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Leading Lights Startups Gain Ground

A strong crop of five finalists graces the Best New Startup category of this year's Leading Lights awards, and Light Reading took time recently to check in on them. (See The 2008 Leading Lights Finalists.)

All startups claim to be making fantastic progress, and our finalists were no exceptions. But we found some satisfying evidence that most of them are on the right track.

You can judge for yourself, of course -- and, until noon Eastern time today, you're welcome to vote for the companies you think deserve to be winners. Just click on this link NOW.

Thousands of votes have already been cast, and for most of the week the Best Startup category showed a near five-way dead heat, until Menara Networks managed to pull ahead of the pack with 38 percent of the vote, followed by FastSoft Inc. at 27 percent. It appears one of those two will at least win the (non-binding!) readers' vote, unless another startup trades for Manny Ramirez or something.

Considering we wrote about these guys just a month ago, there's probably not much to update. The company's speedier alternative to TCP has amassed an interesting cast of customers during the past year, including Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) and Siemens AG (NYSE: SI; Frankfurt: SIE). (See FastSoft Wants CDNs and FastSoft Inc..)

You'll recall Microsoft Adds More Security APIs to Windows pitched its OTN transceivers early this year. (See Menara Pitches OTN Advances.) Since then, it's gotten six customers into lab trials and has another 12 approaching that point.

A limited-tunability version fitting the XFP module standard began sampling just three weeks ago. That's later than some might have expected, considering the XFP module was demonstrated at OFC/NFOEC in February, but Menara was busy completing a customized module for a large customer that CEO Siraj Nour El-Ahmadi won't name.

He adds that Menara, which typically sells to systems vendors, is starting to hear from cable operators too. "We've been getting a lot of pull from the end customers who want to put us directly in lab trials," he says.

Spinning off from Sky last year gave Miniweb Interactive a head start that's translated into 9 million viewers. The startup's platform for delivering interactive TV features is intended to be usable in any carrier network, so the next trick is for Miniweb to secure some other operators as customers.

A $32 million infusion, Miniweb's first venture money, is intended for just that purpose. CEO Andrew Carver -- who's a recent Miniweb infusion himself -- tells Light Reading that the recent IBC tradeshow in Amsterdam, which represented Miniweb's first real marketing splash, brought in all sorts of prospects, but he admits they'll take time to translate into customer wins. (See Miniweb Bags $32M and Miniweb Appoints CEO.)

"We are in discussions with two other players with fairly significant subscriber bases," he says.

Customer leads aren't the only things Miniweb is picking up. A nasty virus raged through the company's marketing ranks and its outside PR firm this week, which is why Carver himself ended up returning Light Reading's call.

This one's easy: They still won't tell us what they're up to (although Nan Chen says "Hi").

The big challenge for Sezmi Corp. is to launch a commercial trial of its TV service, which it hopes to pitch to carriers as an alternative to IPTV. (See Sezmi Aims Beyond IPTV.)

Dave Allred, senior vice president of marketing, notes that the service is already in some technical trials. But as for a pilot launch that involves end users, we'll just have to wait and see. Allred says Sezmi is readying some announcements.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

gocowboys 12/5/2012 | 3:29:43 PM
re: Leading Lights Startups Gain Ground This is a pretty sad statement on the state of startups and investment in our industry. An SFP vendor with integrated G.709 as a leading light...wow! The rest of the field appears equally uncompelling.

Unfortunately, there is very little VC money going into our space. The VCs have been focussing on Biotech, Medical and Clean/Green. Go in with a Telcom proposal and the door is all you will see. There is currently no market for reasonable exits. Only one or two IPOs of merit and the acquisition market is pure fire sale. Before this mess is over more than one of the big companies will fall.

Can you spell "ugly"?
candle 12/5/2012 | 3:29:43 PM
re: Leading Lights Startups Gain Ground how does a startup we know nothing about qualify for consideration in this list?
gbmorrison 12/5/2012 | 3:29:42 PM
re: Leading Lights Startups Gain Ground Agreed, good post. But don't forget it's not just the current state of the market that keeps them from looking at telco. It's how much they lost over the last ten years.

SO... really these start-ups up for an LL do deserve some credit. The bar for getting funded is certainly a heck of a lot higher for them.
cw.774 12/5/2012 | 3:29:40 PM
re: Leading Lights Startups Gain Ground What cowboys? You don't expect a telecom bail out? I'm pretty sure my presonal 401k+Mtg. bailut package is coming in the mail in the fomr of a check signed by 'W'.

Oh that's right, we got a bail-on. I saw it coming in NJ in the late 90's-through early 2000's as a handful of execs (some non-techies I never heard of before) started getting handsomely rewarded. Later I learned we were exporting all the hardware and physics/Bell-Labs know-how overseas at the same time of post-regulatory age of innocence. A world order bigger and more important than me or anything I could imagine was at work here according to my wize boss.

What a freakin' Utopiah we created here, huh?
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:29:39 PM
re: Leading Lights Startups Gain Ground candle -- You could view this list as four companies that made finalist status, and one that we included just to keep Nan Chen's nomination streak alive.
Honestly 12/5/2012 | 3:29:39 PM
re: Leading Lights Startups Gain Ground This choice should not be close. Rumor out there that FastSoft has two deals to announce. 1 is said, to be Marque. We will see.
ThurstonHowell3rd 12/5/2012 | 3:29:33 PM
re: Leading Lights Startups Gain Ground Excellent post - at least you're being honest...
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