Ex-Microsoft Innovators: Raikes, Ranta, Howard, and Ferroni on the Startup Trail

We’re hearing about an increasing number of startups founded or backed by ex-Microsoft employees from many different backgrounds and levels of experience. The uptick seems to be a relatively recent trend, and it could be a good sign in otherwise tough times. Here’s a recap from the past couple of weeks.

—Jeff Raikes, the former Microsoft president (now chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), is backing a startup called Agile Sports in Lincoln, NE. Agile makes Web-based software that helps sports teams like the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers deliver interactive video of games and practices to coaches and players. Raikes, who is a huge Nebraska fan, talked about investing in the company—and about whether Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer is tougher to tackle in the open field.

—Craig Ranta, a former engineering director at Microsoft Hardware, is taking his startup, Bothell, WA-based Vioguard, to the market. Vioguard makes a self-sanitizing computer keyboard that uses ultraviolet radiation to zap germs like the deadly MRSA bacterium. Ranta’s uncle, startup advisor Larry Ranta, serves as president and CEO, while Craig is chief technology officer. Larry Ranta spoke about raising $1 million in angel funding (he’s looking to raise about $3 million more) and entering the fast-growing hospital market.

—Rob Howard, a former .NET developer at Microsoft, is positioning his business-collaboration software startup, Dallas, TX-based Telligent, to compete better with other social computing startups (and giants like IBM). Telligent’s software provides business analytics and social tools so employees can connect more effectively with customers, and with each other. Howard, the company’s founder and CEO, raised $20 million from Intel Capital last September.

—Cam Ferroni, a founding member of Xbox and creator of Xbox Live, is working on a stealthy new startup, according to Brier Dudley of the Seattle Times. The company is building a service that uses Web 2.0 and social media technologies to help people in emergencies and disaster scenarios. Ferroni, who left Microsoft in 2005 and worked at Seattle-based Marchex until late 2008, plans to announce details later this year.

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