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OnBeep raises $6.25M as it puts the finishing touches on its walkie-talkie wearable

Jesse Robbins, founder and chief executive of OnBeep, at the Heavybit Industries facility for startups in San Francisco.

Above: Jesse Robbins, founder and chief executive of OnBeep, at the Heavybit Industries facility for startups in San Francisco.

Image Credit: Jordan Novet/VentureBeat

OnBeep, a stealthy startup with plans to help people communicate around the world with its wearable device reminiscent of the Star Trek communicator badge, is announcing $6.25 million in new funding today.

OnBeep isn’t ready to show its creation to the world yet. But Jesse Robbins, its chief executive and founder, described the device’s appearance in an interview with VentureBeat.

“It’s worn on the body,” Robbins said. “It’s sort of like a badge or a brooch. It connects via Bluetooth to your phone, and it’s focused on real-time group communication.”

It’s got a clip, a mic, a mic jack, a speaker, and a volume button. It hooks in with whatever communication networks are available to provide sound that’s high-enough quality that you can tell who’s speaking on a group call. And it’s designed to fit different styles of dress for men and women.

The startup has given out a few prototypes to the kind of people it’s targeting: mobile professionals who need to be connected throughout the day. With the new money, the startup should be able to proceed with a rollout this year. For now it’s taking requests for early access on its website.

The full-speed-ahead here isn’t that much of a surprise. This is a wearable startup we’re talking about, and you don’t need me to tell you wearables are trendy now (even if some doctors apparently don’t care for your Fitbit data). Lately, investors have thrown their money behind startups with devices for biometric data collection, sleep monitoring, and working out.

Meanwhile Apple, Samsung, and other big companies have been working on wearables. Even Intel recently thought of a way to use wearables (and Parkinson’s disease) to market its chips and big data software.

But OnBeep, coming as it does from a guy who helped build the Chef configuration-management software that helps developers automate tasks at the infrastructure level, is different from other wearable startups in the sense that the technology could gather momentum among individuals here and there and then gradually become a big hit in businesses.

“We’re focused now on sort of consumer-level adoption,” Robbins said. From there, OnBeep can add pro-level features for enterprises and other organizations.

When it comes to competitors, Robbins doesn’t fail to mention expensive, old-school technology for communicating, namely two-way radio systems from companies like Motorola Solutions.

But, he said, “it’s not a radio replacement. It’s something new.”

Rich Levandov of Avalon Ventures led the new funding round. Gil Penchina’s AngelList syndicate led an earlier funding round, along with Matt Mullenweg of WordPress fame, Jeremy LaTrasse, former Facebook executive Jonathan Heiliger, and Fuel Capital.

San Francisco-based OnBeep started last year. We first heard about OnBeep in January. At the time, the startup was being even more secretive about its doings.

About 20 people work for OnBeep now, and that number should double over the next year, Robbins said.

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