Microsoft has announced that NowFloats Technologies and Aurus Networks will receive a grant of $30,000 while VDime Innovative Works and CipherGraphs Networks will receive a grant of $15,000, in the recently concluded BizSpark startup challenge. The company provided a total grant of  $97, 000 including a $1000 grant each to four runners-up in the cloud category and three runners-up in the mobile category.

There were a total of 16 finalists across two categories – Cloud and Mobile. Here is the list of finalists that presented at the event:

Aurus Networks: Aurus Networks offers a cloud based virtual classroom solution which allows users to conduct HD-quality live audio/video interactive classes at low broadband speeds (around 200 kbps speeds). The solutions also offer an on-demand video archive, a web-based video editing interface, real-time analytics, integrated testing and performance tracking tools. It is available on a pay-per-user basis priced at $50 per user annually and on a pay-per-hour basis priced at $0.6 per hour. The company is currently targeting higher education institutes, distance education universities, training/coaching institutes and corporates as its customers and claims to have an ongoing pilot program at IIT Kanpur and tie-ups with more than 20 test prep and training centers including ACE Tutorials, NGPA College, Career Point and Quest Tutorials.

NowFloats Technologies: NowFloats is a location based mobile service which looks to provide relevant and contextual information to users based on their current location and time. It currently offers an Android app and a mobile web version with iOS and Windows Phone app releasing shortly. The service allows users to add thoughts and pictures about a specific location, read other thoughts for that location and browse through events and deals happening around their current location. What’s worth noting though is that the content remains fresh to users since these thoughts auto-expires after seven days, unless it becomes popular due to user interactions like upvoting or commenting, in which case, it stays up till 14 days or a maximum of 100 days. The company however indicated that users will be able to save any thoughts or offers to their profile in the future. Speaking of businesses, NowFloats allows businesses to add information about their place through the mobile app or through SMS. Businesses can also send offers and updates to users around their location provided the user has subscribed to their updates. Now Floats will also send daily SMS updates to businesses and has partnered with Gupshup for this initiative. (Video Demo – Consumers | Businesses)

VDime Innovative Works: VDime develops beauty makeover applications for cosmetic brands, beauty retailers, salons and jewelry companies across various platforms including web, iPhone and iPad. The company currently offers a virtual makeover tool, 1000Lookz, which is built on facial image processing and recognition technology, and allows users to try various hairstyles, nail colors, glasses and facial makeovers from 14 cosmetic brands like Maybelline, Lakme and many others. What’s interesting though is that the app also offer hairstyle and color shades recommendations based on the user’s face shape and skin tone & texture (Video Demo). The product is currently available on the web, iPhone and iPad with an Windows 8 app coming in the near future. The company claims to have recorded 250,000 app downloads on the iTunes App store till now.

VDime has also partnered with the global haircare company Schwarzkopf to offer an in-house makeover experience through its product Salon at 6000+ premium Schwarzkopf salons in India. The company stated that it is an exclusive partnership with Schwarzkopf and the app allows users to try out more than 86 hairstyles from Schwarzkopf, although it didn’t disclose the the period of exclusivity. The company’s other products include Glitz, a jewelry rendering application in partnership with Aesera Jewels; Glam, a color cosmetic and shades rendering application and Makeover Studio, a makeover solution for E-commerce portals.

CipherGraphs Networks: CipherGraph offers a cloud powered VPN (Virtual Private Network) as a service for SMB’s (Small and Medium Businesses) and the enterprises, allowing them to securely adopt cloud services for their applications and migrate their data centers to various cloud providers while fully complying with the enterprises security policy. The company allows secure access across all major platforms and works on a subscription model with an initial 30 day free trial.

ZAPstore: An auction-based E-commerce portal which currently targets the gadget segment and adds a layer of game mechanism over the traditional e-commerce model. The portal has two different models – one is a regular e-commerce model and another is a auction-based model. In the auction-based model, the portal allows user to ‘Zap’ a product to see a discounted price of a gadget for 10 seconds and decide whether they want to go ahead with the purchase or not. The price is decided by the company’s inbuilt dynamic pricing algorithm and the product gets locked for others once an user enter the shipping page. ZAPStore offers two free Zaps when an user signs up for the portal, following which users can buy prepaid Zap packs priced at Rs 15 per Zap.

Launched in January 2012, the company claims to have 4000 unique daily visitors and sells 20 products/day with 15% of shipments to repeat customers. The company also claimed to have high product margins due to their close tie-ups with product distributors. While applying a layer of game mechanics to a traditional e-commerce model is an interesting approach, we are skeptical about the sustainability and continued traction of this business model.

MindHelix Technosol Pvt Ltd: A Mobile and Cloud based startup which is currently working on an Open Government Data initiative which consumerizes the government services. The company is currently targeting the public safety vertical and offers a product which allows users to learn more information about their nearest police station and provide necessary feedback. The project is currently under a pilot with the Delhi Police with a similar pilot with the Sikkim police rolling out in few weeks. The company is also apparently in talks with the Rajastan, Madhya Pradesh and Goa Police department and with various telcos and device OEMs to preload this software. It is targeting around 300,000 customers through this initiative.

MindHelix monetizes this service by delivering targeted ads to customers and cross selling their new services. It also charges a signup revenue and an yearly recurring revenue for the departments. It is in talks with various local and regional partners to sell the software as a service in other states using syndication, customer hosting, partner hosting and self hosting mechanisms. The company claimed that it has earned around Rs 1.1 crores from its ongoing pilot program. Going forward, the company intends to launch new offerings across the health vertical for which it is currently in talks with the Andhra Pradesh government and the tax vertical.

NaturalMantra.com: An online store which targets the lifestyle product segment. It has two business models – one of an online retailer which offers lifestyle products on its website and another of an E-Business partner which manages and fulfills e-commerce businesses for brands in this segment through a cloud based supply chain ecosystem. The company caters to the national and International markets with the latter accounting to 70% of its orders. The company claims to have higher margins due to premium pricing of these products with an order size of Rs 850 rupees, 60% repeat orders and a single digit gross margin. Going forward, NaturalMantra intends to launch its own range of health and lifestyle products. Launched in December 2011, the company is headed by Nishant Nayak, an ex-eBay and FutureBazaar employee.

Sparsha Learning Technologies: Sparsha Learning Technologies provides a platform to create and deliver activity based learning content and offers a physical hands on experience to students through  simulated virtual labs. The platform also allows students to generate reports and screenshots of results. Sparsha is currently available on the Windows platform and works on a subscription based model with pricing starting at $2 per month per lab.

Launched in June 2010, Sparsha claims to have sold 12000 licenses till now and has clients like Pearson, McGrawHill, UC Berkeley and IEEE. The company had received an angel round of funding from Blume Ventures and TempusCapital in September 2011 and is currently working on an online assessment platform for IEEE. The company also has partnerships with Edurite, Edooni and others. Going forward, it intends to launch 40 courses in the next four years, open up the authoring platform to professors, diversify to more platforms and introduce its tablet offerings.

Also read: BizSpark 2012 Finalists: Shoonya, RedBytes, Reverie, HeyMaya & More