All posts by Mark Glover

Rocklin firm releases iPod, iPhone relay app

Rocklin-based Purple Communications Inc., a provider of text/video relay and on-site interpreting services, said Tuesday it has introduced the nation’s first relay application for the Apple iPhone and iPod Touch.

The company said this version of its “IP-Relay” application allows users make direct IP-Relay calls from their phones or dial anyone in their iPhone address book with just a few taps. The application particularly benefits deaf users.

IP-Relay for iPhone and iPod Touch is free to use and available as a free download in Apple’s App Store. For details, go to www.purple.us/localnumber.

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Local firm cashes in on growth of online insurance



Brad Cooper, a senior vice president with InsWeb, said, “The growth of insurance shopping on the Internet has been incredible, and we’ve grown along with it.” He said the company’s multiple sites have it well-positioned to compete.

Quick, name a locally based company that does business in all 50 states.

If InsWeb Corp. in Gold River did not immediately jump to mind, you probably haven’t gone online lately to shop for insurance.

That’s the 15-year-old local company’s niche, and more than 10 million consumers are using its services annually.

“The growth of insurance shopping on the Internet has been incredible, and we’ve grown along with it,” said Brad Cooper, a senior vice president with InsWeb. “What we realized is that it’s important to offer a wide range of services … (because) not all insurance shoppers are created equal.”

InsWeb started in 1995 in Burlingame with a basic concept: give consumers a Web portal to compare quotes and shop for insurance.

In quick order, the company moved to San Mateo and then Redwood City. It came to Gold River in 2000, doing business for a short time from trailers in the parking lot of the current headquarters building on Pyrites Way.

The company’s basic Web site enables consumers to request quotes from licensed insurance agents selling policies for auto, home, term life, health, motorcycle, renter, business, recreational vehicles and travel.

InsWeb makes money on the lead-generation model. Insurance agents pay a per-customer fee to the company for each client lead. Fees vary based on numerous factors.

In 2007, the company capped a record year with net income of $2.4 million on revenue of $33.2 million. Revenue continued growing in 2008 despite the down economy – to $37.5 million – but the firm lost $2.2 million as it spent money and hired technology staff to develop three new Web sites the company launched in 2009. The new sites are:

• InsuranceRates.com – Consumers fill out a form to immediately compare auto insurance rates from multiple providers. Shoppers have the option of not submitting their personal information during the process.

• BestInsurancematch.com – The site identifies auto insurance providers most likely to offer the most affordable rates based on specific factors entered by individual consumers. Variables include household finances and availability of local insurance agents.

• FreeInsuranceAdvice.com – It’s a consumer resource library with information on various types of insurance, plus a forum where consumers can ask questions and receive direct responses from licensed insurance agents.

“The (sites) give consumers the ability to shop and get the information they need, including e-mailing the agents if they want,” Cooper said.

Shortly after the introduction of InsuranceRates.com in September, InsWeb announced that it was slashing its work force from 87 to 61, the number of employees it had at the conclusion of 2007.

Most of the cuts were in its technology segment. The company anticipated an annual savings of $2.5 million.

With the new sites up and running, InsWeb Chairman and CEO Hussein Enan said the reductions were necessary to “bring us back to profitability.”

InsWeb returned to the black in the fourth quarter of 2009, turning a profit of $705,000 compared with a third-quarter loss of $870,000.

Cooper said the company’s multiple sites now have it well-positioned to compete against a growing field of online players, including similar services offered by major insurers such as Geico and Progressive.

“The plans continue to focus on choice,” Cooper said. “We push a model of price transparency with quotes in real time … and we have the sites for that.”

Cooper also noted that InsWeb’s current services in the health insurance field are comparatively small, a situation that could change with millions of baby boomers reaching retirement age and a growing group of online-savvy young people starting careers and families.

“Health insurance is a huge area of opportunity. We’re not doing as much there now, but there could be more up the road,” Cooper said.

Analysts said InsWeb’s niche is likely to grow over the next 10 years, as will the market for similar services offered by insurance shopping/information competitors and start-ups.

“The business model for selling insurance has changed over a generation,” said Peter Schaub, a New York-based marketing and branding expert. “The old model of shopping insurance agents takes time that most people don’t have to take with the Internet. Why go through all that when you can just pop online and get quotes and a list of agents in your area?

“What (InsWeb) is doing makes as much sense as what Amazon.com did for general merchandise or what other online niche sites are doing to sell their wares.”

Consumers also like the convenience.

Liz Johnson of Sacramento recently switched auto insurance providers with the help of the InsWeb site. She said: “It was so simple and it takes just a few minutes. I can’t believe how much time it used to take us to get quotes and get it all done.

“I’m online for good. I’ll never go back to the old way.”

