Boulder-based computer vision startup Occipital has raised $7 million in Series A funding, and aims to leverage the investment to develop a next-generation computer vision platform.

Occipital, a TechStars veteran, is most widely known for the hit barcode-scanning app RedLaser, which it sold to eBay last year. Now, the startup’s most notable app is 360 Panorama for 3D panoramic image captures via mobile.

But Occipital has bigger plans. It wants to be the computer vision foundation — just as RedLaser became the backbone of many barcode-scanning apps — powering apps that will help mobile users interact with the physical world around them.

“360 Panorama is just the tip of the iceberg,” says co-founder Jeff Powers. What’s the whole iceberg actually look like?

“The iceberg is what sits underneath 360 Panorama — it’s the beginnings of a sophisticated computer vision platform that aims to fundamentally transform the way we interact with environments,” co-founder Vikas Reddy explains to Mashable. “Think computer vision plus augmented reality and the applications that become possible when your smartphone has a visual understanding of its surroundings.”

This is where third-party developers will come into play. Occipital will be soon be launching a platform that will give enterprising developers a crack at creating new layers on top of the computer vision technology inside 360 Panorama.

“Currently, there are companies that have introduced specific mobile applications that use limited computer-vision techniques,” says Occipital investor and new board member Jason Mendelson. “No one has produced a platform that allows developers to create dynamic content that automatically leverages best-in-class computer vision technology.”

Occipital’s $7 million Series A round was led by Foundry Group. Jason Mendelson and Brad Feld of Foundry Group, Manu Kumar of K9 Ventures and Gary Bradski of Willow Garage will join the startup’s board.

Image courtesy of Flickr, jurvetson

More About: 360 panorama, Augmented Reality, funding, occipital, startup

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Dave McClure’s 500 Startups has unveiled, a seed fund dedicated to mentoring and funding designers who want to start their own companies.

The new fund, which will start accepting applications for its first class in May, will give seed funding to design-minded founders of different startups. The was announced during the closing remarks of the 500 Startups Demo Day in Mountain View, California.

Enrique Allen of 500 Startups says while some of the world’s most successful startups were founded by designers, most people in the profession are still “mercenaries for hire, helping other people get rich.” He cited YouTube, Tumblr, Airbnb, Android, Flickr, Foodspotting, Slideshare and others as examples of the companies designers have built. His argument: Designers can become great entrepreneurs because of their deep understanding of people, their expertise at figuring out what people want and their potential to become visionary communicators.

Allen says designers have the desire to create great companies, but they don’t have the mentorship and education opportunities currently available to technical or business founders. The hopes to fix that by giving designer entrepreneurs access to mentorship by some of world’s most successful designer entrepreneurs. It’s essentially a startup bootcamp.

To get the off the ground, Allen and 500 Startups is challenging the world’s top designers to invest $50,000 to the fund by the end of the month. Then, 500 Startups and its partners will match those investments, creating a multi-million dollar investment vehicle for designer founders. In May, will open up applications for its first round of investments. To find them, will advertise its existence at design schools and guilds around the world.

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Rdio, a uniquely social music subscription service, reportedly just garnered financial support from Mangrove Capital Partners.

According to Paid Content, the news first surfaced via a tweet from Mangrove partner Mark Tluszcz to MC Hammer (awesome), reading: “@MCHammer check out the company I just financed… Hope to see you at our Jamboree this year in Florence.”

Paid Content confirmed the news with Mangrove, but there’s no word yet as to how much money Rdio received, or how it will use the cash. We’ve reached out to Rdio for comment.

Rdio — which launched this past summer — is a super social music subscription service that lets you follow friends and listen to their musical collections, as well as listen to music on-demand.

Lately, the service — which is currently only available in the U.S. and Canada — has been on the up-and-up, partnering with Merlin, a licensing agency for indie acts — a move that helped make its library much more diverse. Rdio was also integrated into the MusicMapper, a mobile app launched as part of the Grammy Awards’ Music Is Life Is Music campaign.

Wireless music system Sonos also recently introduced Rdio into its musical offerings, marking Rdio’s first foray into consumer electronics (before it was only available on the desktop and on mobile devices).

More and more, music subscription services are gaining popularity — what with MOG’s Fusion Program facilitating its integration into electronics and cars, and rising anticipation over Spotify launching in the U.S. This recent funding news just further indicates that the music subscription space is one to watch.

Image courtesy of iStockphoto, shulz

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Social game developer Kabam has raised a whopping $30 million round of funding from Redpoint Ventures, Intel Capital and Canaan Partners in order to create multiplayer social games focused on hardcore gamers.

