By Andrea Poe
Despite the murky economy and the much ballyhooed credit crunch, some investors are seeking opportunities outside the traditional VC comfort zone of software, biotech and telecom. And some creative entrepreneurs are benefiting.
Take, for example, Ben Campbell, founder of OurStage Inc., an online music service that allows unsigned bands to upload their music for fans to rate. His Chelmsford, Massachusetts, company snagged Series A funding topping $17 million from Signature Capital, a firm that backs unique companies with high potential. Thanks to that financing, the 2006 startup was able to make significant engineering investments and develop a marketing plan, which has led to a partnership with AOL. "Having that kind of investment upfront got us out way ahead of the competition," says Campbell, 44, who expects sales of $2 million this year.
Signature Capital is driven by its founder, Bill Turner, whose investments run the gamut from a hearing aid company to an HIV therapy business. The common denominator? "I look for transformational ideas," explains Turner. "I think traditional venture capital is a flawed idea. The industry is caught in an old way of doing things."
Turner is not alone in challenging the VC orthodoxy. Other firms are seeking out compelling startups in sectors as diverse as medicine, organic consumer goods and even wine. For example, Laurent Guinand, president of GiraMondo Wine Ventures, a wine consulting firm that also offers classes and wine tours, is starting a fund--expected to be operational early next year--for wine services like importers and distributors. "Most VCs are afraid of something without a track record, so they stick with tried-and-true investment sectors that have little risk," he says. "But I see major opportunities since the U.S. will be the largest consumer of wine by 2012. Besides, I want to support passionate entrepreneurs who are creating cool and exciting businesses." Many an entrepreneur can raise a glass to that.
By Amanda C. Kooser
Employee computer-use monitoring has come a long way since the days when bosses looked over employees' shoulders to see if the right programs were on their screens.
A 2007 study by Robert Half Technology found that 37 percent of polled companies had both a corporate policy and software in place to prevent employees from accessing certain websites.
The biggest concerns were preventing access to inappropriate content and blocking viruses and malware. Web blocking and filtering software has been one popular solution for minimizing the time employees waste and cutting down on potential security threats. A newer crop of solutions is looking to improve on the sometimes heavy-handed web blocking systems. Ascentive's BeAware Corporate Edition takes a somewhat unique approach, tracking PC activity by monitoring web use, e-mail, IM and software in real time. Certain sites, applications and even words can be set to trigger a notification. In addition, a "private time" feature can be activated for lunch or break times when personal use of computers may be allowed.
Other monitoring solutions have evolved into data loss-prevention platforms. For industries like health care and law, where security and privacy are paramount, a solution like the one offered by CTH Technologies makes sense. Its SecureCARE package keeps track of all computer activities, including the use of removable devices like USB Flash drives, and it can be set to automatically enforce security policies. SpectorSoft's Spector 360 is another companywide monitoring system with advanced recording features that let you track documents, take screenshots and log keystrokes. It starts at $1,995 for a 25-user license.
You have a lot of options to consider, ranging from basic web filtering software to advanced monitoring systems. Whichever you choose, this technology can help you keep sensitive data private and employees on task.
You Pay to Fly
By Julie Moline
Not long ago, buying a deeply discounted coach seat entitled you to a paper ticket, a meal and soft drink, a pillow and blanket, and a window or aisle seat. Your carrier would even stow two of your suitcases for free.
Now, as airlines struggle with skyrocketing costs, they're doing away with anything that could possibly be construed as a free perk--even baggage handling. In airline lingo, this means unbundling services. In consumer lingo, it means time to pay up.
In the foreseeable future, airlines will most likely continue to unbundle pricing as much as possible to raise revenue, says airline analyst Bob Harrell.
That means if you want a window or aisle seat in the roomier half of economy class, prepare to pay an extra $5 on USAirways, or $10 to $30 on JetBlue for four extra inches of legroom. Spirit now charges $3 for coffee, juice and soda, and your first checked bag runs between $15 and $25. On Air Canada, access to a specially trained reservations agent who has more resources to help with flight problems than a gate agent costs $25 to $35, whether or not you use the service.
So, what's a price-conscious business traveler to do? The only way around this new wave of pricing, Harrell says, is to "not check bags, use carriers that still offer these features gratis and pack a lunch." Harrell also suggests re-evaluating your travel budget to "ensure that any pricing analysis includes all charges." You may have to tweak expense report templates to accommodate new charges and amend travel policies to specify which surcharges and fees will be reimbursed.
Julie Moline is a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant in New York City.