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Next of Skin

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

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This story appears in the July 2005 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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.

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