Student Startups Shine at Demo Mobile 2013

Ten young entrepreneurs, sponsored by Microsoft, attended Demo Mobile 2013 to give what’s called an Alpha Pitch. Alpha Pitch companies don’t quite have a product ready to launch; instead, they have a solid idea and some kind of prototype, and then get 90 seconds to convince the audience that they’re the next big thing.

Three of the ten stood out for me as especially clever, useful, or simply intriguing:, Flowbit, LightLibrary, and WordsEye.

Flowbit, from the University of California at Berkeley, is developing a low-cost package of sensors and wireless communications intended for use in water systems in developing countries. Flowbit envisions water system managers and engineers installing these boxes into their network of pipes to measure water flow, temperature, purification processes, pH, dissolved solids, and other factors, and upload that information automatically.

LightLibrary, from Harvard University, has developed a system to register the print books you own so that publishers can sell you a reduced-cost electronic version—you sign the title page and uploading a photo of that signed page for analysis. LightLibrary's concept is similar to the Ultraviolet format being promoted by some digital video companies; I hadn’t previously heard anyone suggest a similar process for books.

WordsEye, from Columbia University, seems a little goofy at first, but it could have a number of useful applications in education. To use it, you type in a description of a scene, say, a cat sits in front of a house with a flower. WordsEye pulls images from its library to create the scene. The company figures the app will initially be used to create comic illustrations to share with friends, but it could also help teach languages or grammar, because the software parses the sentence as written, so mistakes in sentence structure can lead to surprises in the rendered scene.

Photo: FlowBit cofounder Nick Lee takes the Demo stage. Credit: Tekla Perry

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