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Need funding? SEVC seeks presenting companies for March event

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013
SEVC

The Southeast Venture Conference is headed to Charlotte, NC, in March 2013. The event offers firms a chance to present to top national venture capitalists and angel investors.

If you’re a high growth innovative company looking for funding, you still have a chance to present your business plan in front of top national venture capitalists and private equity professionals at the 2013 Southeast Venture Conference March 13th and 14th at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, NC.

Applications to present at the event are still being accepted.

The event seeks  high growth, innovative companies from diverse technology industries including Software-as-a-Service, New Media, Bio-IT, Clean-Tech, Medical Devices, Mobile, Security, among others.

You’ll meet  hundreds of the region’s leading entrepreneurs and high growth company executives (from startups to pre-IPO), National Venture Capitalists and Private Equity Professionals, M&A facilitators and other leading professionals serving the high growth technology community.

SEVC highlights both early and later stage investment opportunities from: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington DC.

Last year’s SEVC Average Presenter Profile:

  • Average Annual Revenue: $5.9 million
  • Average Capital Raised to Date: $6.7 million
  • Average Number of Employees: 35

While the presenting companies are from the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, the investors fly in from all parts of the country, including California, New York, and Massachusetts, as well as those that are regionally focused.

Exclusive panels, speakers, programming

The SEVC features market relevant investor and executive panels, exclusive networking opportunities, featured speakers and dozens of the region’s top private technology firms presenting to a national audience of venture capitalists, investment bankers and private equity investors.

As a TechMedia company and sponsor of the event, the TechJournal has reported on many firms that subsequently landed angel or venture backing. Venture capitalists tell us, they find new firms to put on their radar and track at each year’s event and many have returned year after year to spot hot Southeast opportunities.

SEVC is also an unparalleled networking event in which innovative firms meet potential partners, customers, and employees, in addition to making invaluable contacts within the venture and angel funding community.

Additional information on presenting and registration can be found at seventure.org andyou can view a list of past presenters here.

 

CEOs rate best states for business: Texas No. 1, NC slips, Florida rises

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

TexasFor the eighth year in a row, CEOs rate Texas as the #1 state in which to do business, according to Chief Executive magazine’s annual Best & Worst States Survey, released today.

Florida rose one spot to take the #2 rank, while North Carolina slipped to #3.

Tennessee remained at #4 while Indiana climbed a spot to capture the #5 rank. CEOs named the worst states to do business as California, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan.

The Best & Worst States Survey measures the sentiment of CEOs on business conditions around the nation.

For the 2012 survey, 650 CEOs from across the country evaluated the states on a broad range of issues, including regulations, tax policies, workforce quality, educational resources, quality of living and infrastructure.  The survey was conducted from Jan. 24 to Feb. 26, 2012.

Louisiana biggest gainer

Louisiana was the biggest gainer in the survey, rising 14 spots to be the #13th most attractive state in the country to do business. The biggest loser was Oregon, which dropped nine spots to #42.

CEOs surveyed said California’s poor ranking is the result of its hostility to business, high state taxes and overly stringent regulations, which is driving investment, companies and jobs to other states.

According to Spectrum Locations Consultants, 254 California companies moved some or all of their work and jobs out of state in 2011, an increase of 26 percent over the previous year and five times as many as in 2009.

“CEOs tell us that California seems to be doing everything possible to drive business from the state. Texas, by contrast, has been welcoming companies and entrepreneurs, particularly in the high-tech arena,” said J.P. Donlon, Editor-in-Chief of Chief Executivemagazine and ChiefExecutive.net.

“Local economic development corporations, as well as the state Texas Enterprise Fund, are providing attractive incentives. This, along with the relaxed regulatory environment and supportive State Department of Commerce adds up to a favorable climate for business.”

Inhospitable business environments mean less jobs, as entrepreneurs and established corporations seek more cost-efficient and tax-friendly locales, said Marshall Cooper, CEO of Chief Executive magazine and ChiefExecutive.net.  “This survey shows that states that create policies and incentives are rewarded with investment, jobs and greater overall economic activity.”

For complete results, including individual state rankings on multiple criteria, methodology and more, please visitChiefExecutive.net.

Best 5 States for Business Rank 2012 Rank 2011
Texas 1st 1st
Florida 2nd 3rd
North Carolina 3rd 2nd
Tennessee 4th 4th
Indiana 5th 6th
Source:  Chief Executive magazine (ChiefExecutive.net)              
Worst 5 States for Business Rank 2012 Rank 2011
California 50th 50th
New York 49th 49th
Illinois 48th 48th
Massachusetts 47th 45th
Michigan 46th 46th
Source:  Chief Executive magazine (ChiefExecutive.net)              
2012 Biggest Gainers Positions Gained
Louisiana +14
Mississippi +8
West Virginia +8
Ohio +6
North Dakota +6
Source:  Chief Executive magazine (ChiefExecutive.net)

 

2012 Biggest Losers Positions Lost
Oregon -9
Kentucky -8
New Hampshire -8
Nebraska -7
Minnesota -7
Source:  Chief Executive magazine (ChiefExecutive.net)                                                

Cyberstates report: Tech industry job losses declined in 2010

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Tech America FoundationThe U.S. high-tech industry lost 115,800 net jobs in 2010, for a total of 5.75 million workers. This two percent decline in tech industry employment was less than half of the 249,500 jobs lost in 2009, which followed several years of sustained growth, according to the TechAmerica Foundation’s 14th annual Cyberstates report.

Over the longer term of 2007 to 2010 – the span of the economic downturn – the tech industry fared better than the private sector as a whole, with a four percent decline in employment versus a seven percent decline in the private sector.

“Of the four high-tech sectors highlighted in our report, only software services added jobs in 2010 – 22,800, a one percent gain,” said Robert F. Bennett, chairman of TechAmerica Foundation.  “Of the jobs lost, 72,100 were in communications services, 53,600 were in tech manufacturing, and 12,900 were in engineering and tech services.  Fortunately, the initial numbers for 2011 look more promising in terms of job growth.”

Job growth occurred in all four tech industry sectors

TechAmerica Foundation also today released a midyear jobs report for 2011 based on a different monthly data set from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  This report shows that between January and June 2011, the tech industry added a net 115,000 jobs, a two percent gain, not adjusted for seasonality.

During this time period, job growth occurred in all four technology industry sectors, with the fastest growth in engineering and tech services.  A 12 month review of June 2010 in comparison with June 2011 also shows growth in three of the four tech industry sectors, with job losses occurring in communication services.

“Tech jobs were down in 2010, trending with the rest of the economy, but we have fared better than the private sector as a whole over the course of the economic downturn and there are some positive signs for 2011, said Dan Varroney, acting President and CEO of TechAmerica.  “We are poised not only to grow our own industry but to support the growth of the economy as a whole.  The key to growth is to support what we call the Four T’s: technology, talent, tax, and trade.”

