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Verve Develops a Talent for Putting The News on Cell Phones

The Associated Press, which has reporters from Iraq to Iowa, also has a behind-the-scenes ally in Encinitas, a little company that makes the news suitable for the iPhone.

The New York-based media giant introduced its AP Mobile News Network on May 5. The service, optimized for Apple Inc.’s iPhone, offers local news and sports from newspapers in the AP cooperative.

Powering that effort is Verve Wireless Inc., a three-year-old startup with offices within easy walking distance of Swami’s Beach.

Verve makes software and services for putting news , not to mention advertising , on wireless phones.

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Roughly speaking, the company is a go-between. It connects local print media, advertisers and cellular carriers such as AT & T; Inc.

Verve makes its money by taking a percentage of the revenue from advertising shown to cell phone users.

Attracting Venture Capital

Angel investors have contributed about $2.5 million, says founder and President Tom Kenney, who previously worked for Nokia Corp.’s venture capital arm. The company expects to close a Series B funding round of about $3 million in June, Kenney says.

Verve doesn’t only go after big fish like the AP. Other clients include weekly newspapers, such as the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Cleveland Free Times.

Jim Holman, publisher of the alternative weekly San Diego Reader, says he is interested in working with Verve.

Verve’s other founder, Chief Executive Officer Art Howe, says Verve has the ability to deliver intensely local information from the best sources of that information , local newspapers.

“People who believe newspapers are going away are missing the point, I think,” said Howe, who has a newspaper background and at one point was president of Village Voice Media.

Easier Searches

For example, Howe says visitors to San Diego could get a lead on a good Tex-Mex restaurant in the Gaslamp Quarter by using their mobile phone. Unlike regular Web searches that deluge users with information, a search with a mobile phone could yield a manageable number of results, targeted to the user’s exact location on Fourth Avenue.

Another Verve client is Discover Our Town, a Mississippi company that creates visitor guides for small cities and burgs. Verve puts Discover Our Town’s content on mobile phones, and shares revenue for ads delivered on the small screen.

Part of Verve’s job is to keep technological headaches off publishers’ desks.

“The idea is to make it as simple as possible for some of these publishers to get on board,” said Eric Johnston, the company’s vice president of engineering. Publishers’ only worry, said Kenney, should be about “creating great content.”

Verve also eliminates the need for cell-phone carriers to find local content.

The company employs 14 people and two contractors.

Kenney says Verve began operations in Washington, D.C. The company couldn’t stay there, however, because it was hard to recruit talent.

In the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Kenney says, D.C.-area defense contractors were able to lure software developers with starting salaries in the $150,000 range.

So Verve chose Encinitas as a better place to recruit tech-savvy employees, and to be within reasonable distance of venture capitalists, Kenney says.


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