You're inside a mall and you want to know how to get to the nearest Eddie Bauer, a working escalator, the nearest bathroom. The directory in front of you is hopelessly out-of-date and is surrounded by gum-snapping mall kids.
You could wait them out. Or you could whip our your iPhone and download a "smartmap" on the free Point Inside application, the brainchild of Kevin Johnson and his partners at his Seattle-based startup. They are leveraging the technology in 3G smartphones with GPS and location-based services to come up with what they think will be the "Google Maps of the indoor world."
Johnson told me he and his co-founder got the idea when they were trying to figure out indoor positioning.
"It's very hard if the satellites can't see you and normal GPS techniques can't see you," he said. "But we had an 'a-ha' moment when we said, 'Even if we can figure out indoor positions, there are no maps. So let's step back and do indoor maps.'"
So Point Inside began working on acquiring maps as well as building what Johnson calls an indoor navigation engine. Point Inside has started with malls because of revenue-generating part of the company; the maps that show up on the Point Inside app also show you discounts, sales and promotions at certain retailing partners. If the app drives foot traffic to those stories, the company gets compensated for that.
Johnson says there are a lot of apps that use maps to help people connect, "but nobody's doing that indoors. People are getting more used to working with digital maps. The most interesting aspect of airports these days isn't the payphone. People are asking, 'where's the bathroom' and 'where are the power outlets?' We'll help people find both."
And after malls and airports, look for Point Inside smartmaps to include big-box retailers, indoor arenas, trade shows, university buildings. His company may also license their technology to other app makers. "There are 2300 location-based apps for the iPhone, and not a one of them has indoor maps."
Point Inside is also talking to other makers of smartphone operating systems.
When Peter Grumman makes a move in the online sports arena, it usually bears watching. He and Dave Eckoff formed Rivals.com and Scout.com in 2001, and managed to sell Rivals to Yahoo. So he has experience in this segment of the web, and he's now offering Spitters.com, an online mashup of sports and Twitter.
"We're pulling headlines from a bunch of different places of coverage of your favorite team, so you can find them in one place," Grumman told me. "And then we present the community discussion around that. It's kind of like a zeitgeist check. You want to know what's going on with your team, but also the reaction from who's following the team."
Grumman, based in Bellingham, Wa., says Spitter is still trying to figure out a business model. His "spitterbot" technology that culls headlines and Twitter feeds could be applied to other areas of interest, such as hobbies, so there are licensing possibilities. There's also the e-commerce aspect with merchandising.
"NFL is different from college, but the sports demo is male, college-educated and they buy t-shirts, Gatorade, coffe mugs," he said.
Northwest Startup DEMO Fall 2009
And the winner is...Aquapulser, a Seattle-based company that says it can create high-energy plasma ignition out of your basic spark plug. The audience at the recent Northwest Startup DEMO Fall 2009 event was sufficiently wowed by the stage demonstration to award Aquapulser with first prize at the twice-yearly event for regional tech entrepreneurs.
The event is sponsored by the M-I-T Enterprise Forum Northwest, and chairman Steven Johnson tells me that past winners have found employees, advisers and - yes - investors at previous competitions.
The next DEMO event is set for May.