“Technology: We need robust federal investment in basic research to create the scientific base that companies can use to produce new products and innovations.

“Talent: We need to invest in STEM education to provide our children with the foundation in math and science that will prepare them for high paying careers while allowing highly skilled foreign nationals educated at our universities to remain in the United States and join American companies instead of returning to their home countries and competing against us.”

Tax system needs reform

“Tax: We need to reform our tax system to make capital welcome.  We are competing against countries that are aggressively implementing tax policies that lower the cost of business.  We need comprehensive tax reform that attracts investments in technology and creates a framework that encourages repatriation of profits made by foreign operations of U.S.-based corporations.

“Trade: We need to open new markets to U.S. products and services by finishing the pending Free Trade Agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea and continue to pursue other opportunities to expand trade.”

Eight states added tech jobs in 2010

The state-by-state data reveal that eight states added tech jobs in 2010.  The largest gains occurred in Michigan (+2,700), the District of Columbia (+1,400), West Virginia (+400), Utah (+400), and South Carolina (+300).  On a percentage basis, the District of Columbia saw the fastest job growth in 2010 at 4.3 percent, albeit at a small base.

For the sixth straight year, Virginia led the nation with the highest concentration of tech workers – 98 of every 1,000 private sector workers in the state were employed in the tech industry.  Massachusetts and Colorado ranked second and third, respectively.

Cyberstates 2011 relies on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report provides 2010 national and state-by-state data on high-tech employment, wages, establishments, payroll, wage differential, and employment concentration. All data are the most recent available at the time of publication.

Cyberstates 2011 may be purchased for $150.  The 2011 midyear report may be freely downloaded. Both reports can be accessed at: www.techamericafoundation.org/cyberstates.

Cracks in cyber security reveal gaping holes in our digital defenses

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

By Allan Maurer

InZero device

The InZero security device

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC – Cybersecurity still seems to be an afterthought among everyone from McDonald’s to Gawker Media, not to mention the U.S. government and military. Too many entities worry about digital security only when it is breached.

Great business strategy that. Apparently, even giving your email address to a publication such as Gawker or to McDonald’s during one of its promotions, can expose your private data these days. Both admitted to serious security breaches as 2010 ends, while many Twitter accounts – including mine – were hacked by someone selling Acai for weight loss this week. Probably because I used the same password for both sites (see: Spammers Exploit Gawker) on Gawker, where I commented maybe once.

TechJournal South had its own problems with a hacked ad server a few months back and had to shift to another. Two major ad networks were hit with a similar problem this week.

And most of those security breaches were relatively minor in the scheme of things. Many more serious ones have already occurred and we have little doubt are to come.

But coming on the heels of the WikiLeaks fracas, these breaches all show a laxness about cybersecurity that I think is increasingly dangerous on the part of commercial enterprises, government agencies and the military, not to mention to each of us personally.

The problem is partly inherent in the open, accessible nature of the Internet. The very ease with which we swim the Internet’s electron sea makes us vulnerable to sharks. Still,the bad guys, be they foreign hacker crews backed by their own governments, malware creators, spammers, scammers or plain old crooks, actively hack away at us, while credit card companies, government agencies, and businesses remain all too often re-active.

We can’t win the cybersecurity battles that way.

It is absolutely necessary – probably for all of us, but certainly for government and commercial entities – to actively combat this problem. Harden passwords, be careful about what we put on thumb drives or pick up on them, shred documents with sensitive data, and find and use security systems not so easy for cyber criminals to break through.

I’ve noted one approach that seems to be powerful, that of using a security device separate from other equipment that acts as a lockbox preventing suspicious or actual malware and other intrusions from ever reaching operating systems. See: Herndon-based firm grabbing media attention for security device. And: NZero keeps the bad guys out.

Meanwhile, Panda Security of Orlando, which provides antimalware software in the cloud rather than on individual machines, has listed the top ten cyber security threats it sees for 2011.

See also: WikiWars: The Face of future conflicts.

There are contrary views. Over at InformIT, Gary McGraw & Ivan Arce explain how the current climate of exaggeration and FUD surrounding cyber attacks does not ultimately serve the best interests of computer security research in Cyber Warmongering and Influence Peddling.

Email TJS Editor Allan Maurer: Allan at TechJournalSouth dot com.

Six lessons for creating successful virtual teams: lesson #1

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Virtual Team Success coverThe office of the future might not be an office at all. As virtual teams become more prevalent, we edge ever closer to a culture where “work” means logging in to your company’s online project management site from your home or collaborating with people who each work for different teams or functions at their local co-working establishment.

“Company headquarters” is becoming more of a concept than an actual building. And as physical location becomes less important, companies can hire the best talent regardless of their location. In addition, companies can enhance their efficiency by handing off work across time zones, enabling them to be productive around the clock.

Especially in the Internet company start-up culture and in early-stage biotechnology companies, virtual teams are increasingly prevalent.

But far too often, say Darleen DeRosa and Rick Lepsinger, this vision of the global economy workplace falls short of today’s reality. In other words, virtual teams may be increasingly popular…but they’re not necessarily successful.

“Today it isn’t uncommon for companies to have as many as 50 percent of their employees working on virtual teams,” says Lepsinger, coauthor along with Darleen DeRosa of Virtual Team Success: A Practical Guide for Working and Leading from a Distance (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-470-53296-6, $50.00, www.onpointconsultingllc.com).

“Our research finds that many organizations recycle the same guidelines and best practices they use for their co-located teams and hope for the best,” says DeRosa. “Frankly, that just doesn’t work. Virtual teams and face-to-face teams are the proverbial ‘apples and oranges’—and leaders who recognize this fact are the ones whose teams succeed.”

To help organizations maximize their investment in virtual collaboration, OnPoint Consulting conducted a study of forty-eight virtual teams to understand the success factors of top performing virtual teams. Surprisingly, 27 percent of virtual teams in the global study were not fully performing. Given these results, the authors recognized the need for a resource that could help organizations and leaders enhance virtual team performance—and so they wrote Virtual Team Success.

Through the study, the authors recognized that virtual teams regularly fall victim to four pitfalls:

Lack of clear goals, direction, or priorities—Because it is tougher to communicate with and inform team members who are geographically dispersed, it is often difficult to keep all team members focused on the same goals, especially over time.

Lack of clear roles among team members—In virtual teams, it is especially important for team members to clearly understand their individual roles and how their work impacts other team members.

