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The download: Do-it-yourself app technology

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By Steven Overly
Monday, January 10, 2011

Techies gathered to gawk at some of the electronics-to-come in 2011 during last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a gadget pageant that will no doubt set the tone for some of the year's biggest tech trends.

Several local executives made the trip, some to show off their latest and greatest.

The folks at PointAbout , for instance, displayed their AppMakr technology, which allows novice coders to create applications for devices that run on Apple, Microsoft or Google operating systems. The company has offices in the District and Silicon Valley.

Given all the hype surrounding new tablets and mobile devices, PointAbout chief executive Scott Suhy thought his company stood out as something different.

"Very few other companies that are doing apps are at this show," Suhy said.

Craig Chambers serves as chief executive of Cernium, a company in Reston that at last year's show debuted home security cameras that detect specific objects, such as people or cars. Chambers said his pitch this year centered on the security systems' compatibility with portable devices.

Columbia-based BoxTone did not register as an exhibitor at the event, but chief executive Alan Snyder booked a flight there to scope out what the industry has in store for 2011. The line between consumer and business technology is blurring, he observed, especially as mobility takes hold in both the home and office. That could benefit the region, he said.

"Much of the magic and differentiation in mobility is in the software. Washington has many mobile software companies . . . from mobile management, to app stores to mobile advertising to mobile development," said Snyder, who organizes a 26-member group of local mobile executives.

Personal investment

Investment firms Grotech Ventures and Revolution have led a $7 million round of funding for Personal, a Georgetown company developing technology to help consumers retain control of their online data and benefit when advertisers use it for financial gain.

Bobby Ocampo, an associate at Grotech, said the company's platform, currently under wraps, has the potential to tackle data privacy issues that have concerned consumer groups and lawmakers alike. He would not comment on how the product is monetized.

As people turn to the Internet to shop, socialize and consume news, marketers have been able to tap the data they generate and target advertisements to match their interests. It's a lucrative resource from which Ocampo said consumers don't yield any financial gain.

"It's important for users to be able to have a platform for them to control who has access to their data and to get all the value back that advertisers have been getting for years now," Ocampo said. Personal is tackling a big problem, in a big market with a strong management team, Ocampo said: "Those are the three things venture firms really look for when they make investments."

Personal's chief executive, Shane Green, declined interview requests before the product is made available to the public later this year. The company has been active since 2009 and counts about 20 to 30 employees. The executives previously launched the Map Network, a service for businesses to manage their location data that was sold to Nokia subsidiary Navteq in 2006.

Bits and bytes

-- SnagFilms, a documentary film distribution company founded by Ted Leonsis in 2008, has made 50 movies available to mobile audiences with the launch of its iPad app late last week. More than 1,800 films can be viewed for free on its Web site. Rick Allen is the company's chief executive.

-- Data from Thomson Reuters and the National Venture Capital Association show exit activity for venture-backed companies was up in 2010. In the D.C. area, two companies had initial public offerings while 20 others were merged or acquired.

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