Letter from Reston

It's Back to the Future For 2 Former AOL Executives

A fortuitously named World Wide Web consulting company recently nabbed two content experts from America Online Inc. to boost the fledgling firm's talent pool.

The Dot Com Group is a year-old company based in Reston that develops solutions to improve Internet usage for consumers.

Russell Medeiros, former director of AOL's user interface design group, left AOL a month ago after working there for 12 years, starting with the company's customer support group. Bill O'Luanaigh, former product manager for AOL's most popular channels, including weather, health and e-commerce, joined the Dot Com Group three months ago after working at AOL for almost five years.

O'Luanaigh became interested in the Dot Com Group when he was doing consulting work with AOL Instant Messenger, and Dot Com founder Simon Rakoff was working on the same project. O'Luanaigh quit full-time work at AOL early this year.

"We struck up a nice relationship," Rakoff said.

Medeiros first heard of the Dot Com Group after his wife chatted with Rakoff at their 10-year high school reunion. Medeiros and Rakoff, Rakoff, had lunch to talk about the industry. Soon after Medeiros started going through the process of transitioning out of AOL and into what he said was an exciting start-up company.

"I saw the Dot Com Group as another opportunity to capture the sense of doing revolutionary, ground-breaking work," Medeiros said of Dot Com, which studies and designs better ways to use the Internet. "I felt that I could take my [AOL experience] and parlay that into something that would do as much good and have as much impact as AOL did."

Both men had vested -- or graduated, as AOL-ites call it -- their AOL stock options much earlier in their careers, so losing the financial benefits from AOL was not a concern.

"I enjoy being able to have an impact on a daily basis," O'Luanaigh said. "There is a real opportunity for me to expand professionally here."

-- Amy Joyce


Broadwing Links Up With E-Net

Cincinnati Internet company Broadwing Inc. made a $10.8 million investment in Germantown-based e-Net Corp., an Internet telecommunications software firm.

Broadwing will have an 18.26 percent stake in e-Net, and will become the sole provider of network capacity for e-Net's ZeroPlus.com subsidiary, which provides Internet telephone numbers to place PC-to-PC phone calls.

The company has had minimal revenues this year, and has 34 employees.

E-Net stock surged on the news Wednesday, going from less than $4 a share to end the week at $8.62.

Upper Marlboro

Lessons in Efficiency

Acting on a promise to run the school system with the efficiency and effectiveness of a business, Prince George's County School Superintendent Iris T. Metts unveiled her business advisory round table last week.

The 40-member panel, made up of representatives from local businesses, nonprofits and quasi-public organizations, will act as a liaison between the business community and the school system.

In addition to supporting the school system by recruiting more certified teachers and 10,000 reading program mentors, the round table will provide business expertise to various departments in the school system.


Sequoia Software Gets A $33 Million Boost

Sequoia Software Corp. secured $33 million in third-round financing from a group of venture funds and individual investors.

Sequoia, which provides Internet portals using the XML language, will use the money to boost its sales and marketing efforts, as well as to further develop its product.

Investors included Baker Communications Fund, Divine interVentures Inc., as well as existing investors Anthem Capital, Mid Atlantic Venture Funds and Flanders Language Valley Fund. Andrew Filipowski of Divine and Rick Faint, chief executive of Sequoia, each invested personally. Filipowski and representatives of Baker will take a seat on Sequoia's board.

Letter from Fairfax

Fairfax Warms Up a Business Incubator

Fairfax County has start-up businesses all over the landscape. Now the county itself is going to get directly involved in trying to foster a new venture or two.

The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, with a $500,000 grant in hand from the county government, recently leased 8,400 square feet of space in a building at 6066 Leesburg Pike in the Baileys Crossroads area, which it plans to use as a business incubator.

In the next few months, the authority says it intends to hire a contractor to run the program and to lease space to 10 to 14 fledgling companies.

The goal is not only to lend a hand to some embryonic businesses, but perhaps also foster further economic rejuvenation in an older area of the county that the high-tech industry has bypassed, said Gerald L. Gordon, president of the development group.

"The fastest-growing companies in the county are the small ones," he said. "The faster we can get them into some transition between their basement and corporate space, the faster they'll begin hiring workers and paying taxes."

The start-ups at the Leesburg Pike building will be charged below-market rents and, in conjunction with the other firms, be able to buy various services in bulk, Gordon said.

Why does the county need to lend a hand to small start-up companies when many seem to proliferate quite nicely on their own?

"A lot of the start-ups have the capability on their own to find money," Gordon said. "But not all have the personal resources."

-- Kenneth Bredemeier


Weighted Toward The Heavy Hitters

The Loudoun County Department of Economic Development recently released the results of focus groups it sponsored with leaders from Loudoun's small and mid-sized companies. The upshot? Smaller businesses do not receive the same treatment as the bigger companies, but the overall business climate in Loudoun is friendly.

The department paid $12,000 to Wirthlin Worldwide of McLean to conduct the focus groups. Wirthlin gathered 23 chief executives and managers. Overall, the participants said Loudoun provided access to a well-trained work force, offered a superior quality of life and had a reasonable real estate tax rate.

But participants expressed their desire to see a well-thought-out growth plan for the county. Many said they had never been presented with a strategic plan by county government. In addition, the participants questioned the ability of the county's services, such as fire and rescue, to handle the incoming businesses and residents.

The respondents also claimed the county was more responsive and flexible when it dealt with larger companies.

The Week That Was In Local Business

The D.C. Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a $46 million financing package that is a key to building a $195 million entertainment, retail and housing complex atop the Gallery Place Metro station, next to MCI Center.

American Management Systems Inc., a Fairfax company that supplies financial accounting systems to government agencies, teamed up with one of the nation's largest electronic-commerce firms Monday in a bid to handle billions of dollars of government purchases over the Internet.

The $57 million sale of an additional 34 bankrupt Hechinger store locations to Kimco Realty Corp. was approved Thursday as part of the bankrupt home-improvement retailer's liquidation.

A Maryland panel on Thursday proposed an ambitious package of Internet legislation and policies designed to ease the way for electronic commerce, to put 80 percent of state agency services online by 2004 and to give everyone in the state an e-mail address at birth.