It's like the old show "Star Search," updated for the '90s. In "The Money Hunt," entrepreneurs go up against each other on camera to show who's the more funding-worthy.
It airs in about 100 cities, debuting in Washington on Friday next week on WETA. In July, Washingtonians will be able to watch one of their own, Ari Jacoby, a 23-year-old University of Maryland graduate and chief executive of Newsletters.com of Laurel, vie for attention on national television.
The Hunt's producers travel around the country searching for appropriate contestants. Jacoby beat out 40 other local chief executives in a screen test given in April at the Sheraton Premiere at Tysons Corner.
"The competition for a spot is fierce," declares Jacoby, never one for understatement. Contestants are judged by their business plan, originality of idea and how they'll do on camera. "They thought I'd make good TV," he explains. "I was really hyper."
Jacoby and his partner Elie Ashery, 24, have so far raised half a million dollars in "angel" and venture money and are now working to close a $3 million to $4 million investment round. Who knows--a would-be investor may discover Newsletters.com through the show.
Miles Spencer, its co-host and founder, says it gives entrepreneurs a much broader target audience than going to venture-capital fairs, or visiting venture firms one by one. "The downside is they can blow up in their seats," says Spencer.
Two entrepreneurs in similar fields are quizzed separately during the show and then a panel of experts chooses a winner. The chosen one doesn't automatically get any money, just free mentorship time from someone such as Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ann Winblad or Internet expert Esther Dyson (upcoming guests, according to Spencer). And, of course, publicity that may lead to dollars.
"It's a Good Housekeeping seal of approval," says Spencer.
Just when it looked as if the CrossMedia saga was over, another chapter has begun. According to company founder Bob Nelson, CrossMedia Networks Corp. is about to get moving again, but without him at the helm.
It looked dire for the company, which transforms e-mail to voice mail, when super-angel investor Kwok Li decided not to come through with $2.5 million he had tentatively offered a few months ago, after most of his original investment of $2.5 million had been spent. Nelson, the chief executive, considered selling, finding new investors or shutting down.
Now, he says, two of the company's original 12 investors are resurrecting the firm, with their own cash. "These guys are going to put in all the money necessary," says Nelson. Nelson won't say which two. But he does say that he won't be running the company anymore.
"They and I agreed that the best thing for CrossMedia is a new management team," says Nelson, who will still own a small percentage of the company. Li, a former Yurie Systems executive, owns about 20 percent of the business.
While CrossMedia's head technologist Bill Livingston will stay on, many other key people at the company have flown the coop.
Clair Sassin, who left the top communications job at the tech think tank Potomac KnowledgeWay to join CrossMedia, has also started her own consulting firm in the District, focusing on marketing and communications for start-ups and Internet companies. She's signed up AppNet of Bethesda and NewsRealInc. of Alexandria as clients.
Kathy Penny, who came to the company from the technology group of law firm Greenberg Traurig of McLean, has landed at venture-capital firm Novak Biddle in Reston.
And Nelson has restarted the consulting firm he ran for four years before he founded CrossMedia, Nelson & Co. of McLean. His first customer is domain-name registrar Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon, which he says he will help structure marketing partnerships.
Nelson has another part-time job up his sleeve: He's putting his money-gathering experience to use for potential Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush. Nelson did the same for Bush's father in 1988 and 1992.
Spring is a time for change, or so it seems in the renaming of local tech companies. Ideal Computer Strategies Inc. of Washington, a Web design firm, has become Doceus Inc. The name comes from the Latin "doceo," which means to teach.
Christian Web site company Didax Inc. of Chantilly went the other way, trading in its Greek name (which comes from didaktikos, meaning to teach) for Crosswalk.com. Inc. Its stock symbol remains the apt AMEN.
And Gabriel Battista, after recently moving his company from New Hope, Pa., to Reston, has renamed it Talk.com Inc. from Tel-Save.com Inc. The new name matches its stock ticker, TALK.
New local venture-capital fund Draper Atlantic has made its first investment, $1.5 million (part of which comes from the fund's parent, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, in Silicon Valley) in Amazing Media of Fairfax, which developes interactive banner advertising for the Web.
Send tips and tales of the digital capital's local deals, people and events to Shannon Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CAPTION: Ari Jacoby, 23-year-old CEO of Newsletters.com of Laurel, will make his case for cash on "The Money Hunt" next month.