Informio Opens Funding Faucet

Wireless communications is an untapped resource. That, at least, is the message from executives and financial backers of Informio, a Lexington, Mass.-based wireless Web infrastructure services firm.

“The problem is that the mobile work force is notoriously bad about synching their PCs with the databases that give critical information to the decision maker,” said Alex Laats, the company’s co-founder and chief executive.

The Informio solution, its so-called Unified Media Browser, delivers Internet audio, voice and text applications to any telephone using the voice recognition technologies of Lernout & Hauspie Speech and Nuance Communications. Having bagged $42 million in first round financing, Informio will roll out the solution in 15 cities using Focal Communications’ telecommunications network over the balance of 2000.

“This space is very large,” Laats said. “We realized it was going to take a sizable amount of capital to build out the network.”

Stamp of Approval

Businesses “can’t afford not to leverage that infrastructure by making the interface with corporate databases as effortless as possible,” Laats said.

That message resonated strongly with venture capitalists that already have invested heavily in software developers and infrastructure companies that champion integrated communications platforms.

“This a new idea, and, we believe, one that has enormous potential,” said Bill Laverack, managing director of Whitney & Co., a Stamford, Conn.-based venture capital firm that co-led a first round $42 million private equity placement. Other participants in the round – Battery Ventures, Chase Capital Partners and Accel Partners – belies the financial and strategic importance of the Informio platform.

“We wanted to include VCs that made a strategic difference,” Laats said. “And because we were able to get the backers we were targeting, we increased the size of the round.”

To be sure, the objective of marrying Internet content with a wireless platform has been a central thesis of the capital markets for some time – Phone.com Inc. and i3Mobile Inc. successfully marketed their June 1999 and April 2000 IPOs on just such a premise. The problem, according to the Informio’s backers, is that such technologies allow for the retrieval of static information – e-mail, sports scores, news, weather, stock quotes, etc.

“The next generation (for wireless technologies) is to be the first to offer both voice and audio access from any wireless device to the Internet and corporate Intranets,” Laats said.

And the simplified, two-way communications platform can have far-reaching implications.

“There’s all this hype about the wireless Web… [but] the thing that’s going to drive this is the business applications.”