MAVA Entrepreneurs And Investors Learn About Digital Opportunities From Industrys Leaders
Greater Washington Called The Home Of "Convergence" And Growing Netpreneur Population
(Tysons Corner, VANov. 12, 1997) Entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists they seek to attract met together at the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association (MAVA) Fair Nov. 11-12 at the Sheraton Premiere Hotel in Tysons Corner, VA. At a luncheon, today they also got a healthy dose of prognostications, advice and inspiration from five nationally renowned new-medium business pioneers.
The luncheon was a Netpreneur Program event produced by the Morino Institute for the Fair and featured a panel made up of AOL Networks President Robert Pittman, WorldCom Vice Chairman John Sidgmore, Columbia Capital Corp. Founder Mark Warner and Legent Corp. Founder Mario Morino and President of The Washington Post Company, Alan Spoon.
A strong central theme echoed by both Warner and Morino was the burgeoning opportunities in the Greater Washington region for start-ups, venture capital and high-tech jobs centered around "netpreneur" ventures. Netpreneurs are the new breed of entreprenurs who create products and services that are for or delivered over digital networks.
"This region will be a leading center for opportunities in the digital age and, as such, its importance to the venture community will only continue to grow," said Morino, who added that the Greater Washington area is the center of a new convergence of communications, computing and content.
"This is one of the few places in the world where you will find the people, expertise and critical mass in all three sectorsand with a distinct edge in the "book ends" of communications and content," Morino said.
He noted the regions predominance in telecommunications, a distinction that will grow with additional deregulation and innovations in satelite/wireless technology. At the other "book end," he cited the regions vast resources in federal information mining, bio informatics and digital info/entertainment content companies like AOL, Discovery, Motley Fool and Black Entertainment Television which are key repositories for content-based Internet businesses of the future.
Warner agreed, "We are sitting upon the convergence location between hardware, software, telecom and information technology. We need to get the word out we are more than a company town."
Spoon led off the event by recounting the Washington Post Companys entry into the digital age through investments in ventures like City Search and Washington Post Direct.
"The growing potential of digital [technology] hasnt escaped our attention," he said.
AOLs Bob Pittman cut directly to the chase and said a successful company needs to ask, "What do people WANT?" In the case of America Online (and many other industries), they want to save time, said Pittman.
"We are past the point in this industry of early adopters," he said.
AOLs goal is to help people do things online that they already do in their everyday lives, only make it easier. Chat and email are ways of socializing and "You dont need to get dressed and go out," said Pittman.
Pittman also emphasized the primacy of branding and said established trademarks are extremely difficult to dislodge, even if the products are not the best on the market. He said the people who are waiting until the market is big enough will miss the boat, because by then the name brands will be established and recalled events in the cable TV industry. By the time the broadcast networks decided they were ready to play in news and sports channels, companies like CNN and ESPN already had captured audience mind share.
"Remember, Coke does not win taste tests," he said.
John Sigdmore, who just helped complete the largest corporate merger in history between WorldCom and MCI Telecommunications Corp., said the Internet offers a landscape of "continuous and revolutionary change."
"The players are scrambling against a completely new opportunity base," he said.
The numbers back him up. The Internet is growing at a rate of 1,000 percent a year and is predicted to overtake voice traffic on international networks in the year 2000.
"No one has ever seen this kind of growth. This is creating a scaling challenge that is mind boggling," Sidgmore said.
For that reason, WorldCom is looking for faster switches and routers and has already started investing in several start-up companies that might hold the key to advanced networking.
"The next Cisco is out there waiting to be funded," said Sidgmore. "The Net is the best place to invest capital."
Mark Warner told the crowd he still sees huge opportunities in telecom, particularly in "last-mile" solutions and satellite delivery. Plus the sector is expanding.
"The old barriers between telecom and information technology are breaking down constantly," he said.
One area of upcoming mega possibilities is the auction of local multipoint distribution services, or LMDS spectrum by the federal government early next year.
"A wider chunk of bandwidth has never been allocated before," Warner said.
The new "super wireless" spectrum is expected to usher in an exciting era of high-bandwidth wireless voice, information and video, making the famous Dick Tracy watch a thing of the not-too-distant future.
Mario Morino closed the event by recapping previous speakers, but added his own heartfelt angle on entrepreneurship and opportunity in the Greater Washington region. He sees a new social fabric developing in the area to build, support and nurture new ventures.
"Greater Washington is seeing a younger, faster breed of businesses and executives evolve. Ideas, people and deals are flowing more freely, at a faster pace, and in a more open manner, making the region much more conducive to start-ups and venture activity," Morino said.
"It is clear that this growth and the opportunity occurring in Greater Washington is sustaining," Morino said, refering to the new social fabric that is supporting a thriving netpreneur community and the growing recognition of Greater Washingtons strengths.
Each year, the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association (www.mava.org) showcases 100 emerging healthcare, software, communications, hardware and Internet companies before leading venture capital sources. Since 1990, the Mid-Atlantic Venture Fair has resulted in average annual investments of more than $200 million.