Lack of cooperation and trust—Because there is a lack of face-to-face contact inherent in virtual teamwork, the process of establishing trust and relationships that lead to group cooperation can be very arduous. Over time, this lack of collaboration can lead to a lack of trust amongst team members.

Lack of engagement—With virtual teams, people can easily become bored and “check out” because there is a lack of dynamic face-to-face interaction and because there are more distractions.

Eliminate these pitfalls and a team’s chances for success greatly increase. Below DeRosa and Lepsinger identify six lessons—excerpted from the book—for creating successful virtual teams.

We’ll be presenting the rest of the lessons tomorrow, including a reprise of Lesson 1, below.

Lesson #1: Focus on people issues. Essentially, successful teaming depends largely on the effective interaction of team members. Virtual teams need to compensate for the inherent lack of human contact by supporting team spirit, trust, and productivity. The authors identify warning signs that indicate that a team’s “people issues” need more attention.

“You may notice that team members work independently and do not reach out to other team members to collaborate,” says Lepsinger. “You may also notice that an ‘us versus them’ mentality has developed between locations or sub-groups. The truth is, when everyone is engaged and communicating, it is much easier to succeed as a virtual team. When team members build relationships with one another, it prevents people issues from taking over and impacting team efficiency.

Lesson #1 in Action:

  • Develop a team web page where virtual team members can share information and get to know one another.
  • Create ways for team members to interact and communicate informally. Use real-time communication tools like Instant Messaging or social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter to create a virtual water cooler of sorts that allows people on virtual teams to communicate more spontaneously.
  • Build a collective online “resource bank” to share information and experiences.
  • Find ways to “spotlight” team members.
  • Send electronic newsletters or updates to the team.
  • Create ways to virtually celebrate successes as a team
  • Partner team members at different locations on projects and rotate these periodically.

Darleen DeRosa, Ph.D., is a managing partner at OnPoint Consulting. Darleen brings more twelve years of management consulting experience, with deep expertise in the areas of talent/succession management, executive assessment, virtual teams, and organizational assessment. Her client list includes Accenture, Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Daiichi-Sankyo, Gerdau Ameristeel, and Johnson & Johnson.

Richard Lepsinger is president of OnPoint Consulting and has a twenty-five-year track record of success as an organizational consultant and executive. His client list includes Bayer Pharmaceuticals, Citibank, Coca-Cola Company, ConocoPhillips, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, NYSE Euronext, PeopleSoft, Prudential, and Subaru of America, among many others

Tomorrow: the other five lesson.

SRA buying Platinum Solutions for $90M

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

SRAFAIRFAX, VA – SRA International Inc. (NYSE: SRX), a leading provider of technology and strategic consulting services and solutions to government organizations and commercial clients has agreed to buy Platinum Solutions Inc., which sells systems integration and collaborative solutions to the federal government for approximately $90 milllion.

Platinum Solutions is a privately held systems integrator and software developer with headquarters in Reston, and offices in Bridgeport, W. VA and Rockville, MD. The company specializes in developing customized software applications and providing data management solutions for customers in the national security and civil government arena.

Platinum Solutions’ revenue in calendar year 2010 is expected to be approximately $55 million. The acquisition is expected to be accretive to earnings per share in SRA’s fiscal year 2011.

Durham-based Parata Systems names Tom Rhoads CEO

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

ParataDURHAM, NC – Parata Systems, which sells a retail pharmacy automation solution, has named Tom Rhoads CEO and D. J. Dougherty CFO.

They replace Jess Eberdt, the current CEO, and Doug Townsend, the CFO.

During his 20-year career in healthcare, Rhoads has acquired direct experience in all fundamental areas of business operations, from manufacturing to information technology. He joined Parata in 2004, where he has served as executive vice president for marketing, national accounts, sales and product service. Dougherty joined the company in 2003, and most recently served as executive vice president for finance and operations.

The company makes and sells robotic drug dispensing units.

NTELOS buying One Communications FiberNet biz for $170M

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

nTelosWAYNESBORO, VA – NETELOS Holding Corp. (Nasdaq:NTLS), which sells wireless and wireline communications services in Virginia and West Virginia, has agreed to acquire the FiberNet business of MA-based One Communications Corp. for about $170 million in cash.

The FiberNet fiber optic network of approximately 3,500 route miles covers all of West Virginia and extends into surrounding areas in Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky. The Company is a leader in its regional markets, offering retail voice and data services, transport and IP-based services primarily to regional retail and wholesale business customers.

The FiberNet fiber optic network of approximately 3,500 route miles covers all of West Virginia and extends into surrounding areas in Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Kentucky. The company is a leader in its regional markets, offering retail voice and data services, transport and IP-based services primarily to regional retail and wholesale business customers.

Supreme Court upholds Sarbanes-Oxley, changes board rule

Monday, June 28th, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the challenge to the constitutionality of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the attempt by Congress to bring stricter accounting standards to the corporate world following the Enron and WorldCom scandals.

The court did find that the way members of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board are removed is unconstitutional and made the members removable at will rather than only for “good cause.”

Many business lobbying groups had hoped the court would declare the entire law invalid due to problems with the way members of the board are appointed.

But Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the Act “Remains fully operative as law.”

Many public companies and business lobbying organizations contended that the Act is unduly expensive and did not do anything to curb fraud while constricting the number of companies that could afford to go public and slashing the number of foreign corporations listing on U.S. stock exchanges.

We’ll bring you reactions from industry sources as they’re released. The decision is bound to disappoint many smaller public companies which find the act burdensome and expensive.

Contact Tech Journal South Editor and writer Allan Maurer: Allan at TechJournalSouth dot com.

See:

Supreme Court decision affecting Sarbanes-Oxley expected soon

Use social media aggressively, expert says

Thursday, June 24th, 2010
Deepak Gupta

Deepak Gupta

By Allan Maurer

CLEARWATER, FL – Deepak Gupta, a marketing expert, says he helps clients “aggressively increase brand awareness and consumer engagement” via social media. When Clearwater-based Help My Resume, a nonprofit organization assisting the unemployed hired him, we saw his bio and decided to ask him just what aggressive use of social media requires.

Gupta, Founder of Marketing By Deepak Consulting Group, a social media thought Leader located in California, has created and executed social media strategies for non-profits to Fortune 500 organizations raising brand awareness, user engagement and growing main site traffic.

He has created and executed social media strategies for non-profits to Fortune 500 organizations raising brand awareness, user engagement and growing main site traffic.

So just what is aggressive use of social media?

“Let’s pretend you’re in the Navy,” he tells us. “You’re off the shores of North Korea and it decides to pull out a rogue ship with nukes on board. You can’t just take them on with a destroyer or frigate. You bombard them with the whole fleet: gunboats, aircraft carriers, destroyers, ground-based air attacks. A multiple wave.”

