Jud Bowman has attracted some notable investors to expand his Durham business of running "apps" stores for smartphone makers and wireless carriers worldwide.
PocketGear, which Bowman founded a decade ago while still a teenager, announced this morning that it raised $15 million in venture capital.
The latest investors include Tomorrow Ventures, the investment firm of Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Also kicking in money: Trident Capital and BlackBerry Partners Fund, a fund affiliated with Research in Motion, the Canadian company behind the popular BlackBerry devices.
The financial support strengthens PocketGear's ties with two of the biggest smartphone developers. It also reaffirms that Bowman is developing a major player in the mobile-content industry.
"It's definitely intentional to have the CEO of Google and to have BlackBerry," Bowman said. "It's about having enough capital on our balance sheet to position us as the strongest company in this space. This is really about being stronger than any of our competitors."
The investment from Schmidt, one of the technology world's most successful executives, could help PocketGear attract interest from potential partners and customers in Silicon Valley.
"I like being based here in the Triangle, but having a prominent Silicon Valley investor is crucial," Bowman said. "Google has made Silicon Valley much more important in the mobile industry than it was just a few years ago."
Some of the money raised will be used to expand PocketGear's sales team and continue improving its technology. The company has 15 openings and continues to recruit.
The Triangle is flush with promising high-tech and biotech companies that depend on venture financing to fuel expansion, hiring and new research.
PocketGear now employs about 40 people, with half in Durham. The rest are in Germany and a Texas office acquired when PocketGear bought rival Handango earlier this year.
Bowman, now 29, started a predecessor business in 1999 at Durham's N.C. School of Science and Math. He later sold it to the company that became Motricity. Two years ago he bought it back when Motricity moved its headquarters to the Seattle area from Durham.
PocketGear operates the mobile content stores for more than 40 partners worldwide including AT&T, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, T-Mobile and Verizon, with more than 140,000 paid and free games and other apps.
"Ten years ago, my phone was one of the few that could access the Web," Bowman said. "The phones we carry with us now, it's pretty amazing what you can do with these devices. Talking on a phone is almost secondary to the apps."
While Apple controls the market for apps for its dominant iPhone and iPad devices, BlackBerrys and phones using Google's Android system are increasingly popular alternatives.
"PocketGear has the opportunity to power the rest of the non-Apple world," said Steve Nelson with the Wakefield Group, a local PocketGear investor. "They're the tollbooth for a lot of these companies."
PocketGear is privately held, and doesn't release financial results. Officials say the company is profitable.
With the latest venture funding, BlackBerry Partners Fund managing partner Kevin Talbot and Trident Capital managing director John Moragne will join PocketGear's board of directors.
They join Bowman and Nelson, as well as Noro-Moseley Partners general partner Mike Elliott, and Bruce Boehm, an independent venture capitalist.