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Meet five D.C. start-ups that aim to build a business on mobile

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By Steven Overly
Monday, March 7, 2011

In the evolution of communication technology, humans have returned to tablets -- they're just no longer made of stone. Handheld devices like the recently unveiled iPad 2 and data-enabled smartphones can connect people to one another and the Internet from almost any location.

Their expanding use is giving rise to a new class of mobile entrepreneurs who are seeking to shake up business models and long-held customs much as their dot-com counterparts have done for the past two decades. Among those going mobile are five local start-ups.

The challenges their fledging businesses face are similar in many ways to those of the early pioneers of the Internet. Wireless carriers are just unrolling infrastructure that can support heavy data usage. And while smartphones capture a larger share of the mobile phone market each quarter, they're not yet the majority.

New struggles have also emerged. Entrepreneurs must contend with the plethora of devices since no single operating platform, such as iPhone, Android or BlackBerry, dominates the market. The cost of creating an application is also low enough that thousands of competitors have flooded the emerging market.

Nevertheless, these entrepreneurs are pushing forward with products in hand and ambition in mind. Each start-up seeks to change current practices by putting a better alternative at users' fingertips, literally.

Event tickets

Jason Bond Pratt and Philippe Chetrit distribute thousands of tickets each year to attendees at the meet-ups, concerts and other social events they plan through their days jobs. Pratt works for blog and event planning Web site Brightest Young Things, while Chetrit directs the D.C.-based business incubator Affinity Lab.

But the duo has an idea that might rattle even their own businesses. Tixelated, an app still in its infancy, seeks to change the way people buy tickets, invite friends to events and keep track of them once there. Put simply: "We want to make the phone the ticket," Pratt said.

Tixelated permits a user to buy a ticket simply by scanning a QR code -- similar to the bar codes on store merchandise -- from a poster or flier for the event. The ticket holder can then give or resell the ticket to a friend, keep track of others who plan to attend and see when they arrive, all within the application.

"We want to enable you to be able to transfer or sell or give it right to your friends right there, without going to a Web site," Pratt said. "We want to change your notion of what's a ticket."

Though the application is under construction, the District-based pair already has clients to use it -- themselves. They'll also target events planned by and for college students because that market adapts more easily to new technology, Pratt said.

"This way of ticketing is so superior to everything that they've looked at. We anticipate it being a lot easier for them to adopt," Pratt said. "It's a better ticket than you would normally have, even if you interact with it in a traditional way."

Relationships

Becky Cruze may have walked past Pius Uzamere on the streets of their shared Adams Morgan neighborhood dozens of times before their paths -- or perhaps more accurately, their profiles -- crossed online through the singles Web site OkCupid.


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