Potomac KnowledgeWay Launches Incubator

The new project with MCI will support more than three dozen Internet-based entrepreneurs

MCI Communications Corp. has joined forces with the Potomac KnowledgeWay and Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology to unite the "net entrepreneurs" of Washington over the World Wide Web. The three sponsors of the Potomac KnowledgeWay's new program will launch a Web site for Internet-oriented entrepreneurs needing mentoring, advice and financial resources.

MCI, the $15 billion communication giant in Washington, is building and designing a Web page that will serve as the center of the program. The site will include information targeted to Internet entrepreneurs on marketing issues, technology problems, pricing issues, partnering opportunities, development issues and financial resources.

The program also offers mentors to "entrepreneurs who already have a product, not just a concept," said April Young, director of the Reston, Va.-based Potomac KnowledgeWay. The program will also offer some face-to-face networking opportunities in the future.

According to Young, the program will assist entrepreneurs "who are in net space." She describes the project as another layer of services and resources targeted to people creating networked interactive communication services.

The purpose of the project is to create new companies, new jobs and an investment in the wealth of the region, said Young. The Potomac KnowledgeWay has identified more than 300 Internet entrepreneurs in the region already.

"The [Internet] entrepreneur is so unique," said Young. "There is no previous experience and no model that fits. The solutions and answers are much less known."

She is negotiating with approximately 10 other companies that will be working on the content of the Web site, which will be completed by year's end.

According to Young, MCI has been following the efforts of the Potomac KnowledgeWay and has been an early sponsor of the organization. Nate Davis, senior vice president of local markets for MCI, has been a member of the Northern Virginia Roundtable for a year, a group of local high-tech executives who lobby the state and federal government on behalf of the local infotech industry. The Potomac KnowledgeWay sprung off of the Northern Virginia Roundtable in 1994.

"This program is a good way to grow entrepreneurs," said Davis. "We expect the area to see a significant number of entrepreneurs start new businesses out of this program."

Young says this is the first Potomac KnowledgeWay project that has focused solely on the entrepreneur. The non-profit organization is based on developing awareness of the Internet, as well as boosting the business opportunities of the Netplex.

"Our region has the opportunity to replace jobs in the government," said Young. "If we can nurture the entrepreneur, we have the opportunity to nurture the local economy."

Bob Templin, director of Virginia's CIT in Herndon, Va., thinks the program will give birth to more than three dozen new Internet-based companies in the Netplex. He expects entrepreneurs with ideas to use the program's mentoring, resources and partnership opportunities as a lift into the industry.

"People in the Internet world say 'Wow' [to this project]," said Templin, who calls the project a virtual incubator. "Companies participating in the project are going to write the new business rules. They are going to set the standard."

Templin explains that the program is important because the region is lacking recognition of entrepreneurs. And the focus of the program on Internet-based entrepreneurs makes sense, considering that the region gave birth to the ARPAnet, which spawned the Internet.

The seed funding for the project is provided by the Potomac KnowledgeWay, the Morino Institute, CIT and MCI. CIT contributed a $100,000 grant; MCI and the Morino Institute have contributed $500,000.

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