Chief Detonator

Who: Chris Holten-Hempel


Company: SparkPR

Age: 31

Has Held Title For: 1 1/2 years

Previous Title: Corporate public-relations manager at Netscape

Chris Holten-Hempel is a new-economy rocketeer. Her launchpad is SparkPR, a Palo Alto-based public-relations firm that she cofounded last year. Her mission: to ignite Silicon Valley startups. Holten-Hempel and her eight-member crew — whose client list has included Epinions and VA Linux Systems — are fire starters of buzz.

What’s unique about promoting Internet startups?

Speed. We run in the same race as startups, only we aim to move faster. In today’s environment, companies have a three-month window to make it — or break it. If they don’t generate attention, they fail. So we’re obsessed with speed and quality.

How do you launch a PR campaign?

We use strategic storytelling. All startups have an interesting story, yet most of them skip the first 10 chapters of their history or just tell the story of their Web site. We find the soul of a company and package it in a compelling way.

Post-launch, how does a company keep the fire burning?

By growing up — and moving on. Once a startup explodes onto the scene and cuts through the marketplace clutter, we pass it off to a larger PR agency. We typically work with a company for a year before bidding it a bittersweet good-bye — it’s like sending a teenager off to college.