Nine wireless network companies to watch

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Sensor Wireless

Founded: April 2002

Location: Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada

What it offers: Several intriguing products based on the same basic patented technology originally developed for detecting and measuring impact-related damage to fresh fruit and vegetables. You put sensors, a processor and a radio link on a PCB board, design a package around it that mimics the size and shape of an egg or pineapple, and run the device through the same harvesting or processing cycle as the produce to see the damage associated with that process.

The first product was Smart Spud, in 1999 before the company itself was actually launched: a rugged, battery-powered package about the size of potato, with accelerometers to measure shocks that create bruising and a radio to transmit the data to a Palm handheld. The same idea was used in the Crackless Egg, introduced in 2002. Farmers could find crack problems in minutes or hours instead of days. More recently, the company is applying its technology to custom-built acrylic replicas for manufacturing or processing glass objects such as bottles.

The ultimate goal: Being able to track what's happening to objects as they traverse a supply chain from the point of origin to the final sale or use.

Why it's worth watching: Even if you're not a farmer and know nothing about farming, how could you not watch an electronic egg or potato getting roughed up and telling you how it feels? It's a fascinating example of applying high technology to low technology to improve and maintain quality with measurable data. The company's success suggests that active RFID, with battery-powered radios, may have a greater impact on supply chain efficiency and quality than passive techniques. Finally, the image of the rolling farmlands that were the site of "Ann of Green Gables" also being Canada's "Silicon Pasture" is just cool.

Management: Wayd McNally, inventor, president and CEO. Brother David is manager of the company's agricultural products. General Manager Serge Serviant was recently brought on for his background in business management and administration.

How it got its start: Founder McNally, with a degree in plant science and an entrepreneurial streak, was working as an agricultural consultant, even as he launched a couple of small start-ups. He was granted a patent in 1999 for an "impact detection device for delicate articles."

How company got its name: Plain as a potato, the name was chosen to reflect the company's expertise in the use of wireless communications for its sensors and associated firmware.

Funding: About US$2 million via convertible debt from an unnamed investor, plus another roughly US$520,000 in provincial or federal business grants and rebates. The company has brought in new executive talent and will launch a bid for its first round of venture funding, about US$5 million to US$8 million, in early 2008.

Who's using the product: A Who's Who of the global Fortune 500, including Coors, General Mills, SC Johnson, EG Gallo, Miller and Kraft.

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