The week-long Gartner Group ITxpo conference wound up in Florida on Thursday with presentations from five start-up companies hoping their technologies will be the success stories of the late 1990s. The companies agreed with panel chair Stephen Bradley, chief operating officer of Gartner Group Learning, that a strong business model would be more important in this competitive world than dazzling technology. "Five years ago on this panel you would have had five or six artificial intelligence companies up there. Today, none of those companies would be around. It's going to take a strong business model, a clear identification of the application of the technology and it's going to take the market pulling that technology," he summed up. The chosen organisations included Firefly Network, developer of an intelligent agent Web technology that matches user preferences on any subject with those of other subscribers. Pointcast was also focused on online users - its Pointcast Network is a service that already has 1.6 million subscribers drawing on a wide range of information. Its president Christopher Hassett was adamant about not going public too hastily. "In the Internet space, it's all brand new, and when something's all brand new, you need to invest in the infrastructure before you can turn it into a profitable long term venture," he said. He has raised $36 million for his company so far. Taking the opposite view was HNC Software, which makes transaction processing software for financial, retail and insurance companies. Its chief executive Robert North said the mainly corporate customer base felt more secure once HNC went public and he feels early flotation can greatly boost a start-up's growth. The other two companies on the panel were Microvision, which is piloting an experimental computer display that beams information directly into the user's retina; and Wildfire Communications, creator of a digital secretary to route telephone calls and voicemail to users in any location.
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