Last year, dotcom implosions, scarce venture financing, and the Internet bust were the buzzwords in the technology industry. Now, the roller coaster ride is winding down, as entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley to the Alley get back to business basics. Gone are the stories of multimillion-dollar financing for startups like Boo.com or Pets.com. Venture capitalists are not just looking for good ideas but also for winning business plans, a solid team, and vision.
So how do African Americans figure into the discussion of venture capitalists, startups, and the technology industry as a whole? Plenty. African American entrepreneurs who have been in the trenches and those who are now starting tech firms stand to gain significantly from this refocusing. This year, BLACK ENTERPRISE traveled to California to meet with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and CEOs of tech firms to find out just where the opportunities are — and how entrepreneurs can cash in on their ideas. BE’s panel of experts include: Michael Fields, managing member of NewVista Capital and chairman of the Fields Group, Omar Wasow, director of BlackPlanet.com; Ron Cadet, co-founder and CEO of Bayview Systems; Virginia Walker, executive vice president and CFO of OSE Systems; Stephan Adams, founder of Adamation; Frank Green, managing member of NewVista Capital; Juanita Lott, founder and CEO of Bridgestream; Kim Folsom, founder and CEO of SeminarSource; and Lewis Byrd, general partner at Opportunity Capital Partners.
BLACK ENTERPRISE: Where does the tech industry stand today? What is the difference between now and, say, two years ago?
MICHAEL FIELDS: The last few years, 1998 to 2000, it was a bubble; it was unlike anything that has ever occurred and I doubt will occur in the future. A lot of entrepreneurs have an expectation that the financing of their business is still going to be done the way it was done in the bubble. And in that bubble, part of [your MBA thesis] was to write this business plan. You took it to a couple of guys; they gave you $30 million. You started the company, and six months later it was worth $100 million. Two years later, you were getting valuations of $200 million and your personal net worth on paper looked in the tens of millions of dollars. That happened to a lot of people. Most of them are looking for jobs now.
FRANK GREENE: Information technology in this country is a massive industry, a trillion-dollar industry. It slowed down some last year, but it is still over a trillion dollars. Maybe it is growing at 6% or 7%, not 30 %. But 6% or 7% of a trillion is a lot of money. Folks get their perspectives distorted about the size of technology. The Internet doesn’t make a business. The Internet is a tool that is going to be used in enterprises all over the place, all over the world. But it is just that; it is a tool, not the business.
VIRGINIA WALKER: High tech can drive an economy; it is here to stay. The Internet may be something that is