To Netpreneur Exchange HomeTo Netpreneur Exchange Home

AdMarketing | Funding & Finance | Netpreneur Corner | News Center | Quick Guide | Home

Telepalooza: Entrepreneurs Beat Establishment
by Samuel Fromartz

12:05pm  23.Oct.97.PDT
WASHINGTON - It was like the Lollapalooza of the telecom industry. Nearly 1,200 people - wannabe entrepreneurs, telco groupies, a sprinkling of lawyers, accountants, venture capitalists, consultants, corporate veterans, and the big guys: a "Stars of Telecom" panel made up of those who had made it to the top - crowded a hotel ballroom here to rail against the establishment.

The brainchild of the Netpreneur Program, the gathering was designed to draw in new telecom entrepreneurs with the success stories of their predecessors, but the evening had more the feel of an adult alternative rock fest. The battle against the status quo and the search for the next great hit were central themes woven through the speeches of upstart telco tycoons rallying the next generation of entrepreneurs to action.

Software multimillionaire and former Legent Corp. CEO Mario Morino backs Reston, Virginia-based Netpreneur with the goal of fostering regional entrepreneurial activity in the Internet, telecommunications, and content development.

"You'd be hard pressed to find any region in the world that has information technology, communications and content to the degree that exists here," Morino said in an interview. The greater Washington area has 430 communication technology companies, which employ about 86,000 people and do some US$26 billion in annual sales, his organization says.

"The Valley owns the middle space - IT - but the Valley does not own the communications and content," said Morino. "So, when you look at convergence, it's a very interesting play."

Reading a string of wire headlines about telecom IPOs, takeovers, private placements, and debt offerings, Morino made his point to Tuesday night's conference attendees: the telecom industry is at ground zero. Then, that premise was driven home by a panel of wealthy industry captains who had made it in mobile telecom, satellites, the long-distance business, and venture investing in the region.

Morgan O'Brien, founder of digital wireless company Nextel Communications Inc., John Puente, former CEO of satellite communications company Orion Network Systems Inc., Brian Thompson, CEO of fast-growing long-distance company LCI International Inc., David Thompson of satellite company Orbital Sciences Corp., and Mark Warner, a telecom veteran who heads Columbia Capital Corp. aren't exactly household names.

But to the telecommunications industry types around Washington, these were the rebels who had taken advantage of market deregulation or pushed for it themselves to build their companies.

"We're blessed in the telecom business by facing a monopoly that's being broken up," said LCI's Thompson. He also noted that no one would have been there if it wasn't for one man - the late Bill McGowan of MCI Communications Corp., who with $20,000, a dream, and drive decided to take on giant AT&T and ended up creating a new industry.

The recognition that MCI - which was built with McGowan's direction to do everything just the opposite of how AT&T did it - was now the subject of the biggest bidding war in history, and that the $20,000 had grown to billions in the course of three decades, was ever-present.

O'Brien, a formerly frustrated Federal Communications Commission and telecom industry lawyer, said he started Nextel with less than $100,000 after pitching the idea to Warner in a lunch meeting. It's now a multibillion-dollar public company.

He offered what might be called O'Brien's entrepreneurial commandments: "Success is not an entitlement." "You have to be grown up." "You have to be an optimist." "You have to accept that things are uncertain." "Expect terrible things to happen." "Never give up, never give up."

Warner described how, fresh out of Harvard Law School, he invested his life savings of $5,000 in a company and helped it go broke in six weeks. His next venture, in real estate, was also a failure. It wasn't until he considered the "radical" idea of car phones - his law school buddies thought he was crazy; no one would want a phone in their car, they said - that he went on to make his fortune. He's now a telecom investor and aspiring politico who lost the Virginia election for US senate last year. "To succeed you have to be willing to fail - failure is part of the entire story," he said.

Thompson of Orbital, introduced as a "true rocket scientist," talked about the long-term growth opportunities in global satellite telecom. When asked by one audience member whether the rising number of satellites in orbit might crash into each other, he chuckled and said there was still a lot of room to grow.

By the close of the evening, the Netpreneur Program message was clear - that the telco industry could make successes out of yet another round of high-minded people. As ex-Orion Network Systems CEO Puente said, "There is no barrier too high for a good idea."

to top

AdMarketing | Funding & Finance | Netpreneur Corner
News Center | Quick Guide | Home

By using this site, you signify your agreement to all terms, conditions, 
and notices contained or referenced in the Netpreneur Access Agreement
If you do not agree to these terms, please do not use this site. Our privacy policy.
Content copyright 1996-2016 Morino Institute. All rights reserved.

Morino Institute