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Folsom software firm purchased by Mindbody

ClientMagic Software, a Folsom-based company that provides scheduling and business- management software to salons and spas, has been acquired by San Luis Obispo-based Mindbody Inc.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

“The acquisition of ClientMagic reflects our strategic focus of expanding our Web-based software into hair, nail and skin salons,” said Rick Stollmeyer, Mindbody’s founder and CEO.

Mindbody said its technology enables salons, studios and spas to manage schedules, sales, customer relationships and payment processing from any computer with Internet access. The company also has i-Phone applications.

Established in 2001, Mindbody provides services to more than 7,000 businesses in 60 countries.

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SMUD gets funding for renewable energy

U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, said Friday that the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and local partners will receive $5 million in federal grant funding from the Department of Energy for the development of renewable energy technologies.

The funds were authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Matsui said the funds will go toward installation of California’s first “solar highway,” a co-digestion facility and three anaerobic digesters.

The nation’s first solar highway made its debut in Oregon last year, with the installation of photovoltaic panels along roadside land in the Portland suburb of Tualatin. That highway is expected to generate about 128,000 kilowatt-hours a year.

Co-digestion is a process using food waste and sewage to produce biogas. Anaerobic digesters also produce biogas and can be fed with plant material.

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Women at center of power



Deborah Le Vine, ISO’s director of system operations, checks monitors at the agency’s control center in Folsom. The center tracks nearly 100 energy companies.

Critics of America’s corporate culture insist that a glass ceiling still exists, but at the California Independent System Operator Corp. in Folsom, women wield considerable power in more ways than one.

The person in charge of the ISO power grid, which meets the energy needs of 30 million Californians and draws electricity from resources throughout western North America, is a woman.

Half the executive-level ISO staff is female.

That puts the ISO in the minority of employers with women in their top ranks. In November, a study released by the University of California, Davis, concluded that progress for women at the 400 largest public companies headquartered in California has improved little since the first UCD survey in 2005.

Among the study’s key findings: Women hold just 10.6 percent of board seats and executive positions among the companies, and 118 out of the 400 firms have no female directors on their boards and no female executive officers.

That’s no surprise to Deborah Le Vine, ISO’s director of system operations, who recalled that not everyone was “tolerant of a woman in a man’s field” when she was working her way up.

When she was getting her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from San Diego State University in 1981, Le Vine was one of five women in a group of 125. In her first job at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, she was the only female engineer among 130.

Le Vine recalled that an instructor once told her that she couldn’t possibly know the answer to a thermodynamics question because she was female.

Since then, Le Vine has spent nearly 30 years in the utility industry, including manager of power resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. She has been with ISO since its inception in 1997.

Since October, Le Vine has overseen the ISO power grid and market operations, with primary responsibility “to keep the lights on” and garner affordable power for California’s considerable energy needs.

According to the ISO, Le Vine is the only woman in the nation to run an open market power grid.

Federal and state utility and power associations contacted by The Bee could not provide current demographic statistics on ISOs nationwide. But anecdotally, numerous power industry experts said the industry has moved away from the male-dominated domain of a generation ago.

“Generally, because of retirements and turnover, there’s a real focus on diversity, more recruitment of women and minorities,” said Janice Beecher, director of the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University.

The focus of Le Vine’s work world is the 17,000-square-foot ISO control center, stuffed with computers, digital information boards, large video screens and a map board as long as a city block. The map board displays the complex connection of electricity sources and power lines in the western United States, Canada and Mexico.

The control room – there’s a second one in Southern California – is every bit as imposing as anything devised by NASA or the Pentagon, befitting a nerve center delivering more than 200 billion kilowatt hours of power annually and constantly monitoring nearly 100 energy companies on the wholesale transmission grid.

Le Vine said the qualifications for her job are gender-blind.

“This is a high-stress environment. Not everyone can do it,” she said. ” … And you have to think fast. You have to make decisions in minutes. Things change quickly, and you can miss out if you’re not paying attention. … It’s not just me. You have to work well with people. … Patience and perseverance help.”

Le Vine said the job’s most stressful times come in summer, when peak demand on hot days requires constant monitoring of operations, including power acquired outside California. Also, fires can create havoc with power lines and grid operations.

Because electric power is not a 9-to-5 business, the control center operates 24/7. Control center workers must check energy markets and constantly assess the power transmission system. With so much automation, information technology experts work in the control center night and day.

Le Vine said the daily routine involves six 10-person shifts.

In 2011, ISO is scheduled to move from its headquarters on Blue Ravine Road to a new $160 million office building on Iron Point Road. The move is expected to add perhaps 350 jobs. ISO currently employs 580.

The control center at the new ISO site will be larger and more complex than the current one.

Le Vine credits ISO President and CEO Yakout Mansour with creating an environment that fosters the advancement of talent, regardless of gender or cultural background.

