Tely Labs Gets $15 Million In Funding From Comcast And Rogers To Refocus On The SMB Video Conferencing Market

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: A video conferencing company seeks to make multiparty chat and collaboration affordable, opening up the market to a whole new crop of customers for whom the old room-based systems were just too expensive.* That’s what Tely Labs seeks to do, by adding new features to its conferencing suite and pitching its wide-angle video cameras up-market, to a new set of customers who might pay a little more than the average consumer. And it’s raised some funding — $15 million from Comcast Ventures and Rogers Ventures Partners — to take its low-cost conferencing equipment to market.

Tely Labs originally came to market with a $250, consumer-facing video chat camera that you could mount on your TV. The Tely HD camera ties directly into your Skype account, and allows you to video chat with whatever contacts you have on that network. It was, in essence, a relatively cheap way for users to get take Skype video conferencing out of their computers and put it on the big screen in their living rooms.

Sreekanth Ravi, CEO of Tely Labs, tells me that the company sold tens of thousands of the Tely HD units. There was just one problem: Most aren’t actually being used by consumers, but by small and medium-sized businesses that were looking for an inexpensive way to do video conferencing without paying for pricey room-based systems or whatever. And so they’d buy a TelyHD unit and do Skype video chat from their conference rooms rather than paying thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to buy a Polycom-based system.

A few things: First, those businesses weren’t getting true video conferencing capabilities, since Skypekit — which is what Tely was using — doesn’t support stuff like screen sharing and multiparty video chat. And Tely was kind of leaving money on the table, since these companies had money to spend (but not necessarily money to burn). So Tely decided to kill two birds with one stone, by adding new, business-ready features to its products, and then giving them a higher price tag.

The startup is rolling out its TelyHD Business Edition, which will allow screen sharing and multiparty video chat, up to six members. At launch, it’ll have Windows apps for connecting documents to the Tely video camera, which can be shared with other members of the video conference. And soon it will also be available for Mac, iOS, and Android as well. The TelyHD Business Edition hardware will be twice the price, at $500, and Tely will charge $199 each year thereafter for use of the new, business-ready system.

To capture this business opportunity, Tely is taking $15 million in new funding from strategic investors like Comcast Ventures and Rogers Venture Partners. It’s the first institutional money that Tely has taken, but it’s not just about raising capital for business expansion. Tely is working on striking partnerships with carriers and other potential partners to target the SMB market. It’s going to leverage the customer base of companies like Comcast to help it move product.

* If you’ve been reading my posts, you’ve seen this at least three times over the past 18 hours.