Follow The Money

Tracking venture capital, IPOs, corporate investment, and R&D funding
*Edited by Brain Dakss ([email protected])

Idle PCs Get Put To Work
Few things excite David Wilson as much as an idle computer. "It makes me salivate," he says.

Maybe landing $18.2 million in venture capital from investors including GE Equity and Intel Capital comes close. Wilson, VP of marketing and business development at United Devices, will help put that money to use as the company, which pools the power of idle computers, seeks to expand the concept beyond research to business uses in life sciences, engineering, financial services, and geosciences.

The Austin, Texas, company is best known for helping conduct research on cancer-fighting proteins along with Intel, Oxford University, the National Foundation for Cancer Research, and 900,000 volunteered PCs. Compared with that, Wilson says, it should be easier to link computers in a corporate network, where the processors, operating systems, and Internet connections are more uniform.

Most big companies underestimate the value of idle PCs. Says Wilson, "When you're taking phone calls or pausing between keystrokes, there's nothing happening on the computer; the computer is sitting there and saying 'Feed me something."

--Christopher T. Heun ([email protected])

ASPs Search For A Specialty
Application service providers are earning a label as just another overhyped Internet play that didn't live up to its promise. But a few small ASPs continue to attract venture capital by specializing in one market with applications they've developed, rather than hosting software from third parties such as Oracle or SAP.

Portera Systems, which develops and hosts project-management applications for consulting and services firms, said last week it raised $16 million. Only existing investors, including Oracle and Stanford University, took part in the latest round, raising the company's funding since its 1998 inception to $120 million.

Upshot, an ASP that hosts sales-force productivity applications via the Web, closed a $17 million round of funding in July. That brings the total venture capital it has raised to $61 million since 1997.

The companies and their investors are betting that specialized knowledge will prove more important to customers than one-stop shopping for hosting services. "No one knows the application better than the application vendor," International Data Corp. analyst Jessica Goepfert says. "People may want to secure more than one application in a hosted environment."

--Alorie Gilbert ([email protected])

Direct Deposit For Workers Without Bank Accounts
When employees without bank accounts get paid with a paper check, both sides lose: Companies miss the cost savings of direct deposit, and workers face hefty check-cashing fees.

That's why Crossbow Ventures put $3.4 million last week behind Skylight, a 3-year-old company that provides the technology to make electronic deposits direct to debit cards. Skylight has 10,000 individual customers who don't have bank accounts--mostly low-income hourly workers, immigrants, and seniors--and 70 businesses, mostly temp agencies, that want to encourage electronic payment.

Skylight CFO Tom Kuhn estimates at least 25 million Americans don't have bank accounts. Through a partnership with US Bank, the nation's eighth-largest bank, Skylight establishes an FDIC-insured direct-deposit account from which people can access cash via ATMs and point-of-sale terminals. Nearly half of its individual customers use Skylight to receive federal benefits such as Social Security.

In addition to saving users the commissions charged by check-cashing outlets, the system is also a cheaper option for immigrant workers looking to send money home or access funds via ATMs once they've left the country.

--Christopher T. Heun ([email protected])