Teens Put Off College, Rev Up New Search Engines

DURHAM, N.C. (03/17/2000) - While most high school kids are trying to scrape money together for college, two North Carolina teens are looking to pull in a round of venture funding for their new start-up, Pinpoint.com, which makes topic-specific search engines.

With the number of pages on the Web surpassing one billion, the need for more accurate search results continues to grow. During their senior year of high school, Jud Bowman and Taylor Brockman developed an engine and algorithm that allows companies to index only segments of the Web that are relevant to their business needs. Pinpoint's customers supply a lexicon of words related to their businesses as well as examples of Web sites that should and should not be included in the index. Using this profile, Pinpoint's Web crawlers and algorithm scour and analyze the Web for relevant sites.

One of Pinpoint's early customers is StartUpStreet.com, another Durham firm dedicated to helping an entrepreneur go from concept to launch - that is, using Pinpoint as a value-added service for its customers. "For entrepreneurs just starting out, time and money are everything," says Sarah Jones, StartUpStreet's director of operations. "We want to help them search faster and get to relevant topics more quickly."

For StartUpStreet's customers, this means that when they enter a search for "sweat equity" they only get results pertaining to service providers that waive fees in exchange for equity, rather than what work to do on a house to add value, Jones says.

Bowman came up with the idea during a summer camp at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and enlisted Brockman, a fellow student at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, to help. The two lived in the same dorm and spent many free nights working on the self-driven project. "The kids at the school do neat projects on their own time," Bowman says. "This is the project we worked on instead of sleep."

The project has turned into an 18-person company in just over a year and generated $800,000 in funding to date. A second round of funding is scheduled to close later this month. Bowman and Brockman have put off plans to go to college for the time being in order to focus on their start-up.

Pinpoint will sell its engine under an application service provider model. The company will host the database and customize the engine, but all front-end interfaces will stay on a customer's Web site. The engine is written in C and runs on customized Red Hat Linux machines. The service is hosted at Exodus' Sterling, Va., facility. Pricing has yet to be determined.

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