Mansour doesn’t see the big deal, saying an equal mix of genders and cultures in a workplace is “only natural … any other way is unnatural. How can you ignore half the population?”

Mansour added that “we’re really not targeting anything. We simply want the best people for the job.”

Mansour said that his early education in Egypt included significant participation by female students. He said he continued to advance in work environments where women played major roles in daily operations.

Brenda Thomas, named ISO’s human resources vice president in October, said Mansour’s management style has made her job easier.

Thomas holds multiple degrees from the University of California, Berkeley, and was a human resources officer for Bank of America in San Francisco. Later, she began her own consulting business, where she established a working relationship with ISO.

As a consultant, Thomas said she saw all manner of business environments.

“I’ve seen both sides, frankly,” she said. “I’ve seen organizations that have changed considerably and those that have just stood still in time.”

When she looked at the ISO, she said, “I saw that it was focused on developing a world-class workplace environment … with core values of respect, teamwork and openness … and a focus on people.”



“How can you ignore half the population? … We’re really not targeting anything. We simply want the best people for the job.” – YAKOUT MANSOUR ISO president and CEO

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Sacramento startup serves up fixes online



vMobileTech Chairman Dave Zabrowski, CEO Ray Lubeck and Vice President of Operations Tom Sykes, from left, are displayed
live on their iPhones on Tuesday in Folsom. vMC’s technology has drawn interest from firms looking to cut travel and other costs.

Imagine you are an engineer in Saudi Arabia, trying to reboot a water desalination plant costing its operators tens of thousands of dollars an hour while it is offline.

The component responsible for crashing the plant was manufactured in California and its inner workings have you stumped.

Solving the problem might entail a lengthy exchange of information with the home office over the Web, or possibly waiting a couple days for a California-based troubleshooter to fly in.

But now Sacramento startup company vMobileTech is offering a different solution.

The company has developed software it calls “visual mobile collaboration” – or vMC for short – that can simultaneously deliver live streaming video, photos, real-time audio and instant messaging from mobile phones to multiple users all over the world.

With vMC, you could initiate a live session from Saudi Arabia on your mobile phone. Experts from the California home office could communicate in real time as you provide photos or video of every inch of the disabled component. Experts around the world could join the live session to brainstorm, all receiving the same information instantly.

The result is a potentially huge savings of time and money, including millions that large international firms spend annually to send technicians, engineers, manufacturers and installers around the globe.

“There are so many possibilities. Think of the industries that could benefit from this … manufacturing, transportation, construction, security systems and utilities and more,” said Ray Lubeck, who co-founded vMobileTech with Tom Sykes.

Sykes added: “This is something where people say, ‘Why isn’t somebody already doing this?’ “

Company Chairman Dave Zabrowski, whose 25 years in the high-tech industry include 16 years at Hewlett-Packard, has the answer: “The technology to make this possible really didn’t exist 10 years ago.”

Zabrowski said vMC’s benefits go beyond trimming business travel budgets. He said it will allow businesses to “drastically decrease their field costs by improving worker productivity, resolving service calls in one visit … and make better utilization of subject matter experts while increasing customer satisfaction.”

Simply put: vMC brings a problem to the expert, as opposed to the pricier model of transporting the expert to the problem.

The software will operate over existing 3G-and-higher networks – mobile-to-mobile, or mobile-to-personal computer/laptop.

vMC is being tested by a handful of companies, including a major international airline and Sacramento Control Systems (SCS) in Rancho Cordova.

Bob Rice, chief operating officer of SCS, which installs, repairs and monitors complex security and fire alarm systems statewide, said his firm had a recent experience before it started testing vMC that would have been tailor-made for the software.

“We had a problem with a fire alarm system in Napa that we just couldn’t figure out, so we had people drive all the way down there. They got down there, and in about two or three minutes, they said, ‘Oh, we see, that’s the problem.’ So they wasted all day for something that we could have fixed quickly if we could have just seen what it was.”

Rice said SCS serves 2,800 clients from Bakersfield to the Oregon-California border, and many of the company’s systems are networked together.

“For us, the (vMC technology) could be big,” he said.

vMobileTech started coming together a little more than two years ago, with some help from Gilles Attia, a Sacramento lawyer who specializes in assisting technology startups.

Lubeck and Sykes, each with two decades of experience building technology service and financial organizations, welcomed Zabrowski’s high-tech experience, which included nurturing technology startups.

The complicated proposal that would become vMC was turned over to a group of local engineers with specific skills in telecommunications, wireless solutions and information technology. Zabrowski said the team put vMC together in about 18 months.

Last year, vMobileTech started talking up its technology. In November, a panel that included angel investors and venture capitalists selected vMobileTech as the “most promising venture” at the Innovation Showcase in Grass Valley.

vMobileTech expects to release vMC commercially in the second quarter this year.

The company plans to make money by charging for licenses to use the software. Costs of monthly subscriptions will vary by business practices.