That’s what he suggests to firms executing a marketing campaign.

“Don’t do one tactic in a vacuum,” he says. “Use them all. Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.”

So, when he works with a client, he first determines what they want: increased brand awareness or boost market share? Then he says, “Let’s get you a blog, optimize your web page, make sure you’re on Facebook and engaging with your consumers. Make sure you’re on Twitter and following those who follow you. Answer tweets. When you talk to your client base, they’re more likely to do business with you if they know you.”

Make executives accessible

He suggests that if a company has the budget, it should put a team together and look at TV ads and direct mail and print advertising and include social media links on the ads. “Combine it all with banner ads, email marketing. Make sure it all has social media sharing buttons.

“Do as many news worth press releases as you can so you’re featured in media regularly. Help out some large charity and put out a press release. You have to be out there.”

Also, make your executives assessable, he says.

Don’t do what BP did

What he says you should not do, is what British Petroleum is doing. “They’re spending $50 million on an ad campaign that’s too late. If you’re company makes a mistake or has a problem, own up to it.”

BP currently faces a number of Twitter accounts such as Boycott BP that are more active than their own twitter stream, he points out.

As an example, he mentions Jet Blue, which kept passengers on one plane for seven hours waiting for takeoff during a snowstorm.

“The CEO came back and decided to make it up. They gave everyone tickets and publically apologized. They messed up, but fixed it and did it publically.”

Another big wave coming

Gupta says that while the distribution barriers to using social media are low – it can be done from a laptop or even a phone – companies do have to spend time on them every day. “You need to make sure you have teams – more than one or two people – respond to complaints or negative brand mentions.”

Gupta predicts there is another “big wave of social marketing coming just around the corner” and that’s mobile marketing.

“Social and mobile will come together,” he says. “People can access Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn on their phones. You can go out on the golf course and check email or social media. You can do it waiting in line or on the subway and keep your productivity high.”

For more tips from Gupta, see his blog.

Nearly 80 percent of firms need to update XP SP2

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
Dean Williams

Dean Williams, Services Development Manager, Softchoice

By Allan Maurer

TORONTO – With less than 4 weeks before Microsoft discontinues support of Windows XP SP2, a Softchoice study finds that 77 percent of organizations are still not prepared. Toronto-based Softchoice, which has Southeast offices in Atlanta, Charlotte, Norfolk, VA, and DC, says these surprising findings will have a significant impact on the overall security of a company’s data if computers are not upgraded before July 13, 2010.

It is estimated that nearly eight out of every 10 organizations have a high enough prevalence of SP2 in their environment to warrant immediate action to update their systems. Failing to do so could create unnecessary security risks as hackers continue to look for vulnerabilities knowing that software updates will no longer be forthcoming from Microsoft.

How much is a high enough prevalence? If 10 percent of a company’s computers are running XP Service Pack 2, that’s enough to worry about, Softchoice says.

“We were surprised by the number of people who have not yet deployed Service Pack 3,” said Dean Williams, Services Development Manager for Softchoice.

Williams tells us XP is still the most popular operating system in the world. “The more popular an operating system is, the bigger the bullseye on it,” he says. “Every day, people are looking to exploit known XP vulnerabilities, so there is no more dangerous operating system in the world.”

XP is “like a comfortable pair of jeans” for many users, a fact that forced Microsoft to extend its support of the system. Many also may have experienced disruptive issues when installing XP’s service pack 2, Williams notes, which may have made them reluctant to update to the XP service pack 3.

A whopping 93 percent of users are still running XP, says Williams, which we find amazing.

Also, While offered free of charge by Microsoft, the work involved in deploying Windows SP3 is not insignificant for larger organizations or those without systems management technology in place.

Service pack 3 is a much more incremental update compared to the major overhaul of SP2 and does not cause those troublesome issues. Users should update immediately, says Williams. Even better, he suggests, would be to upgrade to a current system such as Windows 7.

Hackers will be actively looking even harder to exploit vulnerabilities in XP Service Pack 2 once Microsoft discontinues software updates, Williams notes.

The good, the bad, and the ugly of workplace social media use

Friday, June 18th, 2010

By Rhonda R. Savage, DDS

Rhonda Savage

Rhonda R. Savage

There’s no doubt that Facebook participation can be an asset to any business. The question is, how can you use it to promote your products and company, yet be sure your team members are cautious in the way they use it?  What should the owner and office manager post?

Where is the line between personal and professional? Knowing the good, the bad and the ugly of Facebook for business, your company can take full advantage of this tool and watch your business grow.

The good: One benefit Facebook offers for business is it lets the customers and potential clients know your company on a personal level. Clients come to you for a relationship. They assume you know how to take care of their needs. Being accessible on social media sites helps your clients and customers feel connected to your company.

A Facebook page can also help bring people to your website. Customers will look for your presence on the Internet and a Facebook profile is just another way they can find you, leading them to your website to find out more information and possibly contact you.

Facebook can be a tremendous networking tool. Business pages on Facebook can elevate your website status through Search Engine Optimization.  In addition, if you have a Facebook business page link on the opening page of your website, potential clients can feel that they know you and your office before coming in for their new customer experience.  Several companies have gained new clients simply because of their Facebook page.

The bad: A recent study of companies with 1,000 employees found that 8% of their employees have actually been dismissed for their behavior on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.  That’s double from the previous year! Companies have also fired employees for sharing sensitive details about the business and their clients.  In addition, team members have been sanctioned and fired for making unprofessional remarks about their boss via social networking sites.

The Ugly: Realize that even if you use Facebook privacy settings, you may still be in danger. Remember going to high school and doing things you thought your parents would never know about and yet somehow they always found out? The same is true of social media. Avoid bad -mouthing your boss, co-worker or anyone in your professional life in such a public way on a public forum.

Every business should have specific guidelines that apply to social media use.  There are two factors at work here: employers need to be closely monitoring social media sites and employees need to use common sense when posting about work life.  Employees need to be careful about sharing sensitive information as well as making foolish remarks about their employer.

The owner needs to set the vision and goals for the office regarding social media with the help of the team with the development of a mission-driven ethical use policy.

Following are some basic guidelines for using social media in business. The guidelines listed below must apply to every member of the team member, including the owner:

  1. Never post anything that directly or indirectly insults customers, clients or the business itself.
  2. When posting on personal and social media sites, be nice and keep it clean. Develop verbal cue cards on “what to say and not to say” on social media. Have clearly developed expectations that apply to all team members.
  3. Consider leveraging your office’s Facebook profile to start positive conversations about your employees and your services. You can do this by regularly posting testimonials from current or past clients.
  4. With your customers’ permission, involve them in your efforts. You can do this by connecting with them and posting information about their business.
    If you have a personal page and a business page, consider your policy regarding clients who want to become your personal friend.  One business owner lost a family of customers who requested to be his personal friend and he said “no.”
  5. Create a page in your office policy manual regarding Facebook and social media posting so each employee understands what to do and what not to do.
  6. Designate one or more specific employees to be responsible for posting on and updating your sites. Business page content will need to be updated frequently and consistently to ensure the Wall tab stays fresh. Carve out 1-2 hours/week for this responsibility dedicated to marketing on the web.

