Upstart startups

Today’s agile enterprises are ready to bet on products from young companies

Startups aren’t typical fodder for InfoWorld stories. For that matter, we don’t devote all that much ink to tech companies in general, preferring to focus on technologies, products, and strategies that help IT do what it needs to do.

And yet, here we are, with a hefty article highlighting our favorite fledgling companies. Why the change of heart?

For one thing, there’s the buzz: Suddenly there is a bevy of promising young companies addressing the needs of the enterprise. Although the VC (venture capitalist) community isn’t necessarily throwing around more cash these days, the companies they are backing appear to be the real deal -- with a strong focus on IT needs and opportunities.

But more important, the 15 upstart companies we’ve selected have a legitimate shot at being relevant almost immediately. That’s because enterprise IT leaders now seem willing to take a chance on rookies. It used to be that no enterprise worth its salt would touch a technology that hadn’t been around, tested, and proved for several years. Today, the notion of agility -- the need for IT-driven companies to be nimble and faster to market -- has taken root. In forward-looking companies, IT is expected to create new business opportunities and push strategic initiatives; the days of merely servicing old systems and keeping the trains running on time are gone.

“Safe, tried, and true simply doesn’t work anymore,” says Contributing Editor Galen Gruman, who wrote the piece. “No CIO I talked to is running away from risk. They’re measuring those risks and thinking them through first. But they take them because they have to.”

Then again, the consequences are not as great as they once were. “Back in the ERP days, you couldn’t take big risks; you’d be fired -- if you’re company didn’t go out of business first,” Gruman says. Now, though, a less monolithic, more componentized approach means failures are more manageable and less likely to bring down a tightly coupled IT infrastructure.

In addition, technologies from startups aren’t necessarily big-ticket items nowadays. Chastened VCs aren’t lavishing huge sums of money at tech startups the way they did during the boom. According to VC Eric O’Brien at Lightspeed Ventures, “Lower funding per company has forced startups to use existing technologies such as open source ... rather than [to] develop everything from scratch.” It stands to reason that products from a lean-and-mean startup, built on existing standards, will be more reasonably priced, further mitigating risk.

No wonder, then, that startups are looking so good to IT organizations striving to advance their businesses -- and to magazines scouting around for the next wave in innovation.