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Turns out Kinect is for fashionistas and surgeons, too

Eleven startups with financial and technical backing from Microsoft are pitching investors today to raise funds and fuel nongaming uses for the the motion-sensing controller.

Jay Greene Former Staff Writer
Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).
Jay Greene
4 min read
Styku Chief Executive Raj Sareen demonstrating the company's virtual fitting room technology, which uses the Kinect motion-sensing game controller to measure bodies for clothes fitting. Jay Greene/CNET

REDMOND, Wash. -- Anyone who's ever tried on a pair of pants, a blouse, or a skirt can testify to the challenge of finding the right size. Medium doesn't always mean the same thing to every company.

"The industry is designing for an ideal body shape that is not us," says Raj Sareen, chief executive and founder of Styku, a Los Angeles-based company that's using Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing video game controller to solve the problem.

The 1-year-old, nine-employee company has developed a product that uses Kinect to scan a body in three seconds to provide hundreds of core body measurements that shoppers can use to pick a piece of clothing in the perfect size. They can even see how an item might look on their virtual selves without ever trying it on.

Styku, looking to raise $1.2 million to hire more staff and fund pilot projects, is one of 11 startups pitching investors for funding today at an event on Microsoft's campus. The companies, seeking between $300,000 and $2 million, are presenting to more than 70 investors, including Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group, Bellevue, Wash.-based Ignition Partners, and AMD Ventures, the VC fund run by the Sunnyvale, Calif.,-based semiconductor giant.

"I'm ongoingly surprised with what people are doing with the device," said Craig Eisler, general manager of Kinect for Windows at Microsoft.

The company is seeding that innovation with Microsoft Accelerator for Kinect. The program, operated by TechStars with about $500,000 in Microsoft funding, gave 11 startups $20,000 in seed capital, as well as mentoring and technical expertise for three intense months, to fuel their ideas. (TechStars, not Microsoft, received a 6 percent stake in each of the companies.) Today's pitch is the culmination of the program, the moment that the companies graduate and seek bigger investors to help them reach the next milestone in their development.

"What stands out is the sheer progress companies can make in three months," said David Cohen, founder and chief executive of TechStars.

Of course, it didn't hurt getting Microsoft's help. The software giant didn't just provide the capital to get the ideas off the ground. It gave the companies access to the engineers that are working on Kinect. And it opened doors to Microsoft customers who might be interested in the new Kinect applications.

Take GestSure, for example. The Toronto company has come up with a Minority Report-like gesture application using Kinect that surgeons can use to manipulate imaging data to help them as they operate. That way, doctors can, for example, pinpoint where a tumor is and where arteries lie while they are performing surgery. Today, doctors often rely on nurses, who don't need to remain sterile, to navigate through images during surgery.

GestSure Chief Medical Officer Matt Strickland demonstrates the company's technology that lets surgeons control imaging technology with gestures using the Kinect game controller. Jay Greene/CNET

"It's very frustrating to ask someone to show you what you want to see," said Matt Strickland, a physician who also studied engineering and started GestSure with three other University of Waterloo alumni.

One of the biggest benefits of joining the TechStars program was the introductions Microsoft helped make with medical device companies that helped open doors at hospitals.

"They are connected to everybody," said Strickland, GestSure's co-founder and chief medical officer.

The company, which already has its technology in Toronto's Credit Valley Hospital, is hoping to raise $500,000 to develop its sales channel and pay for intellectual-property protection.

Microsoft has made similar introductions for NConnex, a Seattle company that is using Kinect to help consumers buy furniture for their homes. Using a Kinect attached to a tablet computer, folks can scan a room with furniture to create a three-dimensional map of the room. Then, they can plug in sofas, chairs, and carpets to see how they'd look, without ever having to bring the products home.

Microsoft, a huge buyer of furniture for its offices around the globe, has put NConnex in touch with such companies as Steelcase and Herman Miller, said company co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Shichao Ou. That's helped the company figure out the market need and hone its offerings.

The company, which is creating two products, one for interior designers and architects, and another for retailers to give to customers, is seeking $500,000 to help it further develop its technology before launching the product in 18 months.

That's the point of the Accelerator program, bootstrapping ideas that might otherwise take years to develop.

"They all had technology," TechStars Cohen said. "Now they have a business."