With a clearly established policy and understanding of the good, bad and the ugly, Facebook and social media can be a great asset to your business. By enforcing social media policies and following these guidelines, you’ll see great results from your efforts!

Dr. Rhonda Savage is an internationally acclaimed speaker and CEO for a well-known practice management and consulting business. Dr. Savage is a noted motivational speaker on leadership, women’s issues and communication.   For more information on her speaking, visit www.DentalManagementU.com

Stinking Badges

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Joe Procopio

Joe Procopio

By Joe Procopio

Look, we all know that the world economy is in the toilet. Our own stock market seems caught in a range depending on what’s gushing, exploding, or opening its stupid mouth on any given day. Europe has had it, thanks for all those awesome centuries of culture and civilization, fellas. And Twitter still hasn’t figured out how to make any money.

Or have they? It’s hard to tell.

But I have a question for you on this, the fortnight before the season for the eve of all financial destruction: Which is the more valuable currency play? A) Euros; B) Flooz ; C) Badges

Answer Below (No Cheating!)

As far as the Euro is concerned, yeah, I’m the ugly American, but we do have the World Cup going on and that 1-1 draw with England is stuck in my craw like a keeper deftly securing a dribbling shot into his professionally gloved hands. You can actually buy Euro futures with an options collar using World of Warcraft money (I don’t know… pence?) and General Mills box tops. The only way you lose is if the scone market goes belly up.

If you read the word “Flooz” and didn’t laugh, you’re either twelve years old or Whoopi Goldberg. No wait, you can’t be twelve and not laugh at the word “Flooz.” Sorry, Whoopi.

And if you’re not 100% sure what badges are or why they might be the right answer, well, you’re not alone.

Badges Are Not Euros

Here’s what badges are in 15 words: Things that don’t exist with no intrinsic value other than to the few who seek them. But don’t take that explanation the wrong way. After all, a Star Wars action figure in the original packaging is just a few cents worth of plastic and cardboard. You can’t eat gold, yada and yada.

What badges are not are actual currency, certified or overseen in any way (and I say this knowing there is indeed some self-appointed badge certification website out there with tons of members who go by Monty Python referencing handles and nothing better to do than send me corrective email, I’m just too lazy to look it up), or linked to a central qualification.

You want the TechJournal South Ultra-Mega-Reader-And-Understander Badge?


There. Now you can put it wherever these things go, like on your MySpace page or above your fireplace.

Badges Are Not Flooz (Still Chuckling)

What badges are also not… are Flooz.

See. It’s confusing. Hang with me, we’ll get there.

Badges aren’t Flooz because Flooz was an Internet currency with a pre-determined cash value. You spent Flooz on the Internet instead of cash.

Badges have no, repeat, no value other than as a collectible and only, it seems, as a collectible to a single entity – a social network like FourSquare or an event like the World Cup. They come from the gaming industry, which is where I get my wobbly expert knowledge on the subject. I know of them, but I don’t have any, because while I can deftly destroy my wife and toddler children at Halo (the little one STILL has nightmares about the Flood, by the way, but you take your edge where you can get it), any kid beyond the age of five makes me look like my Dad.

Who, for the record, can still beat the hell out of Dr. Mario.

Social Badges

When badges came over to social networking they, like every other Internet idea, actually started out with good intentions, like Facebook, and were used to raise money for charity. These were actually less like badges and more like widgets.

But when used improperly, what badges can do, like every other Internet idea shamelessly copied and mutated into something awful for attention or money, like Facebook, is fall victim to a mix of trendhopping, poor program design, and automation, and bring down the worth of every achievement that they purport to reward.

Let’s say I decided that I want to get some sort of reliable return out of my ultra-mega TechJournal badge. This is the reason why anyone would want to do something like this and insert snarky social marketing advice here. If I do it right and offer something valuable in return for achieving the badge, like I come to your house and make fun of TV with you for an hour, then I’m actually on the right track.

But something of value to you requires something of value to me. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, no matter what kind of Groupon Schlotzkys is offering. So I’m going to make you do something to get the badge, like, let’s say, leave awesome glowing, ego-bending comments for my columns

Genius. Right?

Absolutely

Thank you. But unless I do it right, insert snarky social marketing cautionary tale here, I can actually devalue the badge and my return on it. We’ll hit it off great, with comments like “Joe, this column changed my life. I actually finished reading it and developed an idea for a new mobile business and now have term sheets from both coasts. Thank you!”

Then sooner or later, you’ll figure it out, and it’ll be “Nice column.” And finally, when it’s all blinders on and hell bent for leather, it’s “dsajhfsjh.” Basically whatever you can type with your fist before hitting “Post.”

It’s not long before I retaliate with automated monitoring and “Report Abuse” links on every post and then we’re getting bots and using captchas and then before you know it I’m fighting fraud on every front.

Which is exactly what happened to Flooz. Well that and people remembered they had credit cards.

A Fad. For Now.

Badges are a fad, but they’re the kind of fad like Angelfire was a fad or ringtones were a fad. There’s something there, most definitely, and when used correctly, badges can be another step on the way to actually monetizing all this social activity.

And there’s no reason you can’t figure it out before Twitter does.

Joe Procopio is the founder of Intrepid Company, a technical and management consulting firm (intrepidcompany.com) that has spun out publishing company/creative network Intrepid Media and digital incubator ExitEvent. You really can keep the ultra-mega badge, but what you really want is the super-ultra-giga badge, and to get that he’ll need one Star Wars action figure in original packaging. He can be reached at joe@intrepidcompany.com or twitter @jproco.

Content is King – Again

Friday, June 11th, 2010
King of hearts

Content is King... again

By Allan Maurer

RESEARCH TRIANGLE, NC – “Content is King,” is an idea that has had its ups and downs as a guiding principal for developing not just traffic but value on Web sites, but it is clearly back in the forefront. Yahoo recently agreed to buy Associated Content, which relies on more than 300,000 low paid freelance contributors to churn out 50,000 pieces of unique media monthly, paying $100 million for the company.

The Examiner.com, a similar operation recently bought NowPublic, a Vancouver-based citizen journalism site and continually advertises for “Examiners” to provide content on news, restaurants, entertainment and other topics nationally.