Kabam CEO Kevin Chou, a former associate at Canaan Partners, says that the fresh round of funding will be used to fuel new acquisitions and grow out the internal team to bring more products to market. A lot of the focus will be on launching new massive multiplayer social games. In addition, Kabam hopes to expand to other social and mobile platforms in 2011.

Unlike Zynga, Playfish and other social gaming juggernauts, Kabam doesn’t focus on the millions of casual gamers that permeate Facebook. Instead, the development firm is honing in on 25- to 35-year-old males who are looking for a deeper and more competitive in-game experience.

Kabam currently has three Facebook games on the market: Kingdoms of Camelot, Dragons of Atlantis, Glory of Rome and SI Fantasy Football. Kings of Camelot is by far the company’s most popular game, boasting 6.1 million monthly active users and 700,000 daily active users. The social gaming company has about 7.5 million monthly active users across its entire network.

Kabam’s games are far more like World of Warcraft than FarmVille. In Kings of Camelot, for example, users are actively trying to grow their kingdoms through commerce and battle. A key element to Kabam’s games is the player vs. player (PvP) aspect: Users are encouraged to form groups and actively attack other players to build their virtual empires.

Supporting massive multiplayer games and the calculations needed to make the battles happen instantly takes a lot of server power though, which is also where the funding comes into play. Not only will Kabam use the money from Redpoint, Intel and Canaan to buy more servers, but Intel Capital (a strategic investor) will provide assistance and insight in data center technologies and parallel processing. Redpoint Ventures led the round, while Canaan Partners is an existing investor in the company.

Social gaming is a rapidly expanding market, but there are countless companies in the space. We like that Kabam is distinguishing itself from the crowd and carving out its own niche with traditional hardcore gamers. Cornering even a slice of the social gaming market is definitely a recipe for success.

More About: Canaan Partners, funding, Intel Capital, Kabam, playfish, Redpoint Ventures, social games, social gaming, world of warcraft, Zynga

Q&A search engine ChaCha has just announced it has raised an additional $3 million in supplemental funding from new investor Qualcomm Ventures.

The self-described “human search engine” has now raised a grand total of $75 million through five rounds of funding. They most recently raised $20 million in a Series F led by Rho Ventures and VantagePoint.

Launched in 2006, ChaCha helps users get answers to their questions through independent contractors who answer questions in real time, helping build the service’s database. The service also offers SMS and voice search, which is probably the main reason Qualcomm invested in ChaCha in the first place.

Having a strong mobile Q&A platform could be useful to Qualcomm as both companies expand their worldwide wireless efforts. It may also be an indication of acquisition interest by the wireless giant.

Q&A is a hot market right now, thanks to the emergence of services such as Quora and Formspring. ChaCha has received far less press, though it now claims two million SMS text questions per day and says it’s one of the top 100 most visited websites in the world.

More About: ChaCha, funding, qualcomm, Qualcomm Ventures

In the wake of MySpace’s massive wave of layoffs, yet another fan management tool for bands has received a boost. Damntheradio (a platform for creating Facebook fan pages), was just acquired by FanBridge, who recently secured $2 million in Series A funding.

FanBridge, a service that helps musicians grow, track and engage their fanbase, decided to acquire Damntheradio in order to tap into the Facebook market, which it feels is an extremely rich seeding ground when it comes to growing a band’s popularity.

“This momentum behind helping artists figure out their ‘viral Facebook strategy’ translates into businesses like ours seeing where the puck is moving, and positioning ourselves accordingly,” says Spencer Richardson, co-founder and CEO of FanBridge.

FanBridge isn’t the only company of its kind to receive this level of funding in recent weeks — RootMusic recently secured $2.3 million from Mohr Davidow Ventures with David Feinleib to build out its BandPage product.

BandPage is an extremely popular Facebook app (rated number one in entertainment) that lets musicians listen to tracks, check out tour dates, etc. According to RootMusic, the app has 12.7 million monthly active users.

Yes, these are relatively small investments — it’s not like they’re The Cheezburger Network or anything — but the fact that investors are starting to put funds into tools that marry music and Facebook indicates that the tides are turning toward the social network in a much more significant way. In fact, RootMusic recently kicked off a campaign that it’s calling “Make the Move,” urging musicians to switch to Facebook.

Many musicians, it seems, are listening. In fact, Lil Wayne recently released the song “6 Foot 7 Foot” on his BandPage one day before it was available for purchase on iTunes, and Jay-Z and Kanye West gave fans a peek at “H.A.M,” the lead single from Watch the Throne, via a specialized BandPage.

“It’s just an incredicle time for platform disruption,” says RootMusic investor David Feinleib. “Facebook is a social phenomoenon, and music is a big part of our culture. When you put those two together — and you have that in RootMusic — that’s a really big opportunity.”

