Jeff LaPorte, 30
Internet-based calling from mobile phones
Problem: If you're at your computer, you can use Skype and similar programs to make zero-cost domestic and international phone calls. But if you're forced to use your mobile phone for an international call, you pay exorbitant rates. Sending mobile calls over the Internet, as Skype does with PC calls, would be cheaper--but the big carriers don't offer such a service, and their clout with handset manufacturers makes it hard for third-party developers to create easy-to-use Internet calling software.
Solution: Jeff LaPorte conceived a clever end run around the wireless carriers and cofounded Eqo Communications of Vancouver, British Columbia, to market the idea. When an Eqo (pronounced "echo") user dials an international number, software downloaded to the phone actually connects the call to a local Eqo number. From there, an Eqo server converts the user's voice into data packets and sends them over the Internet to an Eqo server in the destination country, which puts the call back onto the wireless voice network. There are no complicated settings to configure or 800 numbers to dial, and calls sound as good as they do with standard wireless technology. Calls from one Eqo member to another are free, and other international calls can cost as little as 5 percent of what the major carriers charge. Eqo members must still have domestic wireless calling plans--but in LaPorte's words, Eqo effectively "turns your local minutes into international minutes."