Attia said technology similar to vMC is being used “for social media purposes,” but not on the mass industrial scale envisioned by vMobileTech.

“I think it’s all in the execution, and I think they have a really good opportunity to build a great company, because (vMC) complements what people in the field need to solve problems.”

vMobileTech is currently a virtual company, listing temporary offices in downtown Sacramento. About a dozen workers are involved in daily operations. It plans to open its headquarters in the Sacramento area, initially expanding to 50 employees.

For additional information on vMobileTech, call (530) 613-8290 or visit www.vmobiletech.com.

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Numonyx opens new headquarters in Folsom

Numonyx B.V., which bills itself as the world’s third-largest supplier of memory technology and the No. 1 provider of memory chips for mobile phones, formally opened its new North American headquarters Thursday in Folsom.

Regional and state business leaders and public officials were on hand for ceremonies to open about 100,000 square feet of office and laboratory space at 2355 Iron Point Road.

Numonyx, headquartered in Switzerland, was formed in March 2008 when Intel Corp. and Swiss tech giant STMicroelectronics joined their flash memory businesses to create an independent company focused solely on memory technologies.

Previously, local Numonyx employees were housed at the nearby Intel campus in Folsom.

“We wanted to make sure that as we established the Numonyx North American headquarters, we would be set up for success, and we came right back to where we started,” said Glen Hawk, Numonyx vice president and Folsom’s executive manager. “We knew there is a tremendously talented and highly skilled work force in Folsom that will help us continue to innovate, design and deliver our future-generation memories around the globe.”

Barbara Hayes, executive director of the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization, said the company’s decision to stay in Folsom was a welcome development amid the wobbly economy.

“The economic downturn of the last couple of years has affected our area like it has nearly everywhere else,” she said. “Numonyx choosing to stay in our region is certainly welcomed news, which we hope will be the first of more to come in 2010.”

With nearly 450 employees, Numonyx said it is the largest privately held, global technology company in the Sacramento region.

The company said most of its office employees are in the process of moving into the new headquarters. Others are scheduled to move in March once construction is completed on labs.

The Folsom site will house the company’s business group, corporate technology office, product research and development, testing/validation labs and North American sales and marketing services.

Numonyx chips are fabricated in Israel and Singapore.

The company says that one out of every two mobile phones shipped around the world today contains Numonyx memory technology. Its memory products are also used in cars, televisions and other consumer electronics.

More information on Numonyx is available at www.numonyx.com.

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FTC suit won’t affect Folsom operations

Officials with Intel offices in Folsom said Wednesday that the Federal Trade Commission’s legal action against Intel Corp. is unrelated to local operations.

“There’s nothing about the FTC action that would impact Folsom at all,” said Intel Folsom spokesman Mark Pettinger.

Intel Folsom employs about 5,800 engineers, technicians, sales and support staff at its research and design campus. The site is home to major platform groups (Mobility, Digital Health, Digital Enterprise, Digital Home), Intel’s Americas Sales and Marketing operation, and the company’s Information Technology organization.

Intel came to Folsom in 1984 and no bills itself as the largest private industry employer there.

The campus has seven buildings with 1.5 million square feet of office, testing and lab space.

Intel workers in Folsom create, test and validate next-generation chips and chip sets, including desktop, mobile and server-processor products.

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New data center due to open in Stockton

San Mateo-based Franklin Templeton Investments plans to open a 25,000-square-foot data/operations center in Stockton.

Initially, the center at Massie Industrial Park south of downtown Stockton will employ six, but it has capacity for 150, according to Mike Locke, president and CEO of the San Joaquin Partnership.

The partnership, a nonprofit private sector economic development corporation, helped Franklin Templeton secure the on-site building.

Franklin currently operates an office in Rancho Cordova.

“This is an important operations facility for the company thanks to its location between our campuses in San Mateo and Rancho Cordova,” said Mike McCulloch, vice president of general services for Franklin.

While routinely using the Franklin Templeton name, the formal name of the San Mateo company is Franklin Resources Inc. It employes nearly 8,000 worldwide.

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MyECheck reports rising revenue, rising losses

MyECheck Inc., the El Dorado Hills-based electronic transaction processor and provider of alternative payment solutions, reported a net loss of $146,068 in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with a loss of $121,087 in the same period in 2008.

Through the first nine months of the year, the company lost $681,460, compared with $596,262 in the year-ago period.

MyECheck revenue increased for the seventh consecutive quarter – $238,068 compared with $156,174 in the third quarter last year. Through nine months, revenue was $627,434, a 93 percent spike from $325,892 in January- September 2008.

“MyECheck continues to grow during difficult global economic conditions, and we now feel that our services and partnerships will begin to develop at a faster pace as the economy turns for the better,” said Edward Starrs, company CEO.

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