Innovation Economy

App developer seeks Hub home

By Scott Kirsner
July 5, 2010

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Your article has been sent.

Text size +

Highlights from Scott Kirsner’s Innovation Economy blog.

App helps manage loyalty cards. CardStar Inc. is scouting the Boston area for office space. The start-up makes a popular free iPhone app (1.5 million downloads so far) that enables you to digitize your loyalty card collection and then simply show the bar code on your iPhone’s screen when you’re at a checkout counter.

The company has previously operated virtually, with employees in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. Its business development chief, Stuart Hilger, says there will be three employees in the Boston office, and chief executive Andy Miller will work from it part time.

I’ve tried the app three times. It didn’t work at my local Shaw’s grocery or at PetSmart, but on the third try, at a CVS Pharmacy, it generated that sought-after beep from the laser scanner. (My hope was to be able to get rid of all those loyalty cards hanging off my keychain or stuffed into my wallet; for now, I’m holding on to them.)

On Apple’s iTunes Store, CardStar has a 2.5 star rating out of a possible 5.

Hilger said the on-screen bar codes work well with some scanning equipment, and not with others. “If it works the first time, you’ll keep using it, and if it doesn’t, you’ll probably never use it again,’’ he says.

Shoppers at City Sports tend to have good luck, but not those at Sears. At retailers like Staples and Kmart, you may find one location where the app works, but others where it doesn’t.

The company hopes to sell sponsorships in the app (Chase Manhattan Bank ran one recently), license its bar code-rendering technology to others, and make it convenient to save and redeem coupons using the app. Hilger says CardStar can earn a few pennies for each coupon a user cashes in.

CardStar raised $1 million in a first round of funding this year, some of it from Cambridge-based LaunchCapital. Hilger says the company may wind up adding a bit to that round, given that some strategic partners have expressed interest in putting more money into CardStar.

Maps for software. In 2005, Vineet Sinha was a PhD student in MIT’s computer science department, presenting some of his work at a prestigious academic conference in San Diego. The project, Relo, proposed that one way to increase programmers’ efficiency was to help them understand vast swaths of existing software code more quickly.

Understanding code that exists, Sinha explains, requires an enormous investment of time, but if programmers don’t do it, their new contributions tend to create problems. Relo created diagrams that showed how various chunks of code were connected to one another, a sort of automatically generated road atlas of complex software.

After that 2005 presentation, several people asked Sinha how they could buy a copy of Relo. It wasn’t yet a packaged product he was prepared to support, but after he earned his doctorate in 2007, Sinha began to focus on turning it into one. The company he started, Architexa, is preparing for its commercial debut this month. Sinha says the company has three full-time employees and several interns.

Initially, it supports only the Java programming language, but he hopes to eventually expand into C++ and other languages.

Sinha says the company will price its product somewhere between $150 and $450 annually. He intends to “switch on’’ payment for the current free-trial users of the product this month. Later, he may seek angel funding, which would primarily go to salaries and sales and marketing.

Summer slowdown. July marks the official start of summer shmoozing. As everyone heads off on vacation, there are fewer workshops, conferences, and networking events. But here are a few worth knowing about:

■The monthly Mass Innovation Night on July 14 brings together a hand-chosen group of companies — this time focused on energy and sustainability — to show their stuff at the IBM Innovation Center in Waltham. The presenters will talk about energy-efficient timber-frame homes, “green’’ house cleaning, hybrid electric bikes, and more.

■On July 20, Kayak founder and chief technology officer Paul English is scheduled to run a seminar about recruiting, motivating, and retaining talented employees. It’s free, and organized by the MassChallenge start-up competition.

■On July 27, Boston University hosts a free event called “Tech, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll,’’ featuring live music, a keynote address from BU president Robert Brown, and a peek at promising scientific and engineering work being done at the school.

■On July 29, the fourth annual TECH Cocktail mixer takes place at Microsoft NERD in Kendall Square. These attract start-uppers, marketing and PR types, and a few younger investors; it’s usually a crowd large enough to arouse the interest of the fire marshal.

For the full Innovation Economy blog, updated daily, visit