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Next of Skin

This entrepreneur knows there is more than one way to skin a phone.

That's the conviction with which ex-Microsoft game-technology guru G. Eric Engstrom, 40, founded Wildseed, creator of faceplates called SmartSkins, which contain software that personalizes mobile phones with special ring tones, graphics and unique applications. "When you change the way the user interface works, it's called skinning," Engstrom says. Think screen savers or computer desktop themes.

Today, SmartSkins, which sell for between $20 and $40, only work with the 5-year-old Kirkland, Washington, company's own Identity handsets, sold by Dobson Cellular Systems for $299 in cities nationwide. But Engstrom is negotiating licensing deals with wireless carriers and anticipates revenue between $1 million and $5 million this year. His pitch: The handset's software can download new services to any type of cell phone over the airwaves--offering carriers relief from customer churn, a multibillion-dollar annual expense.

And SmartSkins will help customers get more mileage out of their existing handsets by enabling them to create multiple profiles on a single phone. Says Engstrom, "The configuration will go with them."

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This article was originally published in the July 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Next of Skin.

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