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Vlingo founders and employees peeling off from Nuance, working on new wave of startups

Posted by Scott Kirsner  May 31, 2013 08:00 AM

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Tracking the Vlingo diaspora...

A year ago this week, speech recognition giant Nuance closed on its acquisition of the Harvard Square startup, which made a virtual assistant app for smartphones similar to Siri — but launched well before the Apple feature — that attracted about 13 million users.

One Vlingo founder, local speech guru Michael Phillips, is working on a startup called Sage Devices that has raised some seed funding from Izhar Armony at Charles River Ventures, one of the VC firms that backed Vlingo and an earlier Phillips startup called SpeechWorks. (It, too, was gobbled up by Nuance.) Former Vlingo product manager Chris Micali is also on board, according to a corporate filing. Phillips didn't want to be too specific about Sage, but he did say that he's interested in home automation, and technologies for monitoring and managing consumers' home energy usage. (He's pictured at right.)

Another Vlingo co-founder, John Nguyen, says that his last day working at Nuance is this coming Monday. He writes via e-mail, "I'm taking the summer off and will probably start my own thing afterwards, assuming it gets funded!" Nguyen had served as Vlingo's EVP of product and business development.

Two other early employees have attracted seed funding for a startup called Pencil Labs, from Antonio Rodriguez at Matrix Partners and Jon Auerbach at Charles River Ventures, along with Dave Grannan, Vlingo's former CEO. They're trying to create an intelligent calendar that can reduce the amount of human effort involved in scheduling, say, a 90-minute meeting that involves 15 people. The founders are Han Shu and Joe Cerra. Carla Pellicano, a former exec at Fiksu and Marginize, is also working with them.

"Supposedly, it will learn and make scheduling 100 percent seamless," explains an individual with knowledge of Pencil's plans. "The problem that they are solving is that people spend too much time scheduling things, and not enough time actually doing the things they are trying to schedule."

Doron Gan, who managed the server team at Vlingo, has a new startup called UserAtlas, focused on helping companies increase the lifetime value of their customers. His cofounder is Melyssa Plunkett-Gomez, a former exec at Crimson Hexagon and Unica.

Gan explains via e-mail, "We are working on a method to allow non technical people (business people) to easily capture, analyze, and act on user behavior information from their web and mobile apps to increase life time value of their users. This includes what users do or have trouble doing and information they enter in an app. The idea is to skip the usual delays and efforts required from engineering and to break the cycle of having to know what you want to measure before you measure it. ...We are currently bootstrapped and plan to raise a seed round in the near future."

Tom Barone, Vlingo's former CFO, has also split from Nuance, and is working several part-time CFO gigs at startups.

Nuance just acquired another company, Tweddle Connect, this week. My most recent coverage of the company focused on Nuance's plan to establish an engineering outpost in Central Square.

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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