Dot-com veterans plan to revive failed startups

Hoping for a potential windfall where most venture capitalists fear to tread, two veterans of the dot-com boom and bust are actively looking for technology companies with more ideas than cash.

Michael Metcalfe and Herbert Becker, who both made their marks in streaming media, are seeking potential $5 million-to-$10 million acquisitions, the kind that would have cost $40 million or more 18 months ago.

But in the year since the pair started Vancouver-based ITM Investments in an effort to find some aftershocks from the dot-com explosion, they have discovered little worth raving about.

“I think there are some very talented people that are not promoting what they have, mainly for lack of money,” Becker said. “We need to find those people.”

Becker and Metcalfe acknowledge there is competition for good ideas; venture capitalists haven’t entirely stopped investing and neither have banks. According to a study released in August by The Canadian Venture Capital Association and Macdonald & Associates Ltd., VC spending increased slightly during the second quarter in Canada while it shrank by 50 per cent in the United States compared to Q2 in 2000. But the study also showed that most of money is going to companies going through their second or third round of financing while the number of deals for startups has shrunk.

ITM are happy to fund the right startup. But what is really different about ITM, the pair said, is that they are actively seeking out potential investments. Becker said he spends the bulk of every day visiting private companies and evaluating their offerings.

“The difference is we’re really being proactive,” Becker said.

“Most VC companies are kind of hiding, hanging on to their jobs and not looking,” Metcalfe added. “People don’t even want to burp.”

As the former chairman and largest shareholder of defunct Internet-streaming company, Metcalfe has control of platform-independent wireless technology that dovetails nicely with ITM’s direction.

“What’s good about wireless is that most people now have a cellphone,” Becker said. “We’d like to make those palms and cell phones more than just voice or images; we’d like to make them more interactive.”

Becker, the founder of Entervision Broadcasting, said the software is available to allow cell phone video-conferencing. It just needs to be put together.

“What’s really important is that we have a finished product. I look for products that can be used right now.”

ITM’s first company is Motorcycles Galore, a motorcycle industry consolidator. Along with wireless and streaming technology, ITM is looking to acquire private retail Internet catalogue companies.

“I still believe in the online shipping model too,” Metcalfe said, adding the problem with companies like its Canadian counterpart is their low-margin business. “I think the items they’ve been selling are nickel and dime items. You need to “sell bigger items with bigger margins.”

Metcalfe and Becker said cite both major urban centres and areas around universities and think tanks as places to look for acquisitions.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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