June 8, 2009

Local Software Developer Attracting Some Attention

John P. McDermott  /  Post and Courier

BeliefNetworks Inc. is attracting some believers. The 18-month-old startup, stocked with a small squad of technology veterans, recently drummed up more than $2 million in private seed capital from 10 investors, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That's in addition to an undisclosed amount of funding the company raised late last year from Charleston-based Palmetto Investments & Exchange Group.

In recent weeks, the software developer also learned it had survived several rounds of scrutiny from a panel of venture capital experts to be named among the Startup 2009 Top 10 by Silicon Valley Insider.

As it points out on its Web site (beliefnetworks.net) BeliefNetworks is not a religious cult. The name is derived from "a probabilistic graphical model that represents a set of variables and their probabilistic independencies." Not surprisingly, its business niche –- a field known as semantic intelligence –- is highly technical. BeliefNetworks has developed software that mines online search queries and other data, such as Twitter messages, and makes instant real-time connections that can be used to enhance the content that digital publications offer their readers. Its platform also can determine the most effective spots to place online ads.

"BeliefNetworks makes a search for relevant ads and content as simple as having a conversation with their computer," Matthew Johnson, a partner at Palmetto Investments, said in statement last year.

The company is the brainchild of chief technical officer Ted Tanner, who'd been involved in five startup companies, and Lisa Maki, a former Microsoft Corp. program director. Asked why he picked Charleston for this latest venture, he gave a simple answer: "I'm from here," said the West Ashley native, noting his middle name is Calhoun.

He said the quality of life is not to be underestimated. "The coolest thing is that we get to drink sweet tea and wear flip flops," he quipped.