Firm plans to get personal with clients’ home pages: Former gubernatorial candidate runs Web business

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Developing an Internet home page that gives users more options for content than what behemoths such as America Online and Yahoo! offer through their syndicated selections has become the ambition of George Witwer.

The 46-year-old Bluffton native, who once aspired to be Indiana governor, launched the northwest-side Humanizing Technologies in January 2000. With much of the product’s research and development in the can, the venture is close to weaning itself from investors and, for the first time, could turn a profit next year. He declined to divulge revenue.

In the meantime, Witwer, who lost the Republican gubernatorial primary in 1996 and later became candidate Stephen Goldsmith’s running mate, is canvassing the continents to garner interest in LifePage. Witwer has presented the personalized home page at trade shows in the United States, Europe and Asia, to receptive reviews.

The aim is to shop the technology to Internet service providers, or ISPs, that would offer the home page to their subscribers. They, in turn, could create personalized pages that might feature content from The News-Banner, the small daily in Bluffton that Witwer bought in 1986.

The proliferation of the Internet is the main reason he embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and started Humanizing Technologies. Mindful that readers were beginning to shun papers in favor of Web sites, he conducted an online experiment to incorporate Bluffton news into AOL and Yahoo! home pages. Unable to do so, the concept behind his company was born.

“That is our mission-to capture the home page market,” Witwer said. “We anticipate in the next few months to have a significant amount of ISPs signed.”

Humanizing Technologies so far has contracts with phone companies that provide digital subscriber line Internet service in New Paris and Craigville in northern Indiana. It has another with a company in Utah.

Larger DSL providers such as San Antonio-based SBC Communications Inc. and New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. could be next, said John Koppin, executive director of the Indiana Telecommunications Association, a trade group for state telecom providers.

The personalized home page lets users capture, for instance, local and national news, or sports, from roughly 4 billion Web sites. The pending patent on the browser-based technology is among nine the company has filed.

Other offerings Humanizing Technologies is developing include a business portal in which entities such as banks or homeowner associations can target specific customers, and a search engine that sorts information by concept rather than the usual content. Sorting by concept allows users to locate the subject matter they are seeking faster, Witwer said.

A slew of additional products in the pipeline include Internet protocol television, in which subscribers can watch TV over the Internet. The technology should hit the market sometime in the fall, Witwer said.

“So many of the advances on the Internet come from the coasts or other locations you think of as advanced technology areas,” Koppin said. “And this is one coming from within the state of Indiana. This is the kind of thing we want to see happen here.”

Information technology and telecommu- nications firms in the city are taking notice. MindGent LLC, an IT consulting firm, is negotiating with Humanizing Technologies to become an integrator of some of its products, company CEO Patrick Lockwood said.

And IQuest Network Services should offer the home page to its subscribers within 60 days, said Larry Zore, the ISP’s manager of Web hosting.

“It’s going to be very nice to brand [the home page] with an IQuest brand and feed [subscribers] with information that we would like them to see,” Zore said. “It’s definitely going to be a landing page for our thousands of customers.”

Favorable results from a focus group Witwer convened in 1999 led him to begin pursuing investors. He declined to divulge supporters, or how much they have contributed, but described it as a “substantial amount.”

Witwer grew up in Kendallville and graduated from Amherst College in Massachusetts, majoring in economics and philosophy.

He later earned an MBA from the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business in 1984. After spending a year at Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati, he returned to Bluffton to lead a leveraged buyout of The News-Banner.

Witwer was no stranger to the newspaper business, though. His father served as editor of the Kendallville News Sun and currently owns the newspaper, along with The Evening Star in Auburn and the Herald-Republican in Angola.

In Bluffton, where Witwer still lives with his wife and four children, he got involved in community activities and became interested in politics. After Goldsmith lost his gubernatorial bid in 1996, Witwer considered running for governor again in 2000, but chose not to.

Humanizing Technologies is in Intech Park near Golden Rule Insurance Co. and employs about two dozen people. Witwer expects the number to climb to 30 by the end of the year.

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