Granted, the overabundance of such platforms on Facebook could lead to a confusing level of fragmentation when it comes to artist discovery (say what you will about MySpace, that site has made it super easy for any drummer with half a brain cell to set up a profile), but it seems only natural that musicians would head there should MySpace fall. Ideally, Facebook would actually build its own product for musicians, but, in the meantime, services like Damntheradio and BandPage are offering enticing alternatives.

More About: acquisitions, bandpages, damntheradio, fanbridge, funding, rootmusic, startup

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark. If you would like to have your startup considered for inclusion, please see the details here.

Name: Pose

Quick Pitch: Pose is an iPhone app that allows users to share photos while they shop.

Genius Idea: If the recent surge of photo-sharing and object-tagging applications, such as Instagram, picplz and Foodspotting, are anything to go by, iPhone owners love to take photos with their phones, and they love sharing them with friends and strangers alike.

Enter Pose, a Santa Monica-based startup that’s attempting to cut out a niche in the photo-sharing crowd with an iPhone app [iTunes link] (coming soon to Android) targeted directly at fashion and shopping enthusiasts. Pose launched in beta last week, having just raised $1.6 million from True Ventures, GRP Partners and Founder Collective, with participation from angel investors (and Path founders) Dave Morin and Shawn Fanning.

Currently, the features are very limited: Users can snap photos of apparel and accessories while they shop, tag them with their prices and the location of the store in which they were found, and then share them with other Pose users, as well as their personal Facebook and Twitter networks. Users can also explore and bookmark the most recent and most popular finds of other users, and peruse those of Pose’s roster of curators, a.k.a “posers” (including, notably, designer Norma Kamali). And that’s about it.

What it’s missing, primarily, is all of the features that make other truly social apps addictive: mainly, the ability to follow others and be followed, to view the activity of one’s personal network in a newsfeed and to add comments in-line. Following would appeal to both tastemakers and the countless number of Internet users who already follow style blogs, whilst commenting would allow users to solicit feedback on their finds from both their personal networks and the Pose community, thus rendering apps like Fashism and Go Try It On obsolete.

Pose could also use a few bonus features to persuade consumers to use it over other photo-sharing apps when shopping, such as photo filters that reflect current trends in fashion photography, or, say, the ability to purchase and/or put on hold items found within the app, a la Lucky at Your Service.

Although it has a long way to go, Pose has an inviting, user-friendly (and thus promising) interface and set of advisors, including Jon Callaghan of True Ventures and Mark Suster of GRP, which is why it’s on our to-watch list.

What do you think of the app? What other features could be added to to make the app more compelling?

Series Supported by Microsoft BizSpark

Microsoft BizSpark

The Spark of Genius Series highlights a unique feature of startups and is made possible by Microsoft BizSpark, a startup program that gives you three-year access to the latest Microsoft development tools, as well as connecting you to a nationwide network of investors and incubators. There are no upfront costs, so if your business is privately owned, less than three years old, and generates less than U.S.$1 million in annual revenue, you can sign up today.

More About: fashion, iphone app, pose, spark-of-genius

Scribd, the popular service for embedding and sharing documents around the web, has just inked a deal with investors for a $13 million Series C. The round was led by MLC Investments and SVB Capital, with Redpoint Ventures, Charles River Ventures and Kinsey Hills Group participating.

This is the first money the four-year-old startup has taken in more than two years; its Series B was a $9 million round in December 2008. The company’s total funding to date is $26 million.

The San Francisco-based Scribd will use some of this new money for hiring new engineers — with a likely concentration on devs with mobile experience — and other key staff.

The company’s focus on mobile, with the ultimate goal being universal accessibility, is alluded to in a statement from CEO Trip Adler.

“2011 is going to be a milestone year for us,” he said. “As the world rapidly changes the way it reads, we are rapidly preparing to change the way we deliver what they read.”

SVB Capital managing director Sulu Mamdani also said in the same statement, “Smartphones are the next computer for billions of consumers, and Scribd’s aggressive expansion plans in the mobile space could bring social reading into the hands of every one of those users.

“Product growth, combined with the site’s already impressive advertising revenue, presents enormous opportunity in the year ahead.”

In fact, Scribd has been working on its mobile offering for at least the past year. In February 2010, the company rolled out a send-to-device feature intended to make its service play nicely with smartphones and e-readers.

Scribd reps say the site’s documents garner around 60 million readers each month.

More About: business, charles river, funding, investment, kinsey hills, MLC, RedPoint, scribd, series c, SVB, vc, venture capital