business: computer software
founder: Greg Meffert, 33
year started: 1992
location: New Orleans
1997 revenues: $2.5 million
1998 revenues: $3 million to $4 million
start-up costs: $7.5 million
sources: Hollywood actress; state government program
If Greg Meffert's story sounds straight from Hollywood, that's because it is.
An attorney for one of Hollywood's hottest young actresses was in New Orleans, looking for a company in which to invest some of her money, when he got lost. Stumbling upon a good citizen, he asked for directions. That citizen happened to be an attorney connected to Meffert. By the time the chance encounter was over, an investment of $3.5 million was in the works.
"It's a weird story, but it's true," says Meffert, who's done some acting of a sort: After several banks turned him down, Meffert asked an older friend to pose as company president while he played the role of head of technical support. Despite the ingenuity, however, the effort failed. "The banks down here didn't know how to spell PC," Meffert remembers. "They just didn't get it."
A second source of funding that did pay off was a unique state government program that uses premium tax credits to fund entrepreneurial ventures. For Meffert, that meant $4 million, which he used to develop 11 products designed to link various computer applications with scanned documents.
Says Meffert, "The banks didn't help me at all. Even after Bill Gates changed the image of young entrepreneurs for the better, they still didn't loan me any money. They were just nicer to me because they didn't want to take the chance they might be pissing off the next Bill Gates."