AOL recently announced its intention to hire hundreds of journalists, editors and videographers in addition to the 500 full-time editorial employees it now has, David Eun, president of AOL’s media and studios division told Crain’s New York Business.com.

“Our mission at this company is to be the world’s largest producer of high-quality content, period,” Eun, said.

Content hot again

Bob Butler, CEO and founder of BestThinking.com, a rather unique Research Triangle, NC-based content site, has predicted the content space would become hot again even before the Yahoo/Associated Content deal was announced.

The Triangle region, he notes, is home to a number of content oriented Web businesses in addition to his own, including www.BrightHub.com and www.Lulu.com, while many other content driven Internet companies dot the entire Southeast region. Butler tells us he thinks well run content sites will be delivering a good return on investment if they land venture dollars.

“This is Yahoo’s answer to what AOL is doing with Seed.com… basically acquiring their own internal freelancer-driven content website to reduce content costs and increase content volume,” Butler tells us.

“In any event, this clearly shows an increasing demand for ventures that can generate content for major media and their Internet offerings,” he adds.

Barrier to entry lower

Why all this renewed hoopla over content? For one thing, the barrier to creating an Internet company is, as Edwin Warfield, founder of Localbusiness.com (originally dbusiness.com) that thrived during the Internet boom years, much less now than it was then.  Now founder and CEO of Potomac-based Citybizlist.com,  Warfield tells us “It costs less than 5 percent of what it did then.”

So many more Internet sites are competing for traffic and search engine notice and getting original, unique and frequent content on a site is the reliable way to attract both search engine attention and visitor traffic, which translates into advertising dollars and a firm’s eventual worth.

We suspect that successful content-focused sites will gravitate more and more toward professional contributions rather than the type of low-paid, search-geared material now offered by Associated Content and Examiner.com.

A corollary of the renewed interest in building sites through content is a renewed interest in content management systems. We’ve used half a dozen in our decade of providing content to a variety of Web sites, and here’s a bit of advice: talk to some professionals in the content management space before you decide on a CMS.

The right CMS will have a lot to do with whether your subject matter experts or other contributors publish regularly.

Editor’s note: sponsored content is not necessarily provided by the sponsor. It may also be content of interest to the sponsor, such as this post.

webslingerzSponsored by webslingerz 

webslingerz helps organizations utilize interactive media to create and maintain connections with customers, partners, and employees.

Four tips for businesses on becoming a savvy social networker

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Jean KelleyBy Jean Kelley

For any business, effective networking is an essential component to success. Today, though, the landscape of business networking has changed dramatically. No longer does business networking exclusively involve standing in a crowded room of people, meeting and greeting with total strangers, and exchanging numerous business cards. While such traditional networking is still valid and effective, e-networking done via business social networking sites is just as valuable.

Regardless of what anyone thinks about social networking sites, the fact is that they are here to stay. Sure, they’ll evolve over the years and will likely look very different than they do today, but ultimately they’ll still exist. And while purely “social” social networking sites can have a business aspect to them, it’s important for business owners, executives, and managers to have a strong presence on the tried and true business networking sites (example: LinkedIn).

Why? Because your clients, customers, colleagues, and others look to business networking sites for evidence of your character. For example, when a prospect is thinking about doing business with you, he or she will likely do a social media search for you.

Never before did average people have the ability to research anyone or any company they wanted. While in the past background checks were expensive and time-consuming, these days a few mouse clicks and keystrokes can pull up a goldmine of information. That’s why you and your company need to be on business networking sites…and you need to be using the e-networking sites effectively.

The following suggestions will help you become a savvy e-networker with a positive online presence.

  • Don’t be a contact collector; be a contact cultivator.

The goal of any networking endeavor is to build relationships, not just to collect business cards. E-networking is no different. If you’ve been on any business networking sites, you’ve likely seen people with 500+ connections. At first you may think, “Wow, that person sure knows a lot of people.” But does he or she really know those connections? Or is this person just collecting contacts?

Rather than accepting and sending invitations to anyone, be mindful of whom you connect with. When you do make a connection with someone, look over his or her profile and then add a personal note to the person where you indicate a shared interest, club, affiliation, etc. For example, you could respond to someone by writing, “I see you attended Northwestern University (or are a member of the Miami Business Association, or have a pet beagle…). I have a similar interest in that I (also attended Northwestern…am a member of the Tulsa Business Association….have a dog named Snoopy…etc.). You get the idea. Find a shared interest to build up

  • Have a clear purpose.

Many people think they’re going to get business from being on social media sites. While you can get business from your online activities, this shouldn’t be your ultimate purpose. Rather, your purpose should be to make people aware of who you are by sharing your expertise.

Any business networking site is a place for you to give, not just to get. So to get business from your e-networking activities, you have to contribute meaningful content. You can find many groups to belong to that have strong conversations going. If you post something in the discussion that’s smart and useful (good content), then chances are someone will ask to connect with you. Now you have more people to share your message with.

Other examples of good content are asking thought-provoking questions, posting a motivational quote, and sharing a business tip. No matter what you post, if you get a reply, acknowledge the person for their feedback or contribution. Just as you can’t take people for granted in the brick and mortar world, you can’t take them for granted in the virtual world either. Everyone who reacts to your content is a potential relationship and you need to treat them as such.

When you’re replying to a question someone else poses, try to answer in the early part of the conversation rather than after 100 others have already replied. You want your answer to be in that first page of results. That way anyone who replies after you sees your photo and business information every time. With that said, pay close attention to what the question is and don’t answer anything capriciously. Always remember that your reply is posted forever.

  • Add some personal flair to your profile.

Even though this is business, it’s okay to put some personal flair to your profile. After all, no one is all business all the time. Chances are you have some interesting hobbies or other areas of your life that people find intriguing. For example, maybe you collect antique cars, breed prize-winning poodles, tend a vineyard in your backyard, or have the city’s largest yo-yo collection. These are interesting tidbits of yourself that you can weave into your profile to make you appear more “real.”

Additionally, look at the tools and widgets the business networking sites make available to you and use them. You can do such things as post your reading list, link your blog, upload your Twitter feed, and many others. People can get to know you by these additional applications. Even better, they’re very user-friendly and easy to integrate into your business networking persona.

A New Twist on an Old Tool

We are currently in the biggest social media experiment in the world. Those who embrace business e-networking now are essentially the pioneers who will shape how this tool gets implemented and how it evolves. As you move forward, however, remember that your involvement with business networking sites should be just one small aspect of your business building efforts; it’s definitely not an end-all approach for getting business. Essentially, when you use today’s business e-networking tools effectively, you’ll have one more way to connect with clients and prospects so you can build your business and boost your bottom line.

