat it up. Walden is seeking a team of about six open source developers to create a few back-office apps, along with a couple of big companies that are willing to try the applications.
Other VCs have about US$40 million to invest in technologies you can bet we’ll be writing about in the years to come, including:
• software that allows any Net-connected device to access and display services such as voice over IP, instant messaging and streaming television;
• a system that takes the applications developed by banks, strips them of proprietary information and converts them into a subscription service for other banks;
• A type of Craigslist on steroids for every neighborhood, everywhere, where users can type in a postal/zip code, and the Web site will present headlines, photos and classified ads from all the local news sites.
It’s heartening to know that innovation – and indeed investment in inventive thinking – is alive and well. With financing available to fund these big ideas, we look forward to seeing the names of entrepreneurial Canadians attached to at least some of these projects.

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