- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000

The quick met the bread last week at a venture capital conference attended by pitch men from more than 60 of the area's most promising young technology companies and an equal number of big investors eager to bankroll their projects.

The two groups mingled and schmoozed in the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel Tuesday and Wednesday for the 11th annual Capital Connection venture fair. "Pretty much anyone who's anyone in the [venture capital] business is here," said Dimple Ahluwalia, chief marketing officer for E-GreenCoffee.com, an on-line exchange for trading raw coffee.

For companies, it was a crucial opportunity to attract the investors necessary to expand, evolve and survive. For investors, it was a chance to see some of the firms chosen by the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association as having great potential. And perhaps most noteworthy were the number of technology firms presenting plans to delve into markets relatively untouched by the Internet.

Ms. Ahluwalia said the Sterling, Va.-based E-GreenCoffee is trying to capitalize on the $50 billion green coffee market, and used the show as a way to attract investors and partnerships with other companies.

She said E-GreenCoffee garnered strong interest from several venture capitalists, whom she declined to name. The company has already received financial backing from several investors, but is seeking an additional $5 million in financing.

"These are new names to us," Ms. Ahluwalia said. "That in itself is exciting. They've mentioned that they like our concept and think its a great plan."

PermitsNOW.com, a Rockville firm launched in April of last year, is another company trying to capitalize on a market previously ignored by the Internet.

PermitsNOW.com is trying to simplify the process by which building permits are issued. For a fee, customers will be able to apply and receive building permits on line. PermitsNOW.com Chief Executive Officer John Webster said the conference is the best way to meet possible investors. The company earned $4.5 million during its first round of financing and is seeking $15 million more. Some companies were looking for as much as $40 million.

"I think all of us are bringing our best stuff to the floor and trying to strike the best deal," Mr. Webster said. "It's a good forum for meeting up with good investors."

Doug Larkin, a public relations representative for Permits-NOW.com said the company is optimistic it will receive the financing they are seeking. But, he stopped short of telling whether the company had reached any earth-shattering agreements with venture capitalists as of yet.

"Overall, [the show] was very beneficial," Mr. Larkin said. "There were a number of very strong leads."

In addition to manning a booth at the show, companies gave brief presentations featuring slick Power Point and slide displays.

For the most part, investors said they were impressed.

"I think that by and large, companies get better year after year," said David Greenberg, managing director of the Winfield Capital Group, who has attended the last five Capital Connection conferences. "If you're in the [venture capital] business, they're certainly making it easier for us."

Companies showcased last week ranged from Web storage providers, to those seeking to create digital marketplaces for Internet portals and destination sites.

There were also numerous Web-savvy companies that are seeking to take advantage of XML, a relatively new markup language similar to HTML.

Despite the variety of companies showcased, investors said the nature of the company was less important than who's running it. Many companies were headed by former employees of Oracle and other prominent dot.com firms.

"You look for top management and who the management surrounds themselves with," said Mr. Greenberg.

Mr. Greenberg said an investment in one company is all it takes to make going to a venture show worthwhile. Winfield Capital Group is still reaping the benefits of a partnership made with a software company following a show in October, he said.

Mr. Greenberg said that at last week's show, his company liked the presentation of Collaborex, Inc., a business-to-business solutions provider, along with with XtremeSpectrum Inc. a semiconductor company and Simplexity, an on-line telecommunications marketing service. And of course, nearly all the top management of all three companies were executives at well-known corporations or consulting firms.

"It's just like anything else," Mr. Greenberg said. "You want to be betting on the right horse."

Collaborex founder and President Andrew Nash said his Fairfax-based company received interest from several investors, and that attending venture shows is something every new technology company should do.

"In my mind, they are absolutely essential in the start-up phase," Mr. Nash said.

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