* Could go public by late 2010 if economy improves
* If economy remains weak would raise funds privately
* Collaborating with Microsoft on multi-touch functions
By Tova Cohen
KFAR SABA, Israel, April 6 N-trig, an Israeli
start-up that makes a pen and touch device for notebook
computers, would seek to go public on Nasdaq in late 2010 if the
economy improves, its chief executive said on Monday.
The company, which has raised $75 million to date, including
$24 million in December from venture capital funds and Microsoft
Corp (MSFT.O), is well set financially for the coming year.
"If the economy improves and our plans are fulfilled ... the
latter part of 2010 is a reasonable time for our company to go
public," Amihai Ben-David told Reuters.
If the economy remains weak, than N-trig might raise another
round of private funding, but not before mid-2010, he added.
Ben-David said his goal would be to take the company public
rather than sell it to another firm.
"I think that we're building a company for the public
market," he said. "We're not a technology-centric company, we're
a full blown corporation. As such we're very suitable to go
public and stand on our feet."
N-trig produces a panel that is placed over an LCD screen on
a notebook, providing the ability to operate a computer through
touch, in the style of the iPhone. It is accompanied by a stylus
that enables the user to also write on the screen.
N-trig, which has over 110 workers and offices in Israel,
Texas and Taipei, started selling its product in late 2007.
"The first quarter of 2009 was our biggest quarter ever and
hopefully that will be our reality over the next few quarters as
well," Ben-David said.
N-trig's main competitor is Wacom (6727.T) of Japan, which
is now adding touch to its pen tablets portfolio.
N-trig's touch technology is deployed in Dell's Latitude XT
and XT2 notebooks as well as HP's TouchSmart. Both are tablet
notebooks, with swivel screens that become a slate.
APPLES BOOSTS TOUCH APPEAL
N-trig's drive to inject the notion of touch into the
marketplace received a boost when Apple launched the iPhone.
"Suddenly our story became much much clearer to our
potential customers," Ben-David said, adding: "We believe that
direct manipulation is where the interface of people with
computers is going."
Ben-David believes touch will replace the mouse completely,
though he said the keyboard was here to stay.
N-trig's product will receive more reinforcement when
Microsoft soon launches its Windows 7 operating system, which
will use multi-touch functionality as a selling point.
N-trig has a collaboration agreement with Microsoft to
include its technology with Windows 7. Whereas now N-trig's
product can be used with one or two fingers, mainly supporting
zoom and rotate functions, Windows 7 will support up to 10
fingers, allowing for much more elaborate gestures.
Ben-David estimated that 50 or more independent software
vendors area preparing applications for multi-touch that will be
ready for launch together with Windows 7.
N-trig plans to announce in August two more customers that
will incorporate its product in their laptops, though these will
be traditional notebooks, rather than tablet style. This
represents a much larger market, as more than 150 million of
this form are sold annually, compared with 3 million tablets.
Israel's start-up sector has been shaken by the global
economic crisis with venture capital funds more reluctant to
invest. Although Israeli high-tech companies raised $2.08
billion in 2008, an eight-year high, capital raising in the
fourth quarter was down 34 percent from the third quarter,
according to the Israel Venture Capital (IVC) Research Center.
IVC projects a weaker funding year for start-ups in 2009. It
also estimated VC funds will raise only $300 million in 2009,
down from $793 million in 2008 and $1.1 billion in 2007.
Because of the global recession, N-trig's sales are not at
the expected volume and "price pressrues are unbearable",
"On the other hand, we are a very secure company. We did
raise money in the midst of the crisis, we are very well funded,
we are not laying off people," he said. "We're probably more
cautious in the way we do our business but there's definitely no
panic, no change of plans."