Local Startup Spotlight #7: Soltrite

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LSS #7: Soltrite

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Whether you call it video teleconference, video telepresence, webcamming, or just video chat – Soltrite does it. Soltrite is a Minneapolis based startup company founded by Scott Colesworthy, a Minnesota native and man of many hats with a track record of wins in the communication systems integration space. His first company, SPC Communications, originated in the 90′s and focused on voicemail. From there the company branched out into call center technologies under the name Soltris. At the peak in 2000 there were 42 employees and $7 million in annual sales before ultimately, both companies were sold to Avtex in 2003 for an undisclosed amount. Avtex, in turn, was acquired by the Pohlad Family of Companies in 2008 where it remains to this day within their IT portfolio (Marquette Technology Group).

After the sale of SPC/Soltris, Scott took a startup hiatus but his entrepreneurial spirit remained restless and decided to get back into the game, starting where any seasoned entrepreneur would: research. After hunting down the best identifiable opportunity with respect to his domain expertise, interest, and background, he found Vidyo – a small New Jersey based co with a patented video conferencing solution (that just so happens to power Google chat). He narrowed in on the specs and did his diligence, noting “Vidyo fits to a ‘T’ the principals Clayton Christenson lays out in his classic book titled “The Innovators Dilemma“”. In August 2009 he inked a license agreement with Vidyo to repackage the technology and deliver it to the mass market under the trade name Soltrite.

Soltrite delivers high quality multi party video conferencing over the ubiquitous public internet and provided the hardware device already has a webcam installed, there is no additional equipment to buy although a quality USB headset is recommended. Videoconferencing has been around since the invention of the television via two-way closed circuit, spanned into radio frequency with the help of NASA, struggled through early stage telephony experiments, and matured in the 90′s manifesting itself into mainstream apps like Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, Skype, et.al..

Of course there are other players in the multiparty HD videoconferencing space, namely Tanberg (recently courted by Cisco), Nefsis, and Zoomcall (by the way – where’s Skype’s multiparty video conference feature already?) Of course simple 1 on 1 video chat options are endless, but in reality, there’s still bound to be a ton of market in the 3+ simultaneous users realm of things. Most small & medium size businesses that I know of have yet to adopt such an economically favorable and environmentally friendly alternative to typical business travel. As a result, I submit that video conferencing is moving from novelty and luxury to necessity at warp speed.

Part of my interview with Scott was conducted via Soltrite video conference and I have to say the experience was pleasurable, although admittedly, I hadn’t experienced a different multi-party solution prior to. The software download is about 6 megs, the setup was as short & sweet as you’d expect, and the interface is really straightforward. Functionally, there’s the ability to share a given desktop and multiple screen settings with automatic window expansion on whomever is speaking at the moment (although I’m curious to see what happens when everyone starts talking over one another). The resolution is clearly HD but is subject to the available bandwidth and in my case, particularly limited by upload speeds. Considering that we are talking about real-time, HD, simultaneous multi party voice & video transmission all packed into the tubes, delivered over the average consumer internet, within the US, is astonishing to me…all things considered. My favorite feature was the performance panel which displays all the relevant usage stats, complete with customizable capabilities to optimize the default settings given a particular set of hardware & connection parameters.

The only shortcoming that I identified was the inability to place PC to phone connections for those scenarios when it may be necessary to include someone in on the conference who may not have video capabilities. Scott did confirm that there is mobile integration on the way, however, which may indirectly solve this obstacle while clearly enhancing the value by means of increased portability.

My interactions with Scott tell me that he isn’t resting on his laurels or putting people to work doing things he can do himself. All signs indicate that he’s out there pounding the pavement, patiently pushing this thing forward, and laying the necessary groundwork to make Soltrite a long term success. When asked about any desire or need to raise investment capital, Scott’s modesty speaks volumes, “Check back in one year. If we are exploding with growth and the market is accelerating it is possible I would be interested. However, my past is to grow in a controlled manner and not give up ownership”.

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