A picture is worth a thousand words, and at the DEMO Spring 2012 conference, three innovative startups are hoping to turn those words into dollars. No doubt with visions of Instagram's $1 billion payday dancing in their heads, these photo- and video-sharing app makers vied to take the concept to the next level.

San Francisco-based TourWrist showed off its iPhone and iPad app that can take 360-degree panoramic photos. In mid-May, the company plans to add features to stitch multiple panoramas together, similar to Google Street View. In addition, people can link their panoramas to Facebook profiles.

The panoramas can also be linked to brands, which is how founder and Chief Executive Charles Armstrong hopes to build a profitable business, with the free iPhone and iPad app driving buzz. Panoramic views of hotels, real estate and tourist attractions are only a few of the possible commercial applications.

"I find Charles' products to be visually stunning," Bill Gurley, a general partner at Benchmark Capital, said on an investor panel after a string of demonstrations, including TourWrist. "Especially if you get to hold it and play with it, where you're just like blown away. He's accomplished something truly remarkable."

Despite the impressive technology, TourWrist requires some work to learn, which could make widespread adoption a struggle. The company also has to transition from a free-app maker to one that sells its technology to businesses.

Charlottesville, Virginia-based Arqball adapts that panoramic approach from photos to interactive video. The company's free app can create a 360-degree interactive video, using a a slow-moving ArqSpin spinner accessory - sold by Arqball. The user places an object on the spinner and takes a video of the object using an iPhone or iPad. Arqball hopes to get traction with consumers, and eventually sell the software to businesses for use in online retail. A new labeling feature should be attractive to retailers.

But Arqball, too, may not be easy enough to use to attract a lot of consumers. On the business side, the company must find a way to stand out among competitors. "The type of stuff that Arqball is doing will no doubt increase convergence on commerce," Jason Krikorian, general partner at DCM, said. "The question is really on how to make money."

While Arqball focused on futuristic interactives, San Francisco-based Daemonic Labs went old-school, demonstrating its Dabble application for creating digital postcards with the iPhone camera. After taking a picture, users create a card, add text and then pin the image on a map that can be shared with other Dabble users. In essence, the app lets people create and share photo journals.

While the app seemed to work well enough, observers questioned whether the features were enough to make Dabble stand out. "I find this notion about (saving) memories a little blurry," said panelist Claire Lee, head of the emerging business team at Microsoft. "There are a lot of people trying to do it."