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April 4, 2008


Big shout-out to great sponsor HarVest Bank of Maryland.  Just three years old, the Rockville-based bank hit $184M in assets on March 31. Congrats!


We've heard rumors of some futuristic inventions coming out of Rockville-based start-up Hillcrest Labs. And its breathtaking $57 million in VC funding will quickly legitimize rumors. But we had to see for ourselves. So we requested to be beamed up and asked founder Dan Simpkins to be our guide.


That's not literally a bagel in Dan's hand, but that's what his friend Tom Friedman (yes, The World is Flat author) told him the contraption looked like when Dan showed it to him over lunch a couple years ago at Bethesda's Daily Grill. The "Loop" is a next-gen remote control that doesn't just refine previous remotes: It throws away the mold. Instead of 50-odd buttons, the Loop has only two. Also, you don't have to aim directly at the TV. Dan says its pointing technology is similar to, but better than, the Nintendo Wii.  Dan's then 8-year daughter helped him pick the shape when he brought home a dozen possibilities also including a magic wand and light saber.



Dan has big ambitions for the company: "With the exit of AOL and XM," he tells us, "Hillcrest is carrying the torch for the entertainment industry in Washington." The new company started emerging in 2001 over a meal at The Broadway, a Rockville diner. From that came Hillcrest University, "a think tank designed to create the new new thing." After 18 months, Dan's group concluded: Analog is dead, digital TV will catch on faster than expected, and the Internet will go from being information centered to entertainment-centered. Early tests have confirmed their notions on the Loop's appeal to all age groups:  higher precision, more stability, incorporating photos and music. We say, if people over 65 still can't use a remote after this, then it's time to stop trying.  



This Cornell University-trained electrical engineer has lots of credibility: In 2000, he sold his last company, Salix Technologies, to Tellabs, for $300 million; and he's assembled 75 "brilliant colleagues" for his current team. Here he demos his product by showing us how to select movies on-demand.  No surprise: He's a  movie aficionado. Conference rooms at Hillcrest are adorned with posters from Indiana Jones and The Wizard of Oz. With $25 million in fresh investment, people are paying attention to this man behind the curtain. Later this year, top consumer electronics companies will begin selling Hillcrest HoME Reference Kits, which include the Loop, a set-top box, and software; Dan's team has, of course, developed the operating system for which the Loop works. Business looks as tasty as a bagel, after all.



HarVest Bank
Orr Partners
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