The Netpreneur program, an influential networking group that linked start-up executives with funding sources and promoted entrepreneurship in the Washington region, said yesterday that it will shut down by the end of the year.
Although not entirely unexpected, the decision to halt operations of the six-year-old program is perhaps the strongest sign of the end of an era in Washington technology. Like so many other tech dreams, it died for lack of money.
During the tech heyday, Netpreneur events routinely drew hundreds of new executives hungry for advice, introductions and knowledge of the burgeoning technology industry. But when the easy-money era ended, tech executives increasingly worked nights saving their businesses rather than attending networking events. Still, the group kept a close, significant following and altered the tone of its gatherings to address trying financial times.
Netpreneur's sole patron and founder, Mario Morino, announced in June that he would stop funding the program at the end of the year so he could work exclusively on Venture Philanthropy Partners, a nonprofit that focuses on children's causes. Morino had invested $8 million into Netpreneur.
After his announcement, Netpreneur's executive director, Mary MacPherson, sought to raise $4 million for the next three years, which Morino promised to match. Although several area organizations -- including the Center for Innovative Technology, the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association and venture capital firm Telecommunications Development Fund -- offered money, it was not enough.
"The commitments just didn't add up to what we needed to run Netpreneur," MacPherson said.
MacPherson said she had thought the group would go on. "I was the optimistic entrepreneur," she said. "We wanted it to continue." But she also said it shows where priorities and bank accounts stand in these tougher times.
The death of the program was announced with a message posted on the Netpreneur.org Web site. Morino also e-mailed 22,000 people yesterday to explain the end of the program and his plans. "As much as I love entrepreneurship, I'm pulled even more to the plight of children and the opportunity to make a difference in the nonprofit sector that is their vital support link," he wrote.
MacPherson's salary has been extended for the first half of 2003, during which she will act as a one-person Netpreneur representative, encouraging other groups to pick up where her organization is leaving off. Two of the current nine-member staff have already found new jobs; the rest are looking for positions.
MacPherson said she sees several area groups taking on some of the roles of Netpreneur, but she doesn't see one particular group or person taking on the entire mantle.
Netpreneur will hold a huge goodbye party in March for more than 1,000 peopleinvolved with the program; the date and location are to be announced. "That's about saying thank you," MacPherson said. "We played a part in what happened here, but so did a lot of other people."