Building a Safety Net

As chief information officer at a Rockville biotechnology company, Dimitri Stephanou oversaw everything to do with computer systems: network and database administration, taking care of the infrastructure and setting up the company's World Wide Web site.

Over the years, Stephanou had plenty of frustrating experiences with the help desks at various computer software and hardware vendors. One day he decided he could do better.

He quit his job to start a company that would offer expert advice about solving computer problems, over the Internet in real time. The way Stephanou sees it, the time is right for such a service because the intense competition among businesses for skilled technology workers has left many without enough computer-savvy employees.

IN PROFILE

Name: E-Helpnet.com Inc.

Founded: Early November; Web site will be launched in February.

Big idea: Providing an online information technology help site that gives consumers and businesses access to experts to troubleshoot or explain their software and hardware problems. The Web site would be a link to a network of experienced computer experts who could deliver solutions quickly, Stephanou said.

Where idea was hatched: This was not a concept that cropped up overnight, Stephanou said. While he was working at BioReliance Corp. in Rockville, he started developing a computer-based model for his business idea, discovered that it worked and decided to run with it.

Who's in charge: Dimitri Stephanou, 38, founder and president. Fadi Eidi, director of technology and engineering.

Company base: Stephanou's home in Brookeville, Md.

Previous jobs: Stephanou most recently was information technology officer at BioReliance. From 1993 to 1997, he worked at Guilford Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Baltimore.

Origin of company name: Stephanou wanted to conjure the image of a safety net for businesses dependent on their networks. And "everything has an `e' on it these days," he says.

Funding: Initial funding of $720,000 from angel investors closed in November. The company says it is in the process of closing on an additional $500,000 from an international investment bank.

Revenue: Businesses will pay a flat fee for the service; individuals will pay for each service rendered.

Biggest personal risk: Stephanou quit his $180,000-a-year job and gave up all his stock options and benefits to start the company.

First employee hired: Eidi, hired early this month from BioReliance, with the lure of a higher salary and options for 100,000 shares, or 1 percent of the new company.

Tangible goal: According to International Data Corp., the U.S. technical support market for software alone will be worth $20 billion by 2003. Stephanou wants E-Helpnet.com to capture 1.5 percent of the market.

Most admired company: Federal Express Corp., while not an Internet company, is the kind of business Stephanou says he admires most. FedEx is able to track packages and deliver them quickly, which is what Stephanou hopes E-Helpnet.com will be able to do with technology requests from its customers.

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