Last month's suicide bombings in London wrought heartache and tragedy. They also prompted calls for greater surveillance technologies -- and cast an unexpected spotlight on Reston's tiny Ipix Corp.
You'll be forgiven if you've never heard of Ipix.
The publicly traded firm quietly moved its headquarters from Oak Ridge, Tenn., last fall as it hired Clara Conti, a veteran of the video surveillance industry, to be its new chief executive.
There was little fanfare surrounding the 70-person firm until last month, when terrorists struck London's public transportation system and Conti started saying Ipix's products might prevent such attacks.
It is an awfully bold claim for a still relatively obscure company that warned investors in its latest filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission of questions about its "ability to continue as a going concern."
Ipix sells digital camera systems that can be inconspicuously embedded in a ceiling or wall. Its technology differs from most security cameras' in that its silver-dollar-size lens can capture images in a 360-degree arc. So if it's placed at the top of a room, the view extends from the floor to the ceiling and out to each corner.
The images are captured and stored digitally, so they can be viewed through the Internet by anyone with authorization.
Ipix was founded in 1986 in Oak Ridge, and its technology was first adopted by the real estate industry. The company sold equipment packages to Realtors who wanted to give prospective buyers the ability to take a room-by-room tour of a house on the Internet.
The company still sells to the real estate market, but in the late 1990s it began to focus on surveillance applications. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks gave that market new heft. Last year, the company began to recruit Conti, whose history in the industry dates to the early 1990s. Conti in 1992 founded Aurora Enterprise Solutions, an Internet security firm, but she rose to prominence in 2001 when she signed on as chief executive of Reston-based ObjectVideo, which sells video surveillance software.
In January 2004, Conti was ousted from ObjectVideo's top spot and replaced by Raul J. Fernandez, former chief executive of Proxicom Inc. At the time, she was just days away from giving birth to her second child.
Today, Conti is once again working with Fernandez and ObjectVideo. The two companies sometimes team up to sell ObjectVideo's software, which detects suspicious movements, as an application on Ipix's camera system.
"She took a company that had a solid product base and took it to new growth levels," said Fernandez, who described his relationship with Conti as "positive and constructive."
Ipix has landed some big-name projects, but has struggled financially. The company lost $6 million in its most recent quarter, nearly double the $3.4 million loss in the comparable period last year, prompting the concern expressed in its SEC filing.
The company's high-profile projects included surveillance of this year's presidential inauguration. Ipix cameras are also in place at Windsor Castle and the Houses of Parliament. In June, Ipix won a $2.4 million contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop the world's highest-resolution video camera.
After the London bombings, Conti, 44, appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" and Fox News to talk about the technology.
"There are horrible things happening, but the technology is out there. People just need to be more aware of it," Conti said.
Back to School for Tech Execs
Ready or not, the tech-exec invasion of local universities is about to begin.
Starting next month, a string of big-name technologists from around the Beltway will be making appearances and spreading kernels of wisdom at the University of Maryland and George Mason University.
The U-Md. initiative is being conducted in conjunction with Tie-DC, the organization previously known as the Indian CEO High-Tech Council. The program, featuring weekly seminars on topics such as marketing and pitching potential investors, is the first endeavor of new Tie-DC co-presidents Hemant Kanakia, a partner at Columbia Capital and former Torrent Networking Technology chief executive, and Aneesh Chopra, a managing director with the Advisory Board Co.
At GMU, the gregarious duo of George C. Newstrom, chief executive of Wisper Technologies LLC, and Sudhakar V. Shenoy of IMC Inc. will take on a course called "Geeks to Gazillionaires: Turning Ideas Into Successful Companies." We expect this one will be part "The Apprentice" and part Laurel and Hardy.
The story of the Netpreneur organization has not been a particularly happy one since its benefactor, Mario Morino, decided in October 2002 to focus his philanthropic efforts on the needs of children.
The group used to be a touchstone for local entrepreneurs -- offering free coffee, pastries and business lessons one morning a month. After Morino left, a few members acquired the organization's Web site but didn't do much in the way of events. The Northern Virginia Technology Council picked up some of the slack with its Coffee & DoughNets events. Another faction held irregular networking sessions but didn't have a real structure or budget.
This last group is formalizing its efforts and will announce to its members this week that it's changing its name to Teqwork and launching a fall series of panel events.
"There is definitely a renewed sense of enthusiasm in the community," said Frank Strong, director of marketing at Managed Objects, who is spearheading the effort with Stephanie Bauer of Verizon Wireless.
We'll have to wait and see how the organization fares without a multimillionaire backer.
Ellen McCarthy writes about the local tech scene every Thursday. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ipix's digital camera systems capture images in a 360-degree arc. Views can extend to a room's four corners, from the floor to the ceiling.