About the Author:

Jean Kelley is president and founder of Jean Kelley Leadership Consulting and Jean Kelley Leadership Alliance. She works with corporate leaders all over the world to achieve their highest potential.  With her Alliance, Jean has helped more than 500,000 businesspeople enhance their careers. She is the author of “Dear Jean: What They Don’t Teach You at the Water Cooler,” and “Get A Job; Keep A Job Handbook.” For more information, see: www.jeankelley.com

Report says: economy recovery depends on small biz

Friday, May 28th, 2010

TDIt is difficult to overstate the importance of entrepreneurs to the success of the U.S. economy, says a new report from TD Economics.

“While economists spend a lot of time analyzing near-term trends and developments in aggregate data, economic growth over the longer-term is driven primarily by individuals taking risks and making sacrifices in order to bring innovative ideas to market,” writes TD economist James Marple in “Small and Medium Sized Businesses Key to U.S. Economic Recovery.”

Marple points out that small and medium-sized businesses, typically firms with fewer than 500 employees, make up 99.7 percent of all U.S. companies and more than half of total employment in the country.

He adds, “They are also profoundly important to generating new employment.”

We noted in an earlier post that while large tech firms such as IBM continue to shed jobs,  portfolio companies at many venture firms are hiring (see: Job hunting? Venture-backed startups are hiring

The TD report says that businesses formed within the last five years have been responsible for the vast majority of net job growth in the last two decades (a statistic we found amazing).

Looking ahead, the report says, the U.S. economic recovery will depend largely on the performance of U.S. small businesses, which “suffered a disproportionate share of the job losses and many still have difficulty accessing credit form some lenders.”

Fortunately, he adds, things are beginning to look up.

We think this is another indication that government policy on national, state and local levels should pay much more attention to supporting, nurturing, and developing small businesses, entrepreneurs and startups rather than spending so much time and money on chasing large manufacturers and big companies.

North Carolina invested a lot of time, money and energy in recruiting a Dell computer manufacturing plant to the state that is shutting down operations after only a few years.

Would that money have been better spent helping develop and support startup operations that would generate jobs for a decade or more?

We see more and more evidence that making sure small businesses and startups have access to capital and support they need to succeed is far more important than shoring up large industries that are often dinosaurs that face near extinction every time some economic volcano blows its top. – Allan Maurer

Financial reform legislation could hurt startup angel funding

Friday, May 7th, 2010

By Allan Maurer

capitol-building-pictureWASHINGTON, DC – The financial reform bill now being debated in the U.S. Senate could throw a monkey-wrench into the early-stage startup funding process. Two provisions in the bill, which is supposed to be aimed at taming Wall Street, would adversely affect “angel” investors, the high net worth individuals who often seed early stage companies.

Those provisions in the proposed “Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010” (S. 3217) could limit the availability of angel investment to small business and start-ups, says CompTIA, the IT trade industry.

One of the provisions increases the amount of income and assets an angel investor would need to qualify as accredited investors. The other requires a company seeking an angel investment to seek U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approval–a process that could take months.

Many early-stage startups simply do not have those extra months and might never get off the ground if the provision is included in the final bill, some angel investors say.

Startups are job creation engines

“We recognize that this proposed legislation seeks to address the myriad of complex issues that led to the financial crisis,” said Elizabeth Hyman, vice president, public advocacy, CompTIA, one of at least ten associations requesting amendments to the bill to change the provisions.

“We are concerned that certain provisions contained in this legislation would effectively cut off early-stage angel investors who provide a critical source of funding for start-ups, small businesses and other entrepreneurs,” she stated. “Access to capital continues to be a significant concern for all small businesses.”

In an opinion piece about the financial reform bill in on Philly.com , Steve Welch asks why Washington bureaucrats cannot seem to distinguish between Wall Street bankers and entrepreneurs and the angel investors who back them. He notes that the bill in its current form “Will hurt the process that helps turn entrepreneurs’ innovateive ideas into viable, job-creating businesses.

Getting SEC involved “Almost a joke”

We understand his pain. For some reason, legislators seem clueless about how important startup funding is to getting the country back on track in creating new jobs. We spend billions to bail out firms responsible for the financial meltdown while doing little to rein in their excesses or help the part of the economy that is at the root of real job creation.

Bill Warner, of Wake Forest, NC-based Paladin and Associates, tells us, “These provisions in the Dodd bill will substantially stifle investment in startup companies.”

He adds, “Getting the SEC involved is almost a joke. These folks are one of the many who never blew the whistle on the pending mortgage industry collapse and they knew it was coming. Getting them involved in deciding what the risk is in an angel investment adds no value to the process and will only slow down investment.”

Welch points to the Kauffman Foundation study that found that between 1980 and 2005, companies less than five  years old created nearly all the net gain in new jobs. But, Welch notes, that rather than supporting the effective bottom-up economic development, Washington legislators continue to focus on “mis-guided top-down policy making.” 

Amendments requested by CompTIA and others

In a letter sent to Chairman Christopher Dodd and Ranking Member Richard Shelby of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, CompTIA has asked for two amendments to the bill:

* Section 412: As written, this section would increase the threshold for qualified investors by applying the inflation factor measured since these limits were first enacted. Applying this inflation factor would more than double the existing net asset requirement from $1 million to approximately $2.3 million.

CompTIA supports an amendment that would keep the existing $1 million cap, but would exclude the value of the investor’s primary residence.

* Section 926. The section would require a 120-day SEC review of all Regulation D 506 private offerings, which include angel investors. However, instead of adding an additional 120 days onto the funding process, CompTIA supports an amendment that would simply disqualify “bad actors” as determined by Federal and State authorities.

“These amendments will ensure that high growth small businesses and entrepreneurs have access to a strong pool of angel capital and that investors are better protected from fraud,” said CompTIA’s Hyman.

Supporters of these provisions say they are intended to protect angel investors from risky investments. Welch says it’s true that angel investing is risky, but “Calculated risk-taking has allowed the United States to become the most innovative society in the world.”

See also:

Nine national associations concerned about reform bill

Angel Capital Association Supports Amendments to Reform Bill

ACA Joins NVCA in concerns on reform bill

U.S. High-Tech Industry Shed 245,600 Jobs in 2009

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. high-tech industry lost 245,600 jobs in 2009, for a total of 5.9 million workers. This recession-induced, four percent decline in tech employment is slightly lower than the five percent decline experienced by the private sector as a whole and follows four years of steady growth in tech industry employment.

TechAmerica Foundation‘s 2009 quarterly breakdown revealed a bright spot amidst the losses – software services added 10,100 jobs in the fourth quarter, growing by one percent. Not only that, at TechJournal South we found that many venture-backed companies are hiring (see: Job Hunting?) even as larger firms such as IBM continue to shed jobs.

