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TheStreet Open House

Small Businesses Rocking the Financial House

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The winds of small-business change are blowing through Wall Street.

Remember in the heady early days of the Internet? The glorious Web was all set do away with the bricks-and-mortar Street. IPOs would be floated on cellphones. Visa (V - Get Report) and MasterCard (MA - Get Report) transactions would happen via email. And stock trades? They'd be placed in space!

Los Angeles-based RobotDough automates the process of sifting through investment vehicles by any one hundreds of data points.

But this is Wall Street. It is built on crushed dreams. The big, bulge-bracket JP Morgans (JPM - Get Report) and Goldman Sachs (GS - Get Report) of the world -- the ones that survived -- kept their regulatory protections intact. (That pesky government turned out to be useful after all.) Credit card giants still get their cut of every penny they touch. And though the NYSE and the NASDAQ now deal with competitors such as BATS and Direct Edge, trading equities is still the same closed, tightly state-sanctioned thing it has always been.

But that doesn't mean the digital barbarians have stopped banging at the gate. A new generation of well-funded startups -- each with fascinating ideas for finance -- are taking their shot at toppling The Street.

Here are three with serious small-business upside:

Dwolla
I am not saying Visa, MasterCard, Western Union (WU - Get Report) and Citi (C - Get Report) have met their match. But I am saying that here I am, at my desk, ready to send and receive money for my business, with nary a credit card, bank terminal or money order in sight. And all for the royal sum of 25 cents per transaction. That's twenty-five cents -- not points, or percent or anything like that. One thin quarter to send money electronically. Do I have your attention?

Now, there are limits: Sender and sendee have to be registered with Dwolla, be savvy enough to use the Web and be comfortable giving up personal data including account information and bank routing numbers. Plus, who knows how the system manages complex transactions or what happens when funding is lost. But those issues also plague popular services such as Mint (INTU - Get Report), and nobody seems to care there.

So at least for now, when it comes to moving around small sums of like petty cash or paying part timers, Dwolla looks darn impressive.

RobotDough
Remember all those pricey, computerized trading algorithms -- and all the computers, engineers and trading professionals you needed on the payroll to keep them running? Stick a fork in 'em. They're done. Los Angeles-based RobotDough automates the process of sifting through investment vehicles by any one of, gosh -- let me count here -- hundreds of data points.

Just start answering questions such as where you would to trade, what type of sector you are interested, what sort of earning margins or ratios you like. And poof, RobotDough sifts through all its data to get you just the instrument you want. I tested out Brazilian midcap farming stocks with a specific historical beta and got some good ideas.

Scoff at this sort of automated solution all you want, but if you are looking for a dirt-cheap way to diversify, RobotDough might just be the best named company since Google.

Currensee
We end with a truly bizarre one: Boston-based Currensee, which has created a social currency exchange. The company does away with the fancy trading desk and legions of so-called foreign exchange experts. Instead, Currensee matches investors looking for advice with currency traders with decent track records, here called Trade Leaders. Trade Leaders post their strategies in the network and investors invest as they are told.

Here's the bizarre part: Currensee passes a cut of the following investor's gain back to the leader. Plus everybody on the service pays a fixed fee of 2%. The larger cut of the upside that is passed to leaders is not trivial: 20 full percent! Or what hedge fund managers charge for similar advice.

Sure, that's pricey, but it gets a person's attention, rewards results and you get a whole lot more transparency with that currency trade. Bernie could not have pulled a Madoff here.

>To submit a news tip, email: tips@thestreet.com.

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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.

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