Ex-Microsoft Vets Gearing Up New Incubator, 8ninths, and New Social Startup, Lolligift

There’s a new tech-startup incubator in Seattle, and it’s called 8ninths. It doubles as an R&D lab, focused on social media and Web development software. The lab was established in September, and so far it’s still pretty stealthy. The principals aren’t talking to the press just yet, but their ideas and track record are intriguing enough to warrant a few words here.

8ninths is the brainchild of ex-Microsoft veterans Adam Sheppard and William Lai. Sheppard most recently worked in Ray Ozzie’s team as director of strategic business development for Microsoft Live Labs, an applied research lab within the company. Sheppard, a founding member of Live Labs, was responsible for branding, evaluating, planning, and proposing new opportunities and product strategies. His projects included Photosynth, a Web service that creates 3-D virtual environments from photos, and Deepfish, a zooming user interface for mobile Web browsing. No slouch himself, Lai spent 13 years focused on “intrapreneuring” in MSN, where he helped launch products like MSN Messenger and Microsoft Alerts.

The name “8ninths” comes from the assertion that 8/9 of an iceberg’s mass is hidden below the water’s surface. “We explore the non-obvious and the emerging,” says the 8ninths website. “Find new opportunities where others see none. Put ideas into practice and watch them evolve.”

Sheppard and Lai’s first startup out of 8ninths is called Lolligift. Launched late last year, the startup helps people organize and buy group gifts for holidays, weddings, office events, and the like. It combines social networking and personal recommendations with secure payment technology to make gift-giving more time-efficient and cost-effective.

We hope to tell you more about 8ninths’ newest projects soon—no word yet on investors or business models, or on what “incubator” really means in this case. In the meantime, Sheppard and Lai are well-known for their blogs about the Internet and social media. They have launched a bi-monthly newsletter called “Deep Dive,” in which they talk about interesting projects and trends they’re seeing, as well as their own projects. As they write on the 8ninths site (where you can sign up for their newsletter), “We explore the web, we show you what we find and tell you why you should care.”

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