“While it weathered the storm better than the private sector at large, the U.S. high-tech industry clearly felt the effect of the recession in 2009,” said Christopher W. Hansen, president of TechAmerica Foundation. “Every corner of the industry experienced job losses, though software services, which helped tech hold up longer than most at the recession’s onset, saw growth in Q4 2009.”

Every high-tech sector saw employment losses in 2009. Of the 245,600 jobs lost, 112,600 were in manufacturing, concentrated in sectors like electronic components and semiconductors. Space and defense systems manufacturing was least affected with employment declining by 0.5 percent, or 1,200 jobs.

Engineering and tech services also saw a net loss of 59,000 jobs, as did communications services, shedding 53,000 jobs. Software services experienced the smallest decline, losing 20,700 jobs, or one percent.

Cyberstates 2010 relies on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report provides 2009 national data on tech employment as well as 2008 national and state-by-state data on high-tech employment, wages, establishments, payroll, wage differential, and employment concentration.

Tech America CEO and president Phil Bond warned that DC policy makers need to take decisive action to fuel a full tech job recovery.

“Without decisive action, policymakers in Washington might not see the recovery that we’re all hoping for,” said Bond.

“Washington could help put more of America’s brightest minds to work by enacting a comprehensive innovation agenda. We continue to look for leadership in key areas like tax policy, broadband deployment, and workforce to support the creation of more well-paying tech jobs across the country.”

www.techamericafoundation.org

Innovation Lab opens in West Virginia

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

GlobalScienceTechnologyLogoFAIRMONT, W. VA – Global Science & Technology Inc.  has offcially opened  its Innovation Lab (iLab), located on the first floor of the Alan B. Mollohan Innovation Center in Fairmont. It is the first privately managed facility of its kind in West Virginia.

“The concept is unique,” said GST iLab vice president Brian Bell.

“Innovation is vital for the continued economic growth of West Virginia, and we want to be at the forefront of creating new opportunities. The first step in the innovation process is to tear down barriers. Old business models don’t always work well. The iLab is an alterative business model. It is open to anyone who has a concept that falls under our theme of information relevancy.

“There are no offices, no walls, no stifling bureaucracy, only open space, many areas for collaboration and a lot of energy. The concept is all about sharing information and exchanging ideas with the intent to advance technology and create new commercial offerings.”

“The Innovation Laboratory is a community where concepts emerge and ideas are generated,” stated Julian Pucci, iLab Coordinator. “We help innovators share ideas, find funding, build prototypes, make connections, and fulfill the commercial potential of their concepts. Innovation is not just for entrepreneurs and startups, but also for established businesses, academic institutions, and the government.”

For a look at what the lab does see: “The concept is unique,” said GST iLab Vice President Brian Bell. “Innovation is vital for the continued economic growth of West Virginia, and we want to be at the forefront of creating new opportunities. The first step in the innovation process is to tear down barriers. Old business models don’t always work well. The iLab is an alterative business model. It is open to anyone who has a concept that falls under our theme of information relevancy. There are no offices, no walls, no stifling bureaucracy, only open space, many areas for collaboration and a lot of energy. The concept is all about sharing information and exchanging ideas with the intent to advance technology and create new commercial offerings.”

For a look at what the lab does, see: Fairmont lab turns data “trash” to treasure

Meritus Ventures brings capital to South/Central Appalachia

Friday, March 19th, 2010

By Allan Maurer

Meritus VenturesOAK RIDGE, TN – Meritus Ventures is the only venture capital firm between Cincinnati and Atlanta and between the NC Research Triangle and Nashville, says Grady Vanderhoofven, a partner and fund manager with Meritus. “It’s a big, wide open, tech rich area in a capital starved region,” he says.

Meritus  is a Rural Business Investment Company established in 2006 in response to the creation of the Rural Business Investment Program by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Meritus is a $36.5 million fund that invests from $250,000 to $2.5 million in rural areas of central and Western Appalachia. “One million is the sweet spot for a first bite for us,” says Vanderhoofven, “and we might invest $2.5 million over time.”

The competitive advantage of tech

The fund’s roster of investors includes a number of banks and several private financial institutions, including member institutions of the Farm Credit System, several large foundations, a number of high net worth individuals, and regional stakeholders such as the University of Kentucky, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Tennessee Valley Authority. In addition, the fund is partially capitalized via the sale of debentures guaranteed by USDA.

“We’re generalists and we’ll look at most things except life sciences,” says Vanderhoofven. “We like technology and the competitive advantage technology can provide,” he adds. So the firm looks at firms in IT, software, medical devices, diagnostic tools, and semiconductors.

Working in a captial-starved region has its advantages. “We don’t have to fight over deals,” says Vanderhoofven. “We just look and sift.”

The fund’s portfolio companies include Greenville, SC-based Zipit Wirelss, which develops and makes wireless communication and entertainment devices that allow consumers to access the Internet; SinglePipe a facilities-based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) provider that delivers residential and business services to the wholesale and channel markets; Kentucky-based Wazoo sports.com; and Oak Ridge-based Aldis, which focuses on the transportation logistics and advanced infrastructure management markets.

Oak Ridge Labs getting huge funding

Grady Vanderhoofven

Grady Vanderhoofven

Vanderhoofven tell us he previously worked at Oak Ridge National Labs, first as a materials engineer, then in its tech transfer office. “That’s what led me into this,” he says. “I became enamored of spinning out Oak Ridge Lab technology.”

But, he says, companies would spin out, then go where they found a source of capital, landing in Austin or San Diego or Long Island.

“So this is an effort to establish a local source of venture capital with the idea that we can capitalize on some of the technical resources in the region.”

He points out that there is a “huge amount of money flowing into Oak Ridge National Labs right now. They’re receiving something like a billion dollars from the stimulus package and building new one-of-a-kind facilities. You wouldn’t recognize it from five years ago.”

But Oak Ridge isn’t the region’s only source of technology expertise. There is also the University of Kentucky, the University of Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt, the Army Missile Command at Huntsville, Alabama, and more.

Fund shifted from early to expansion stage firms

Vanderhoofven says Meritus “plays will with others” and prefers to co-invest and isn’t opposed to deals that include angel investors.

“Historically we have been early stage investors, but in the last year or so we migrated toward more expansion stage investing.”

Early stage investing, he says, “Is a riskier proposition than it was five years ago, so we migrated to the expansion stage where some of the risk is taken out.”

That follows a trend we have seen from venture capitalists generally in the last several years.

Over time, however, Vanderhoofven says Meritus may “Swing back to earlier stage investments.”

For those entrepreneurs in Western North Carolina lo0king for funding, here’s a tip: “We’d like to do a deal in Western NC, but just haven’t found the right one yet,” says Vanderhoofven.

www.meritusventures.com

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