Young to Raise Netplex Profile

What drives April Young to team with entrepreneurs to put Washington on the high-tech map?

Anyone who has ever done business in the Netplex probably knows April Young. Her name is synonymous with high-tech business and economic development.

So it's no wonder that Young took the top job at the Potomac KnowledgeWay April 1. Young, who has worked as an adviser and secretary on the project's board of directors, shares Potomac KnowledgeWay founder Mario Morino's vision of uniting the region's businesses, governments and local community, and putting the Washington area on the national high-tech map.

"I understood the founders," said Young. "To be successful you have to understand the region as a whole."

Young predicts the region will grow to the level of Silicon Valley in the next five years through the Potomac KnowledgeWay project, which was launched in 1994. The effort has drawn $500,000 in seed funding from more than 50 high-tech companies.

A regular on the high-technology networking and mingling circuit, Young's new role is to get the region's entrepreneurs and business leaders to understand and use the Internet and lead the "Knowledge Revolution" in the Washington metropolitan area.

Young's background includes stints in education, business and government. She left a senior fellow position at George Mason University's Center for Regional Economic Development to join the Potomac KnowledgeWay. She served as executive director of the Northern Virginia Roundtable, a group of local high-tech executives who lobby the state and federal government on behalf of the local infotech industry. She also served as the executive director of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and director of economic development for the city of St. Louis.

"Choosing a day-to-day director for an organization like the Potomac KnowledgeWay requires an in-depth understanding of the needs and strengths of the region, a focus on education and entrepreneurship and an awareness of the risks and opportunities of the communications revolution," said Morino. "April fits the bill perfectly, and the board felt that there was no better choice for the job."

Doug Henton, an adviser for Joint Venture Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, Calif., which is an effort similar to that of Potomac KnowledgeWay, met Young more than a year ago when she came to observe the business climate in Silicon Valley. Henton said her experience will help bridge the gap between industry, education, government and the community -- a relationship he says the region needs in order to move forward.

"The Netplex needs to move beyond information technology and broaden to how technology can improve the community," said Henton, who works on several community growth campaigns in Silicon Valley. "The Potomac KnowledgeWay can be a catalyst for every element of the community."

Fourteen years ago, Young was drawn to Washington after growing up in upstate New York and studying in St. Louis. The Washington region has a "legacy for private sector growth as a provider to the government sector, and a provider to national goals in defense and health care."

When chosen for the position of director of the Potomac KnowledgeWay, Young admitted that she was surprised but excited.

"I assumed the board wanted someone in industry," she said. "I was humbled by their confidence in me."

Young's peers have described her as energetic and driven, two traits that should help her accomplish her goals. Young said her biggest challenge is to get the rest of the country to view the Washington area as a high-tech mecca.

"National newspapers are making lists of high-tech regions and Washington is never included," said Young. "It makes it hard to attract skilled workers."

The Potomac KnowledgeWay has had its share of non-supporters. Young said there are many people in Washington who don't believe it's the role of business to nurture the community and the region. Others say that the region will evolve naturally.

But Henton said Silicon Valley has proven that approach wrong.

"It's the application of information technology in the real world that brings business together and keeps it growing," said Henton, who is currently working on a program called Smart Valley in Silicon Valley. This program focuses on electronic commerce and helps businesses make money on the Internet, gets schools connected through California and helps the government by making regulatory permits available on-line. "By getting business leaders involved in activities, you broaden what industry can do."

Young defends the Potomac KnowledgeWay program as a necessary facilitator of regional economic growth. Regions around the country are competing for recognition as high-tech centers, and the speed at which technology companies grow will determine the winners.

Young said the Potomac KnowledgeWay has already affected the region in one very important way. The area's high-tech leaders have formed a strong network, and Netplex entrepreneurs are getting involved in regional initiatives.

Young said the Potomac KnowledgeWay will not exist in five years, because the region will have no need for it.

Henton likened projects such as the Potomac KnowledgeWay to catalysts that foster relationships and leave. "The role of these projects is to get things done quicker," he said. "That's why you need someone who is energetic and outgoing."

When Young is not shaking hands in the Netplex, she is shuttling her 10-year-old son to and from hockey games and playing golf with her husband.

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