Name: Privaris Inc.
Locations: Fairfax and Charlottesville
Funding: The company completed a Series A round of $15.7 million Nov. 1. Investors included Harbert Venture Partners, Noro-Moseley Partners, River Cities Capital Funds, SpaceVest Capital and existing individual investors.
Big idea: Privaris designs biometric security devices for uses including facility access, secure financial transactions, and computer and network access. Its wireless device, designed to go on a keychain, uses a fingerprint to identify and authorize users. The device measures a little less than 3 inches long, 1.5 inches wide and 1 inch thick. The next generation, expected to debut in the first quarter of 2006, will be about half that size. "Our goal from the beginning of this company was to have something comparable in size to the car door opener you carry on your keychain," said Barry W. Johnson, president and chief executive.
How it works: A user "enrolls" with a Privaris device by providing a fingerprint, which is then stored in the device. After that, it will work only if the user applies an identical fingerprint to the sensor on the device. Johnson said privacy concerns are assuaged because all information about the fingerprint is contained on the device. There is no centralized database.
Example of use: Eventually, Johnson said, a Privaris device could be used to unlock your car door, open your garage, pay for your highway tolls or Metro ride, buy a latte, beep yourself into your workplace or apartment building, log on to your computer, and access your online banking site. Johnson said he hopes the technology will be integrated into cell phones so that users will be able to program the same device to work with multiple applications. Johnson said Privaris is in discussions with major credit card companies about coupling its technology with their new proximity cards, which can be held close to a sensor in a store rather than being swiped through a card reader.
Where the idea was hatched: Johnson, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Virginia, came up with the concept with entrepreneur David Russell, co-founder of the company and now a part-time consultant.
Big-name customers: Bank of America Corp. has tested the Privaris device for drive-up and walk-up teller windows. The Transportation Security Administration tested the product for access at an airport.
Price: Johnson said that the devices cost $179 each and about $100 apiece when bought in bulk. They can be reprogrammed for reuse. The company hopes to bring down the price for the next generation of devices to "well below $50" apiece and ultimately to $20 to $25 each.
Who's in charge: Johnson and Michael M. Kohonoski, chief operating officer.
Web site: www.privaris.com
Partners: Assa Abloy AB, a large Swedish company that makes proximity cards, is a strategic partner and reseller of the Privaris product. Privaris also has partnerships with HID Corp. and Indala Corp. -- subsidiaries of Assa Abloy, which together supply 90 to 95 percent of the cards used in access control systems -- that permit its technology to work with their card readers and infrastructure. "There are 100 million of those cards sold every year in the U.S.," Johnson said.
-- Andrea Caumont
A biometric security device that reads fingerprints can be small enough to use on a keychain.