6 cool startups from my trip to Atlanta

Did you know that 70 percent of all credit card payments processed in the U.S. are processed in Atlanta? The city is home to many of the data centers owned by the back-end service providers for the major credit card companies. Even Square has operations there. That’s one of several tidbits I learned while GigaOM conducted an event in the southern city on Wednesday.
The city is attempting to make a name for itself in the technology world, which may prove difficult given all the attention there is for Silicon Valley, but Atlanta does seem to be raising its profile. Not only is it home to several Fortune 100 companies like The Coca-Cola Co. (s ko) and Home Depot (s hd), but it has a rich history of tech-related companies, from the larger ISS, which became IBM Internet Security Systems; and Secureworks, which became Dell SecureWorks; to Pardot, which was purchased in October by ExactTarget for $95 million.

Show me the startups

While there at our mobility meet up Wednesday, I hung out at Hypepotamus, a co-working space and startup hub in the city and met a bevy of startups. I met a bunch but these six stuck out as having either a great idea or a lot of business value. Some had both!
Merlin: This startup wants to take augmented reality and use it not for gaming, but for replacing instructions. So if you’re trying to build some Ikea furniture, you can hold up your phone and get the instructions overlaid on the section you’re working from. Put the phone or tablet down and it reverts back to the traditional format. I love this idea and hope Qualcomm Ventures dumps a bunch of money or marketing expertise on them.
Pindrop: “Let’s hear it for algorithms” might well be the theme of my visit to Atlanta, with half of these startups basing their business on mathematical insights that are applied to data derived from sensors. In the case of Pindrop, which just raised $11 million from Andreessen Horowitz and Citi Ventures, it uses a combination of data from mobile handsets as well as call routing information to determine if the person on the other end of a phone line is who they say they are. The company sells its technology to banks hoping to detect and prevent fraud from people calling into customer service lines seeking information to help them break into an account.
Kevy: This company, which was founded by David Cummings, the founder of Pardot and funder of the Atlanta Tech Village, has an eye on enterprise software and how the cloud changes things. With Kevy he’s trying to create an automated way to connect APIs between different cloud services to help businesses generate real-time responses to actions. It’s kind of like IFTTT for the enterprise, or similar to Zapier.
Vechon: This company was so stealthy it was hard to tell if it was awesome or real, but since CEO Fred Blumer, was a former VP & co-founder of Hughes Telematics, Inc. (which sold last year to Verizon) I figured it was worth a look. Blumer’s new idea is to use algorithms derived at Georgia Tech to create vehicle tracking systems that use a smartphone’s sensor data to determine how and where a person is driving. Like Saga, a company that my colleague Derrick Harris has covered, Blumer is trying to use sensor data and algorithms to avoid using dedicated (and expensive) hardware as well as sucking a phone’s battery.
Soneter: The internet of things junkie in my head loves this company (it was also a former LaunchPad winner at a previous GigaOM conference). Soneter uses algorithms (algorithms are like the new software and can be just as opaque when it comes to their actual usefulness) to detect how much water is flowing through a pipe. It can then offer apartment-level water bills in apartment buildings or even use the technology to detect leaks. The technology is currently used in AT&T’s Digital Life product.
N4md: This company (pronounced informed) has a terrible name, but a really interesting concept. It makes what it calls an interest server that consists of four different automated functions to cull content from around the web tailored to a corporation’s specific needs. The automated functions including reading, filtering, editing and then publishing the results. For example, Home Depot uses it to find content appropriate for a weekly gardening newsletter. But if the filtering on this is as good as James Harris a founding partner at N4md, says it is, I think it could be a powerful tool for people in the information business — journalists, analysts, business development officers.
It’s essentially a finely tuned Google Alerts function that brings tens of thousands of articles to the user. No more wanting stories about Apple computers and getting stories about orchards and pies. Plus, it can go through a lot of content really quickly. I’m not sure it’s a business, but I like the concept applied outside of just corporate marketing.
So grab an iced tea and wander down to Atlanta to check out some pretty cool ideas, some smart algorithms and a lot of eager entrepreneurs. It’s not the Valley, but it’s worth the trip.