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TECH NEWS: Sharendipity aims to help Web creators of all ages

MILWAUKEE -- Emma Tracy is just 10 years old and has no software development training. But her 12 published computer games include one for learning the Spanish words for body parts, one for matching the names of the Milwaukee Brewers' racing saus...

MILWAUKEE -- Emma Tracy is just 10 years old and has no software development training.

But her 12 published computer games include one for learning the Spanish words for body parts, one for matching the names of the Milwaukee Brewers' racing sausages with their pictures, and another for identifying the order in which "American Idol" contestants left the show.

Emma, who will be a fifth-grader at Blessed Sacrament School in Madison, Wis., used a simple process at www.sharendipity.com to create her games.

The Web site is run by Sharendipity LLC, a Madison start-up that wants to become an online meeting place for kids who want to create their own games, companies that want to make graphics for their Web sites and programmers who want to sell their services or develop software.

"Other game-making platforms have similar goals, but they don't allow their community to bundle up components and share them," said Mark Gehring, Sharendipity LLC's co-founder and chief executive officer.

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Gehring is aiming to do for software what has long been done for hardware, where people reuse bolts, nuts and washers to make other components, said Thomas "Rock" Mackie, an investor in the company who is also co-founder of TomoTherapy Inc. and a professor in the medical physics department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sharendipity is the third start-up for Gehring, 44, who founded the company in 2006 with three partners. Their plan was to develop software that could be used by the general public with a Web-based, drop-and-drag technology.

Gehring's previous start-ups involved complicated medical software such as the Pinnacle 3-D radiation-treatment planning system that is now marketed by Philips Medical Systems. This time, he and his partners have focused on consumers, starting with those who love to play games.

High prices and limited markets ultimately limit sales of medical software products, Mackie said.

"Medical software is so difficult, and there's so much regulation and it's so expensive. Mark is a very creative guy and, in a way, regulation has stifled his creativity," said Mackie, who calls Gehring the best programmer he's ever worked with.

Sharendipity has raised $1.4 million in equity funding from its founders and angel investors. The company recently received a $300,000 bridge loan from investors and wants to attract more funding, Gehring said.

He says the company's biggest challenge is similar to what Wikipedia faced when it started: You need content to draw a community. That's why Sharendipity has been working with small companies that can attract more people to become players, users or creators, Gehring said.

It has formed a partnership with Milwaukee-based Harqen LLC, for example. Harqen's application -- a patent-pending voice technology for doing everything from telling jokes online to screening job candidates and conducting surveys -- will be a premium component on Sharendipity's site for customers seeking tools to easily build custom interfaces, Gehring said.

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Sharendipity also will benefit from a $50,000 federal grant awarded to the Madison School District. The grant will cover teacher training in Sharendipity and other Web technologies and creating a Sharendipity after-school club that creates content for teachers and students, Gehring said.

"There's a genuine interest in the Sharendipity business model," said Jeff Rusinow, an investor in the company and chairman of ModernMed Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Sharendipity doesn't have revenue yet, Gehring said. The company plans to make money by taking a cut of royalty fees and licenses on certain applications, of subscriptions for premium services, and from advertisers, he said.

"When anybody shares, they can attach a one-time price or royalty to it," Gehring said.

There are many promising potential applications for Sharendipity beyond its initial focus on gamers, and Gehring has the talent to find them, Mackie said. "Management is excellent, the idea is a very good one, and he's all alone -- there's no one else pursuing his vision."

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