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Originally published Friday, September 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Twisted Pair wins $9 million in venture capital to expand

When there's a crisis, police, fire and other responders frequently can't communicate with one another because of incompatible equipment...

Seattle Times technology reporter

When there's a crisis, police, fire and other responders frequently can't communicate with one another because of incompatible equipment — as experienced in the events of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina and the London transit bombings.

To help solve this problem, Twisted Pair has developed software that enables devices, whether a walkie-talkie, a landline phone, a cellphone or a computer, to interact. It's being used by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as by the U.S. Coast Guard and financial institutions.

The Seattle company plans to announce today that it has received $9 million in venture capital to help fund its growth. The round — the company's first — is being led by Bellevue-based Ignition Partners and Core Capital Partners of Washington, D.C. Chart Capital Partners is also participating.

Twisted Pair was founded in 1999 by Shaun Botha and Derick Clack, longtime friends from South Africa who moved to Seattle from New Jersey after working closely with Seattle software company WRQ (now Attachmate) as consultants.

The money will be spent on sales and marketing efforts, so that the company can enter sectors such as health care and transportation. It will also go toward research and development. Twisted Pair plans to hire about 20 employees by the end of the year to bring the staff to 50.

Chief Executive Tom Guthrie said that in the past interoperability problems often were solved by throwing out equipment and installing new systems. But that's costly, and nearly impossible to carry out when you consider how many different agencies that may want to communicate. For instance, when militaries around the world respond to a conflict, it means several communications systems may be involved.

"The question is, how can they leverage their existing equipment and keep the capabilities in place?" Guthrie said. "Software that can be middleware allows them to connect and means you don't have to change the equipment."

Because interoperability issues have occurred in such high-profile events, the business has spawned a number of solutions built by large companies and by startups.

Locally — and, in fact, one building away from Twisted Pair on Elliott Avenue — is CoCo Communications, which is also developing software in this arena. It has deployments at Dallas' Love Field Airport and Seattle's Franklin High School.

David Billstrom, who was looking at making an angel investment in this category after volunteering for years in Portland with search and rescue missions, said he came across Twisted Pair more than a year ago.

Rather than invest, however, he decided to start his own company called National Interop, which aims to serve as a consultant to public-safety agencies and resell Twisted Pair's software, called Wave.

The volunteer organization Billstrom works with in Portland addressed interoperability problems by having people act as go-betweens. The volunteers sit in a van full of equipment and relay messages. A software solution makes more sense, he said.

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"The basic idea of sending radio signals over IP (Internet protocol) has been done for a while, but not for interoperability," Billstrom said.

He said networking giant Cisco Systems and Telex/Vega, a dispatch-systems company, both have built solutions to the problem. What makes Twisted Pair even stronger, he said, is that it partners with all of these companies and more.

"The thing that's cool about Twisted Pair is its open architecture," Billstrom said. "It doesn't work with just Twisted Pair consoles."

Adrian Smith, a partner with Ignition, said that was a key reason why Ignition invested in the company.

"We see a lot of technology, and it's not often that my jaw drops when I see a demo. I said, 'How did they do that' ?" he said. "They have both legacy technology and new types of communications services talking to each other in a very innovative and flexible way."

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com

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