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Local telecom start-up aims to compete with big boys
by Linda Loyd, Inquirer Staff Writer

Move over, Comcast, Verizon and Sprint.

There's a new kid on the block, a telecom start-up with a new technology to manage Internet, voice and data communications, network security and compliance, all in one place.

Evolve IP, with offices in Center City and Wayne, has raised $15.6 million in private equity from well-known local and national private investors.

"We started this because we think the technology in the industry has changed dramatically," said Thomas Gravina, chairman and chief executive officer of the company he founded in 2006 with Michael Peterson. Both were former senior executives at ATX Communications in King of Prussia, a publicly traded firm.

Most companies still have old technologies, including telephone systems, and currently use separate providers - such as Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint - for the services. Each charges a fee.

Evolve is combining those tasks and advancing the technologies to do them. Its network went online in December. Evolve has signed 10 to 12 customers in the last 30 days. They include real estate and law firms, marketing companies and a car dealership in the Philadelphia region, Gravina said.

Evolve's bundling of services is more efficient, faster, and should lower costs and offer more security than present technology, he said.

Evolve's system starts with installing computerized telephones, each with a small computer screen. The computerized phones link a company's network - information sent on the telephone and computer - with the network security and compliance.

The phones also connect to Evolve's network operation centers in Philadelphia and Wayne, where the software and technology are located.

"We've created a product where you can dial 411 in your phone system and never talk to anyone," Gravina said.

"You can simply type in the name of the person you want, and within a matter of seconds that person will pop up into your phone screen and will automatically appear on your electronic Rolodex."

"Our system gives you databases of people across town, or in a different state. You literally go into an electronic Rolodex, through your phone, and are able to communicate with somebody, with the touch of a button, versus going through operators or looking up manual guides," he said.

Evolve's software can link a hardwired telephone at the office with cell phones, and link telephones to computers and e-mail. Evolve's software also manages a client's network security and compliance needs.

"The computer on your desk is tied into your phone under this technology," Gravina said. "It's all merged into one hosted application" managed by Evolve for a monthly service fee.

Evolve worked with partners Cisco, Broadsoft, Acme Packet, SAP and IBM to build the system. The company has 25 employees, including network and software engineers. Some had worked with Gravina at ATX Communications.

Evolve is targeting small and medium-size businesses, but Gravina said the technology works for big companies as well.

Evolve's $15.6 million financing came from four key investors: Herbert Lotman of Keystone Foods in Conshohocken, Ira Lubert of Independence Capital Partners in Philadelphia, Peter Peterson of the Blackstone Group in New York, and Michael C. Forman, of FB Capital Partners in Philadelphia. Evolve's management team also invested $1.5 million.

"As a private equity investor, the most important thing you look for is competent management," said Forman of FB Capital, who has known Gravina and Peterson since the late 1990s. "I have the world of confidence and respect for Tom and Michael. They've done this before."

Forman said he thinks Evolve can "effectively compete with the larger guys - Comcast, Verizon" by providing more customer service. "Nobody really has a loyal relationship with their Internet, telecom, technology provider," he said. "I think this is a real niche where this company can play. And I think their technology is very good."

Used with permission of THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER Copyright © 2008.  All rights reserved. 

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