Firms Seek their Pot of Gold Entrepreneurs Attend Fair for Shot at Venture Capital


June 10, 1998

When Kenneth Lopez decided to abandon a law career and start a computer animation firm to create visual displays for court cases, he didn't even know what venture capital was.

Now the Widener University Law School graduate is hoping that the investor contacts he made at an entrepreneurial fair in Rockland on Tuesday will pay off-literally.

"It's like any good entrepreneur. You learn the business of business," said the present and chief executive of Animators at Law, the start-up Alexandria, Va., firm.

His company was among 38 vying for the attention of 60 to 80 venture capitalists with between $8 billion and $10 billion in start-up funding in one of the largest such gatherings on the East Coast.

The Early Stage East '98 fair - sponsored by the Delaware Entrepreneurs Forum, the American Stock Exchange and Arthur Andersen & Co. -was designed to to bring together cash-starved small start-up companies in the early stages of development with investors looking for opportunities to get in on the ground floor of future success stories.

The fair is intended for early-stage businesses, companies that have not received investor funding, even if they also qualify for bank loans.

Similar forums have been held in Delaware before, but Tuesday's event at the DuPont Country Club marked a significant departure and a new direction for the event (previously called the Delaware Entrepreneurs Forum Venture Fair). In the past, the gathering focused solely on Delaware and surrounding areas, with only 10 venture capitalists present with $500 million in available fundings.

The new fair seeks to draw companies and venture capitalists from a much larger area, to showcase the region and demonstrate that the mid-Atlantic, and especially Delaware, can be a hotbed for the kind of entrepreneurial efforts often associated with technology corridors in California, Texas and New England.

More than 11 states were represented, from North Carolina to Massachusetts, and even Iowa and Indiana.

"This is really a superb opportunity to bring the best of the best companies into Delaware," said David J. Freschman, chairman of the fir and present of the Delaware Innovation Fund in Wilmington, a 3-year-old, $10 million seed fund.

Indeed, only two of the 24 companies that gave presentations to investors actually were from Delaware: Epotec Inc., a Wilmington start-up that is developing an online behavioral therapy program for corporations similar to an employee assistance program, and Aquatic Designs of Bethany Beach, which sells a laminated polypropylene material to outdoor sportswear companies that is waterproof, breathable, soft and capable of being stretched in four directions.

Another Delaware company, OBOS Inc. of Talleyville, had a separate display to promote its desktop machine that transmits hand-written orders and payments from salespeople in the field to a central processing site.

"By bringing the venture community to Delaware, it shows that this is a good investment climate," said Curt Baker, chief financial officer of OBOS. "It shows that there are some really interesting things happening in this state."

Several venture capitalists noted that Delaware is most often thought of as a home or place of incorporation for major Fortune 500 companies, not an incubator for entrepreneurship. As a result, many also saw the event as an opportunity to put the economic development efforts and success of Delaware on display for the 350 representatives of companies and venture capitalists from out-of-state.

Other companies attending the fair ranged from Homes For Living Inc., a 5 month-old Chadds Ford, Pa., direct-sales company specializing in decorative candles, to Blackboard Inc., a Washington provider of virtual classroom software for schools and corporations.

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