Is Name Tag Game Worth $7M?

Even the humble name badge can now be transformed into a high-tech communications system.

Everyone who has ever attended a conference or large business function has worn one of those ubiquitous lapel labels with the simple entreaty: “Hello, my name is…”

The name tag has remained low-tech – it’s just a label with a name on it. But one company wants to revolutionize the way name tags are used, and it claims it already has built a better one.

The company, nTag Interactive, is currently looking to raise $7 million in a Series A funding to help it develop its device, which is gaining traction on the business conference circuit.

The nTag device is worn like a name tag and contains various interactive functions. For example, it alerts conference attendees when they approach someone they want to speak with, providing of course they are also outfitted with an electronic name tag.

The New York-based company, which has so far been fueled by internal seed funding and some sales, hopes to close on a $7 million Series A round by the end of the second quarter. NTag plans to use the funding to develop the next generation of its devices, which it says will be lighter and thinner and have more capabilities.

The company plans to have the new devices on the market by sometime in 2005.

The name tags allow users to exchange information through the devices, such as common business interests and employment histories.

Beyond those functions, event planners can also use the devices for polling of conference attendees, tracking attendance and conveying information to attendees instantly.

So far, the company says it has provided services to about a dozen conferences that ranged in size from 100 to 2,000 people. Customers have included Genentech, IBM, Mastercard and Wellpoint.

While being directed by an electronic device worn around the neck may sound too much like a pervasive government, a la 1984, George Eberstadt, company co-founder and managing partner, says that the devices contain security precautions.

For instance, NTag does not supply data to third parties. And, a user of electronic name tags can limit what it broadcasts, so a venture capitalist at a conference that’s teeming with hopeful entrepreneurs can program the device to not announce his or her presence.

Eberstadt founded the company with Rick Borovoy when Borovoy was researching radio frequency identification (RFID) technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The nTag device uses RFID chips to communicate. The devices, which nTag rents to conferences and companies, are programmed to the specifications of particular events.

NTag’s devices also have applications beyond the business conference uses and in social environments, particularly with the singles crowd, and Eberstadt envisions their use in cell phones.