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Monday, January 08, 2007 

A MySpace for the mobile generation

UMR student-entrepreneur Benjamin Roodman is going mobile with the launch of a social networking service that integrates the Internet with cellular telephone technology.

Roodman, a senior computer engineering major from Chesterfield, Mo., is the the CEO of ImThere, a social networking service that connects subscribers to information about events -- such as concerts, CD launch parties or indie film festivals -- via text messages over their cell phones. ImThere is the first service launched by a company Roodman co-founded in early 2006, Ramped Media.

'We want to be on the forefront of mobile Internet technology,' says UMR student Ben Roodman, CEO of Ramped Media. 'Text messaging is the medium that’s going to allow us to get to that point.'

“ImThere is a user-driven site that allows people to find things to do, by using either their cell phone or the website,” says Roodman, who is piloting ImThere in St. Louis with plans to expand it to other markets later this year.

Like MySpace, Facebook and similar social networking websites, Roodman’s ImThere offers users a virtual place to connect with groups of like-minded people. They can use the service to they can promote new bands and venues, share recommendations about music, art or restaurants, or discover new music and performers.

Unlike web-based services, however, Roodman’s is designed for mobile technology.

“We want to be on the forefront of mobile Internet technology,” Roodman says. “Text messaging is the medium that’s going to allow us to get to that point.”

ImThere is the first service launched by Ramped Media, the company Roodman co-founded a year ago with David Gorman of St. Louis. The two were friends from middle school who lost touch in later years but were re-introduced in early 2006 by a mutual friend, Tess Baklor, a UMR computer science student who also works part time for Roodman. Roodman and Gorman, an experienced entrepreneur who had already started and sold several companies, brainstormed about starting a venture that would integrate mobile and web technology, and Ramped Media was born.

Since launching ImThere in October, Roodman and company have established partnerships with local clubs, bands and media, such as St. Louis Sound magazine, the music website Playback:stl and iChannel, whose parent company, Bonneville International, owns four radio stations in St. Louis. The company is as virtual as its service, with Gorman and one developer based in St. Louis, Roodman and Baklor in Rolla, another developer in West Virginia, another in Pennsylvania, a designer in Portland, Ore., and another employee, UMR computer science graduate Amos King, in St. James, Mo.

The employees, like the company, are young. King is the oldest of the group. “I think he’s 25 or 26,” says Roodman. And the company’s headquarters? “We don’t need offices – at least not right now,” Roodman says. “We have coffee shops.”

While tweaking ImThere in the St. Louis market prior to a broader launch in other parts of the nation, Roodman is looking for angel investors who share his vision. He’s also cooking up other business ideas, including a mobile news and blogging service and other mobile Internet applications.

Pedro "K2" Macêdo

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