June 28, 2004
The winner of Network World's inaugural "Who Wants to be an Entrepreneur?" contest says if all goes well his idea could lead to routers and other network devices costing much less and coming in smaller sizes.
Joe Pereira, a former design manager for pre-IPO semiconductor company NetLogic Microsystems, beat out 60 entrants with his concept for a content and database engine designed to take up two to 10 times less space and handle more chores than current specialty processors. His prize: $30,000 split between cash and services paid-in-kind, such as legal advice, plus exposure to a panel of judges including three venture capitalists.
"This is great news," he said, when notified. "I hope this can be the start of a great company."
The contest launched April 19 and gave would-be entrepreneurs about a month to submit entries. It elicited a range of ideas from those running corporate networks, working for consulting firms and toiling within the vendor community. Among the finalists were pitches for a biometric ID system, automated password management, a service to help small-office and home-office users secure their networks and computers, plus a system for cutting down on spam by spotting and stopping it closer to the point of origin.
Several entrants proposed ways to clean up log files from Cisco routers and other devices. One entrant even proposed a new type of energy that had judges joking about cold fusion.
As for Pereira, he says he had never entered a business competition before but decided to use the process as a way to help validate his idea.
The 36-year-old technologist, who enjoys soccer and reading philosophy, says he has been awarded 17 patents over the years and has 20 patent applications pending. His content and database engine idea stemmed from efforts to accelerate processing of various multi-dimensional databases, including those used in bioinformatics and security.
Pereira, who moved from India to the U.S. in 1999 and now lives in California, says the technology he has under development would be sold as a subsystem, card or chip. The processor he has in mind "stores databases including routing tables and security rules (spam, intrusion-detection system, virus), and applies them at high wire rates," he wrote in his application. Pereira describes his vision as "improving performance and reducing cost for router, security, cache and database systems."
He says that his content and database engine, by supporting a range of processing duties, would be a cost-effective alternative to silicon designed specifically for each niche, such as processing XML data.
He estimates it would take about two months to define a processor for any particular customer and eight months to build it. He says he plans to build "a mathematically complete solution rather than [another one of] today's heuristics-based solutions."
The final five:
Joe Pereira emerged from a group of five finalists and 60-plus entrants overall to win our “Who Wants to be an Entrepreneur?” contest.
Winner, Joe Pereira, architect. Content and database processor to be used in enterprise network gear.
Andy Warner, MBA student, Georgia Institute of Technology. AbuseButler, an application service provider built to cut off spam closer to its origin.
Mike Dean, program manager for technology, Plumsted Township Board of Education in New Jersey. A service that could let businesses work together to identify each other’s employees using biometrics.
Robert Bagnall, CEO, Muse Innovations. WebRhino, a security portal service for home users and small and midsize businesses.
Gregg Branham, CEO, Altus Network Solutions. PassfiltPro, software designed to make password-based security more effective.
Jeff McCarthy, one of the contest judges and a general partner at North Bridge Venture Partners, gave Pereira's concept a thumbs up based on the credibility of the founder, the fact that what Pereira is proposing solves a real problem and that it boasts a good value proposition for equipment makers and buyers.
Fellow judge Richard Dale, a principal with Sigma Partners, says Pereira "clearly knew the landscape, had a smart idea, did not undersell the competition or oversell himself."
Jonathan Wolf, a contest judge and co-founder of management appliance vendor Gold Wire Technology, says the breadth of ideas contributed and the thoughtful presentations of the finalists impressed him. He emphasizes that just because a company doesn't convince venture capitalists or other investors to plunk down millions of dollars to back it doesn't mean the outfit isn't worth establishing.
"There are a lot of great businesses out there - not $100 million companies that the VCs will want to invest in, but great businesses that will support a small company and serve a real need in the market," he says.
Ryan Jones, an associate at Commonwealth Capital, says, "As a first-time entrepreneur with substantial industry experience, Joe represents the individuals we were hoping to meet through the Network World contest. There are very few other opportunities that bring together so many entrepreneurial IT veterans."