Confident student finds £400,000 in data chaos

March 9, 2001

An Edinburgh University PhD student has won business angel backing of £400,000 for innovative software he believes will help people "make sense of information chaos".

Alex Heneveld, an American Princeton University graduate, came to Edinburgh in 1999 to study informatics on a British government Marshall scholarship. But he is now studying part time, having taken on the full-time job of director of Pocket Watch Projects, which was launched last month.

The company has six staff, including New York e-business strategist Grace Maa. Over the next nine months, it expects to hire another 20 staff in technical development, cognitive engineering and visual design.

"The best responses we've had are from fourth-year students and PhD students through word of mouth in Edinburgh and Glasgow," Mr Heneveld said. "The pool of talent is phenomenal here."

Pocket Watch Projects will specialise in what Mr Heneveld describes as "dynamic information presentment". It is developing a suite of innovative software products that will allow individuals to tailor the way they store and view information.

A key market is expected to be professionals with some technological expertise who are overwhelmed by the amount of information surrounding them.

"Pocket Watch Products believes strongly in 'access anyhow', the idea that your information should be available how and where you need it," Mr Heneveld said.

Individuals would have a "personal information hub" on their computer, which would include organisational software and access software, enabling them to tap into information through, for example, a cell phone or palm top.

Mr Heneveld said his company's first product, expected to be released in summer, would target mobile internet phones. Another two product lines are planned by 2002.

In five years' time, he said, "we're going to be 80 people, the world leader for information interfaces, on nearly every computer, and have enormous revenues".

His project was a winner in the first annual Edinburgh Technology Fund student entrepreneur business plan competition. ETF is the university's seed-corn venture capital fund, boosted in 1999 by Pounds 2.25 million from the University Challenge Fund. It aims to help prove the viability of new technologies that could create high-growth, high-tech businesses.

Keith Winton, ETF chief executive, said: "I am delighted that the faith we showed just nine months ago in the potential of the technology has been vindicated so soon and so handsomely."

Edinburgh's principal, Sir Stewart Sutherland, said the university had a long history of commercialising research. "It is particularly gratifying to see the student community becoming more engaged in the entrepreneurial wave," he said.

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