When Stephane Doutriaux began the MBA program at IMD in 2007, he was looking forward to meeting his classmates, but dreaded keeping track of all their business cards. Just after starting school, he came up with the idea for Poken, a tool that makes exchanging contact information much easier and a lot more fun. "The Poken is like a fashion accessory," Doutriaux says. "It makes networking entertaining and that's a really big part of being successful at it."
The small device comes in two styles: the pokenSpark and the pokenPulse. When the four-fingered hand logos of two Pokens are held together momentarily, they exchange an encrypted code that contains a person's digital information. Doutriaux calls the action a "High Four." Then, when the Poken is plugged into the USB port of a computer, it connects to the profiles of all the people the device came in contact with. Poken owners sign up for the pokenHub, which is a website that organizes contacts in a time line. Profiles on the time line include links to social networks that users opt to incorporate.
The system allows people to apply names to faces easily and then keep up with the social happenings of new contacts without having to hunt for their individual profiles. Poken profiles can be linked to accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, among other sites. The device has been popular at corporate conferences and trade shows, where large numbers of Pokens are distributed. People at the events can bump the devices and instantly exchange information.
Doutriaux started working on his company in the middle of his MBA program, first applying for patents, then hiring contractors. In most classes he was able to work on the Poken business model as part of his assignments. The first round of capital that was raised for Poken—$600,000, Doutriaux estimates—included investments from IMD faculty members, as well as classmates.
The company was incorporated in December 2007. Doutriaux hired the first full-time employee in February 2008, just after graduation. Poken now has 29 employees, including those at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, some at an engineering office in Romania, and a small team in the U.S.--Sommer Saadi, posted May 13, 2011