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Web-based baby monitor could be a boom business

Northeastern undergraduate Praful Mathur’s web-enabled baby monitor could be the next big high-tech parent gadget.

Mathur, a junior studying computer science and economics and cofounder of the tech startup Amp Idea, wants to add web-based interactive software applications to the traditional walkie-talkie-like baby monitor. The technology would allow parents to download soothing songs for children, flip through tips on baby care, track sleeping patterns, and take photos.

The innovations may well transform the successful niche into a multibillion-dollar industry, not to mention satisfy a market audience hungry for the latest and greatest parenting high-tech toy.

Mathur got his start last January when Northeastern backed the young entrepreneur by granting him the freedom to work for himself during an extended nine-month co-op.

The company first had its sights set on marketing a taxi credit-card machine it had developed. Then last spring Mathur and Amp Idea’s cofounders Sergey Grabkovsky, a fellow computer science major, and Sumant Yerramilly, a longtime friend who Mathur reconnected with over a summer internship in New York, were accepted into TechStars, a seed-stage investment fund organization that mentors budding entrepreneurs. The TechStar mentors encouraged the team to explore the juvenile products industry.

The more Amp Idea looked into the business, which sells more than 4 million devices a year, the more the venture made sense. “At first we were reluctant to move on it because we’re not parents and we didn’t understand the space,” Mathur says. “But people at TechStars kept bringing it up. We felt we had no choice but to examine the opportunity.”

Amp Idea decided to focus on creating an entire line of what Mathur calls “sleek and exciting” baby products, beginning with the baby monitor. Over the next several months, TechStars helped Amp Idea connect with a host of key contacts, including the cofounders of Harmonix, the videogame-development company that created Guitar Hero and Rock Band (it turns out that Guitar Hero and Amp Idea’s baby monitor depend on similar hardware); the founder of Parents in a Pinch, a babysitting and nanny agency; and a group of independent musicians interested in selling their baby tunes over the Web.

Earlier this month, Mathur pitched his idea for the baby monitor to more than 200 venture capitalists and angel investors at Microsoft’s New England Research and Development Center in Cambridge. He now has meetings with several potential investors on the calendar for early-October. His goal: to score $300,000 in funding.

The company is also exploring the possibility of partnering with Fisher-Price, Hasbro, and Summer Infant, which would license Amp Idea’s baby-monitor hardware and pay the startup for its Web services. The goal, says Mathur, is to get a product on the shelves by December 2010 in order to get independent software developers interested in creating additional applications for the monitor.

Mathur is grateful for the chance to pursue the business plan with so much freedom. “Northeastern really put a lot of faith in me,” he says. “I wanted to explore this opportunity and the university really encouraged me to do it.”

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