Article from the June 2, 2003 issue of NJBIZ
Timers, Horses and Parachutes for Planes
Would you sink cash into a company developing software for cell phones, a system to help veterinarians treat horses, an emergency landing device for small planes or a question-answering service? These were among 28 young businesses sharpening their pitches on prospective investors of the Venture Association New Jersey. They came together at the group's third annual Entrepreneurs Expo in Morristown's Westin Hotel.
"It was a smaller, but stronger group than in past years," says Jay Trien, president of the Venture Association. "Every time somebody exhibits they are learning to tell their story."
Sherman Langer, president of year-old Bright Star Technologies, exuded enthusiasm about his product. The Edison company's software tracks cell phone use, answering the universal question: How many free minutes do I have left this month?
"It's a sore point when a user unknowingly exceeds the minute limit and gets hit with a $150 bill when they were expecting a $50 bill," Langer says. "This software takes control out of the hands of the service provider and gives control to the user."
The program, Airtime-Manager, is downloaded to the phone and constantly updates users on remaining peak, off-peak and mobile-to-mobile minutes. It will warn them when they are approaching their limit. Providing more up-to-date and complete information than users can get from the phone companies' Websites, Airtime-Manager will cost $29.95. Langer expects it to be available directly to consumers by the end of the summer.
Airtime-Manager only works on the latest so-called smartphones, owned by a small fraction of cell phone users, but Langer says the percentage is expected to reach 33% by the end of next year. Eventually the company, which has six employees and was funded by its four principals, would like to license the technology to cell phone manufacturers. "We had a casual conversation with Nokia in March and they are very excited about the application," Langer says.
Bright Star is looking to raise $2.5 million for marketing, advertising and programming.
Equine Performance Technologies (EPT) of Oldwick hopes to bring the latest video-game technology to the veterinarian's office. Its portable system analyzes a horse's gait in a way that was formerly possible only in the laboratory. The system adopts the fiber-optic technology used to record human movement when programming video game characters, using a harness with 32 sensors. These track the movement of the beast's limbs and spine as it runs on a farm or a track. A wireless transmitter attached to the harness sends the data to a nearby laptop computer for analysis.
"It's used to compare dissimilarities between the right and the left limb which is the best way of evaluating lameness," says CEO George R. Tauber. "It also helps evaluate the effectiveness of treatment by retesting after specific periods."
The Equine Performance Measuring System currently costs $40,000, but the company expects vets to lease the system and charge between $400 and $700 per test. The equipment is in beta testing and Tauber expects to launch the product in the fall.
The 2-year-old company is seeking $1.5 million to help continue developing that as well as other products.
Dario P. Manfredi, a financial planner from Berkeley Heights, has joined his brother and sister to market an air-safety invention patented by their inventor father in the 1960s. The Aviation Safety Resources system uses parachutes installed in the wings and body of a small plane. In an emergency, the device releases the wings—which are a fire hazard due to the fuel tanks—from the body and lands the three units separately.
Manfredi's father successfully demonstrated the system with a four-passenger plane in 1967 under FAA observation at Lakehurst Naval Air Test Facility, says Manfredi, who showed the investors grainy, black-and-white footage of the test. According to Manfredi, the military was interested, but his father could not raise the money to continue testing.
The company is seeking $1.5 million to buy a plane and test an updated version of the system, which Manfredi says has succeeded in simulations and received FAA approval for flight testing. The siblings face competition from small aircraft manufacturer Cirrus Design, of Duluth, Minnesota, which installs parachute landing systems in its four-seat, single-engine aircraft. In fact, the Cirrus system worked last year, saving a pilot who parachute-landed in Texas. It doesn't separate passengers from the fuel-bearing wings, however.
Aviation Safety Resources has forged relationships with a parachute company and a firm that performs plane modifications and hopes to entice owners of light aircraft to buy the system. Manfredi estimates it would cost $20,000 to install on a six-seater plane. Such an aircraft costs $500,000 new and $300,000 used. The company would also market its system to aircraft manufacturers when the economy improves, Manfredi says.
You can find anything you want on the Internet if you have time. But a former researcher at an investment bank is betting that enough people don't have the time. Jeffrey Allen Zilahy, who's currently a Jersey City math teacher, founded Expert Cyber Inquiries to answer questions for those in a hurry.
"A wealthy individual who does not have the time or inclination to get on a computer can call us from a plane and ask where the best Chinese restaurant is when he lands," says Zilahy, who runs the firm out of his Hoboken home. "There are executives that are pressured and need quick answers and businesses that don't have time to do research and grandmothers who have questions."
Zilahy says he has recreated a database system he developed when working at JP Morgan. He claims it gives him an edge over simply using popular Internet search engines such as Google and Yahoo. "Google is an amazing search engine and it does a lot," says Zilahy, "but it still misses a lot of resources out there."
He says his database taps Websites that allow him to, among other things, search current and archived Web pages, track airplane flights, find illegal credit card usage and search government documents.
Zilahy started the company 19 months ago with a five-figure investment. He has recently picked up a few wealthy individual clients and done work for some New York City consulting firms. They pay about $50 per question, more for an in-depth answer. An advertising firm, for example, wanted information about an episode of "The Sopranos" that referred to a product it handles. Zilahy says he tracked down the name of the episode and the nature of the reference within hours.
Expert Cyber Inquiries faces competition from free search engines, which constantly grow in sophistication, as well as from Google's own paid service called Google Answers which promises that "more than 500 carefully screened researchers are ready to answer your question for as little as $2.50—usually within 24 hours." But Zilahy says his service conducts deeper research and, unlike Google Answers, keeps questions and answers confidential. He is seeking $500,000 from investors to help market his service and pursue a business process patent.