WebLine Communications--a company formed by a team of MIT students seeking to commercialize technologies that provide Internet phone access for specific business applications--won the $30,000 grand prize last Wednesday night in MIT's seventh annual $50K Business Plan Competition.
In addition, two runners-up-InterSense Inertial Technologies, which brings virtual reality to the Web, and OnCyte Technologies, a localized chemotherapy delivery system-each won $10,000 in cash and in-kind services. (The six finalist teams were described in Tech Talk May 8.) All of this year's finalist teams have already had dealings with potential clients and/or joint-venture partners.
The blue-chip panel of judges from Boston's venture capital and entrepreneurial business communities looked for a well-written business plan that addressed a real market need, team dynamics, and most importantly, potential for development.
WebLine Communication'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. "In the future, there will be one digital pipe coming into your home or office for voice and data," says WebLine team member Pasha Roberts. "CallServer is a first step in that direction."
Among CallServer's advantages, Mr. Roberts said, is that while it works with current phone lines, it can grow and adapt as the technology of telephony products becomes more sophisticated. He and his partners, MIT engineering students Firdaus Bhathena and Frank Honore, pursued a targeted niche in the telephony market when developing their business plan. "CallServer's real value is not just in providing cheap long-distance over the Internet, but that it integrates real-time telephony products," Mr. Roberts said. "It has specific features that call centers want."
"Picking a winner is never an easy decision," said Joseph Hadzima, director of Sullivan & Worcester's High Technology/New Ventures Group and one of the judges. "But everyone knows that the real judge is the marketplace, and we are encouraging all of the finalist teams to keep developing their businesses."
Sponsors and advisors of the Competition include 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 included the Entrepreneurship Center, the School of Engineering, the Sloan School of Management, the Technology Licensing Office, the Libraries and the Enterprise Forum, which hosted last week's event.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 15, 1996.