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To Grow What No One Has Grown Before

By Ellen McCarthy
Thursday, April 14, 2005; Page E01

Rob McGovern, founder of the online job site CareerBuilder.com, is an entrepreneur at his core. But last June, his job title became "venture partner." For months, McGovern holed up in the Reston office of New Enterprise Associates, looking at business plans, meeting with start-up executives and deliberating the merits of seemingly far-fetched technology schemes.

Ultimately, it was too far removed from the action, so McGovern quietly this spring started a company called Mkt10, also part of the online job search industry. In doing so, he became the latest in a string of local entrepreneurs who used the investing world as a docking station before diving back into start-up life. Their return to the game is driven partly by entrepreneurial obsession, of course, but they're also seeing solid business opportunities in the tech market.

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Some, like McGovern, are pushing their old lines of work forward, while some others are branching into entirely new industries or trying to cash in on the boom in government and security spending. Most say it was only a matter of time before they caught their breath and got back in the game.

In November, Steve Case, former chairman of America Online Inc., for instance, bought a majority stake in Exclusive Resorts LLC, a luxury travel company with hundreds of mansions in exotic locations. This month, he announced he was wrapping the firm into a new initiative called Revolution that will own companies in the health care and resort hospitality industries. He has not disclosed all the details of the $500 million venture, but has said the goal is to make the health care industry more efficient and consumer-focused.

After selling Proxicom Inc., a Web services firm, in 2001 for about $450 million, Raul J. Fernandez switched to the other side of the aisle and invested in several tech companies around town. He took a special interest in Reston-based ObjectVideo Inc., and signed on as the surveillance technology firm's chairman in November 2003. Three months later, he took the reins full time as ObjectVideo's chief executive.

Charlie Thomas experienced the best and worst of start-up life during the nine years he led his first company, Net2000. He worked 100 hours a week throughout most of those years, so after it was sold in early 2002, Thomas said, he needed to do something less time-consuming. A few months after the sale, he co-founded Claris Capital LLC, a Vienna investment bank. But last month, he signed on as chief executive of NISCO, a Reston data analysis software firm for which he had been a director and shareholder.

"It was ideal to sit back and survey the landscape -- earn a good income, but also expand my network and meet a lot of companies," he said. "But once you become an entrepreneur, you have it inside you. Nothing makes me want to wake up in the morning more than growing a company."

McGovern won't reveal all the details of his new venture just yet, but says Mkt10 will have an official launch this summer. Spending time as an investor clearly paid off in one respect -- Mkt10 has already landed a $7 million round of funding led by his old colleagues at New Enterprise Associates.

"If you sit on the investing side, you understand the motivation of the investors -- what they are looking for," said Peter Barris, NEA's managing general partner. "You learn what makes [investors] tick, what makes some start-ups succeed and some fail."

Three days before April 15, a dozen low-income workers sat patiently in the waiting room at the East River Family Strengthening Center while volunteers in the surrounding offices clicked away on high-speed computers, using modern software to file the workers' tax returns through the Web.


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