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Supersize It

Not all big corporations are out to get you-some want to help.
August 1, 2001
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/42412

Pearl Jam. Pearl Bailey. Pearl S. Buck. Even Pearl Harbor. Examples of pearls abound in popular culture and history. But if you're looking for a natural pearl in our oceans, my advice is to hold your breath and dive deep.

If you're searching for expansion capital, you know the feeling. But just as divers may want to consider dropping by a Neiman Marcus, you're likely looking in the wrong places for financing. Maybe the right place is a corporate investment fund. The Intel 64 Fund was the oyster to Black Pearl, an enterprise software company co-founded by CEO Lisa Hammitt, 38, in 1998.

A year after opening for business with her vice president of marketing and husband, Mark, 39, and COO John Rafter, 40, Lisa felt she needed expansion capital. She'd already succeeded in raising start-up capital, but her usual financial suspects were no longer interested. "The market was steeped in dotcom mania," recalls Lisa, "so a lot of the VCs we would have normally targeted were preoccupied with the land grab on the Net, doing stuff like Pez dispensers over the Internet."

Lisa also feels that most VCs are reluctant to take female entrepreneurs as seriously as their male counterparts. "No matter who you are, you're accused of being emotional, a feeler, for having mood swings," says Lisa.

But the Intel 64 Fund had no closed doors, just open minds. The techies there understood the details of her business right away-and everybody was sold on it pretty quickly. "You do need a business plan," says Lisa, "but our business plan was [finished] at that point, and in that sense, Intel is no different than any VC."

As the co-founder of a private company, Lisa is hesitant to reveal how much revenue Black Pearl is raking in, but use your imagination: The Intel 64 Fund initially invested $8.4 million in the company. More important, Black Pearl's relationship with Intel has attracted other investors, who've handed over a whopping $14 million.

The Intel 64 Fund not only forks over cash, but also introduces entrepreneurs to like-minded companies. Lisa soon found new clients with abbreviations like HP and IBM. "I think you're judged these days by the company you keep," says Lisa. "Let's face it, a lot of people are driven by the relationships you have, and I think when you're a partner with something like Intel, it gives you an ear that you normally wouldn't have if you were just a small company banging on doors."


Geoff Williams is a writer in Cincinnati.

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