Women entrepreneurs use tech to tackle terror

By : |November 3, 2001 0



Christopher Noble

BOSTON: Jennifer Morehead, a former veterinarian and entrepreneur with a
patent for a device that she says can track anything anywhere in the world, used
to think it would be really neat to attach it to a dog’s collar. That way, she
said, distraught pet owners would not have to rely on neighborhood signs to find
their dog.

"You know the fliers that say ‘Have you seen Fluffy?’ Well, Nobody has
ever seen Fluffy," Morehead said in an interview.

But Morehead’s not thinking about Fluffy anymore. Since the Sept. 11 attacks
on the United States, she has been consumed with how the device, dubbed the
OneTrace, could be useful to Special Forces soldiers trapped in enemy territory,
firefighters stuck in a dark and smoky building or police officers isolated on a
drug raid.

Morehead is one of 23 women entrepreneurs who will gather on Nov. 9 at the
2001 Springboard New England venture capital conference in Boston. The women,
survivors of a rigorous screening process, will make presentations to venture
capitalists in hope of winning financial backing for their business ideas. With
venture capital in a sharp downturn, the outlook for the participants isn’t as
good as last year, when nearly half the Springboard women got funding for their
ideas.

But the slowdown hasn’t reduced the need for their innovations. Some of the
entrepreneurs have shifted their talents to solving problems in the war on
terrorism, instead of figuring out how to cash in on the stock market boom.

Like Morehead, Sandy Serkes of Valora Technologies had mundane uses in mind
when she and her partners created the Linkify software package. Originally, she
hoped to convince company sales forces to use the product to tie together
databases of products, clients and services to sort data. But in the aftermath
of Sept. 11, Serkes realized her software could help authorities sort
information from hundreds of thousands of potential leads left on telephone tip
lines or Web sites.

Serkes said she contacted a federal law enforcement agency after the attacks
and that her product is now in use helping to sort information from the tip
lines, which received 96,000 calls in the first 10 days. She declined to
identify who was using the product, saying only that it was "a large
federal law enforcement agency". A source familiar with the company said it
was the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Linkify runs on a server and links databases to create a catalog of matching
data. For instance, if a law enforcement official were reviewing a tip on a
computer, Linkify would match names and words in the text that appeared in
diverse databases and highlight them on the screen. A click on the highlighted
word would take the official to the line item entry on other databases.

Serkes, who is seeking $1 million from investors at Springboard, said she
felt privileged to be able to help the government in its efforts to track down
the attackers. "I’m making a difference and there are so many people who
really want to help," she said.

Finding Fluffy

Morehead and her partners at OneTrace have yet to sign a contract, but say
their device could replace existing Global Positioning System (GPS) technology
in use by the military. "Right now Special Forces use a GPS phone that
weighs three to four pounds," Morehead said. "Ours would be
ounces."

She and her partners have been working the phones and networking in an effort
to get the attention of the US Defense Department. They are also contacting
state and local agencies. "We’re talking to a lot of secretaries trying to
get through to the Department of Defense," she said.

The OneTrace is a pager-sized, battery-operated unit that could be clipped to
a belt or another piece of equipment. Radio signals traveling between a low
Earth orbit satellite and the OneTrace give a precise location for the device by
using the Doppler shift created by the satellite’s movement.

For instance, a wounded soldier could push a button on his OneTrace and the
device would instantly send a series of radio signals, or ‘pings’ to a
satellite, which would send the soldier’s exact location back to headquarters.

The system works because low Earth orbit satellites travel faster than the
Earth rotates, creating a Doppler shift between the OneTrace and the satellite.
A Doppler shift is a change in the observed frequency of a wave that occurs when
the source of the wave and its observer are moving at different speeds.

Morehead said OneTrace technology works with only one satellite, making it
better than GPS, which requires three geostationary satellites to triangulate a
location. Unlike GPS, coverage would be seamless around the globe using
satellites from private or military networks.

Morehead, who lives in Connecticut, said firefighters, police, sailors or
hikers could all benefit from the OneTrace. Another use would be for trucking,
rental car or rail companies trying to keep track of their fleets. She and her
partners, including John Browning of Sandia National Laboratories, hope to
secure $2 million in funding at Springboard.

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