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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

October 15, 2009 at 10:56 AM

FiRe conference: Eight companies changing the world

Big companies like Qualcomm and Dell aren’t the only ones being highlighted at the Future in Review Conference taking place today at the Seattle Four Seasons Hotel.

FiRe — the creation of Friday Harbor tech pundit, investor and consultant Mark Anderson — also presented a handful of small companies with potentially far-reaching innovations.

The eight “FiReStars” billed as changing the world include:

Seattle’s Twisted Pair Solutions, which developed technology for connecting various types of radios into a unified communication network. Chief Executive Tom Guthrie described how it helped 48 different agencies in six counties on the Olympic Peninsula have their radios interoperate.

Skyfiber, a Bryan,, Texas-based venture, is using lasers to transmit broadband capacity at up to 1.25 gigabytes per second. Using lasers to handle broadband isn’t new technology, but Skyfiber “reduces cost to the point you can actually start widespread use of this technology in an effectual way,” President David Achim said.

Vancouver, B.C.-based Sea Breeze is developing renewable energy projects, including a proposed high-voltage, direct current (hvdc) undersea cable between Victoria and Port Angeles.

Serious Materials, a Sunnyvale, Calif. startup with $120 million in funding, is producing green building materials including efficient windows and drywall that’s mold- and termite-resistant and generates less dust. Chief Executive Kevin Surace said 12 percent of the world’s energy is used to produce bulding materials with largely antiquated technology.

Yet companies such as Serious Materials can’t change the multi-billion building products industry by pitching green products. There’s a limited market specifically interested in those materials, while the broader market has to be won over by offering more value.

“If you’re going to build it you’ve got to go after the masses. If you’re going to go after the masses, you’ve got to bring real value,” he said.

Tesla, the Silicon Valley manufacturer of electric cars, was represented by John Walker, vice president of North American sales. Asked when the company will make models more affordable than its current $100,000 roadster, Walker said the company’s (roughly) $50,000 Model S sedan should be on sale in 2 1/2 to 3 years.

Santa Barbara-based CytomX Therapeutics set out to “reinvent the antibody,” said Chief Executive Nancy Stagliano.

The company is combining knowledge about drugs such as cancer with drug engineering approaches to make antibodies safer. The products, which are undergoing animal testing for use on cancers, may allow physicians to safely administer higher doses of medicine.

“If they’re not limited by toxicity … the amount of the drug they can give will be much higher,” she explained, adding that “we think this is a big idea and a broad play.”

Hoana Medical of Honolulu presented a sensor-equipped coverlet that transforms beds at hospitals into “LifeBeds” that track vital signs without anything connected to the patient. They also notify care providers of status and can “speak” to patients who try to get out of bed when they shouldn’t.

“Effectively we connect every bed to the Internet,” said Patrick Sullivan, chief executive.

InTouch Health of Santa Barbara produces robots that doctors use to remotely check on patients and administer care, providing “remote presence telemedicine.” This is especially useful with stroke victims, who need to be seen by specialists within three hours of an incident, explained Chief Executive Yulun Wang. He demonstrated using a laptop in Seattle connected to a robot in Santa Barbara, that unplugged itself, wheeled over to a patient and zoomed in on its pupils and display of vital signs.

“What we do with our robotics is project the physician there,” he said.

Comments | More in | Topics: Entrepreneurs, Startups


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