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Corporate Internet-Phone Project Wins $50K Business Plan Competition

By Jennifer Lane
Contributing Editor

Webline Communications, a company headed by Pasha Roberts G that plans to provide Internet phone access for specific business applications, won the $30,000 grand prize Wednesday night at the seventh annual $50K Business Plan Competition.

Two runners-up - Intersense Inertial Technologies, whose aim is to bring virtual reality to the Web, and Oncyte Technologies, marketer of a localized chemotherapy delivery system - each won $10,000 in cash and in-kind services.

The competition is run entirely by students and helps develop new business ventures, fosters entrepreneurship, encourages cross-campus team building, and provides students with the real-world experience of bringing ideas to the marketplace.

Webline team met over IAP

Roberts teamed up with Frank Honore G and Firdaus Bhathena G, whom he met during this year's Independent Activities Period, to form Webline.

"I have been involved with technology before, and have been playing with ideas like this," Roberts said. "The market for it is getting bigger. We've moved to a more protective niche from the likes of Microsoft and Netscape. The value is not just in talking, it's in getting a real-time multimedia connection."

Webline's product, Callserver, allows call center agents to speak with customers while using the multimedia capabilities of the World-Wide Web for sales, service, and entertainment applications. So, for instance, a salesperson or help desk consultant could guide a client through company information on the Web, Roberts said.

"In the future, there will be one digital pipe coming into your home or office for voice and data," Roberts said. "Callserver is a first step in that direction."

The future direction of Webline Communications will depend on what innovations occur in bandwidth and processing technology. "Video would be an interesting place to go," Roberts said.

"From here, I'm just planning to go for it, and make a lot of money," Roberts said. "We're all really psyched."

Thomas G. Kelly G, who heads Oncyte Technologies, said he too met his teammates over IAP, and the idea for the company evolved after they found their common background in medical fields.

Oncyte Technologies has yet to clearly define its future, but "since we expect to be doing research and development on behalf of corporate partners, the next step will be to form those partnerships," Kelly said.

Judges looked for practical plan

From an original field of 52 proposals, six finalists presented their business plans in Room 10-250 Wednesday night to an audience that included judges Joseph Hadzima Jr, director of Sullivan & Worcester's High Technology/New Ventures Group, and Ameridata Consulting's Brad Feld, who awarded the three prizes.

Judges looked for a well-written business plan that addressed a real market need, team dynamics, and most importantly, potential for future development.

Bill Warner, co-founder of Wildfire Communications and Avid Technologies, was the featured speaker at the awards presentation, and shared some lessons he had learned as an entrepreneur.

The other finalists were Epic Snowboard Bindings, marketers of a step-in binding system featuring rotational stance adjustment on the fly that fits all soft snowboard boots; Internet Telephony Company, which is striving to provide long distance calling through the Internet in a cost-effective way; and Websmart, which featured Java products for business sites that include Smartforms, a program designed to revolutionize Internet fill-in forms.

Awarding the prizes is never an easy decision, Hadzima said. "But everyone knows that the real judge is the marketplace, and we are encouraging all of these teams to keep developing their businesses."

Previous competitors have done just that. Last year's winner, Sensable Devices, which marketed a touch-feedback interface system, is currently expanding its business to the international scale.

Stylus Innovation, makers of telephony software and winner in 1991, was recently acquired for $12.5 million. DiVA, the 1992 entry, merged with Avid, maker of best-selling video software, Videoshop.

Sponsors and advisors of the competition included Alexander Dingee, Atlas Ventures, Cambridge Young Entrepreneurs Organization, ITP Ventures, Price Waterhouse's Entrepreneurial Services Center, Securities Data Publishing, a division of Thomson Financial Services, Stylus Innovation, Sullivan & Worcester's High Technology/New Ventures Group, The David and Lindsay Morgenthaler Foundation, and Thermo Electron Corporation.

MIT sponsors include the MIT Entrepreneurship Center, the School of Engineering, the Sloan School of Management, the Technology Licensing Office, the Enterprise Forum, and the MIT Libraries.