Tech start-ups get tips at venture summit
02-21-2007, Tulsa World - Robert Evatt . . . 221_Bu_E1_Techs38396
More than 100 attend the two-day conference.
Richard Fox of Astralis Group LLC, an Orlando, Fla.-based company that helps fledgling organizations leverage technology, says the odds against inventors are staggering.
He points out that of all those who want to develop a new idea, only one out of 100 actually build it.

Of those who build it, one out of 100 make money from it.

"It's terribly difficult to successfully bring a product to market," Fox said.

That's why the inaugural Technolo gy Venture Summit, being held Tuesday and Wednesday at the Doubletree Hotel Downtown, aims to help budding technology companies get their ideas off the ground and connect them with interested investors.

The summit is co-hosted by the Oklahoma Capital Investment Board and Oklahoma Equity Partners.

"Oklahoma's private companies, research labs an universities are establishing a vibrant entrepreneurial environment with new ideas and innovative technologies," said Dave Humphrey, president of OEP. "The Summit promotes those ideas and advancements to investors so these companies can take their technologies to the next level -- the marketplace."

While Wednesday's segment of the summit gives the floor to 12 fledgling companies hoping to make their ideas a reality, Tuesday's events focused on general advice for blending new technology and commerce.

Fox, the leader of Tuesday's sessions, told the 130 attendees that developers need to determine the ultimate goal of the venture before anything else.

"Do you intend to take the company public?" he said. "Do you want to sell it to a larger business? Or do you want to have a smaller, lifestyle business?"

If entrepreneurs decide they want their product to be acquired by a bigger company, they must then find a way to make their company appealing, since a good idea alone often isn't enough, Fox said.

"Why will the company buy you?" he said. "Is it because you have protective patents, or because you've assembled a team of 20 talented engineers?"

He said working backwards from the end goal will help companies make their product attractive to investors and customers alike.

Most often, aspiring entrepreneurs fail because they choose the wrong employees to help them, he said.

"The people with the idea are smart people, but if you get the wrong team, your company's collective IQ can fall," he said.

Another common pitfall is not catering to a market big enough and diverse enough to make mistakes and recover, Fox said.

"All companies make mistakes and need room to do so," he said.

As an example, he said a company with a telecommunications product aimed at one company could fail if its single patron runs into trouble, no matter how appealing the product.

To succeed, a company needs to have what Fox calls a "sustainable difference," or an open yet protected idea that can't be stolen.

"You've got to be able to tell your customer exactly what you're doing," he said. "If you're afraid you can't do that without them stealing it, you don't have a sustainable difference."

Gavin Manes, a research assistant professor at the University of Tulsa and president of Digital Forensics Professionals Inc., said the conference is giving him better ideas for business strategies as he hopes to expand his company beyond Oklahoma.

"I've been able to talk to some very intelligent guys who are helping me solidify my theories," he said. "You can't nerd your product up -- companies don't care about the tech, they want to know how it will save them money."

Manes said the conference also reminded him to carefully focus research and development to avoid wasting money.

Of the approximately 24 entrepreneurs in attendance, Fox said several had great ideas, but others need a change in direction.

"You've got everyone from those who will learn that they don't need to be in this business, while you have others who get it and have a good chance for success," he said.