How badly do foreign governments want your business? These days, even a start-up can sometimes qualify for financial incentives to locate in Europe. Consider Neotech Industries Inc., an Irving, Tex.-based start-up manufacturer of pressure gauges. It recently received about $4.5 million in grants, plus a custom-built factory and R&D subsidies, for locating a plant in Northern Ireland. Among the most ardent suitors of fast-growing technology-based companies: the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland, according to consultant John Pike, who predicts the incentives will increase as Europe's 1992 accord approaches.
First came local clubs for entrepreneurs and venture investors. Now, six such groups in northern California have formed an informal network of networks. Since December, the organizations have been meeting to share ideas and have begun listing one another's events in a joint calendar. The result? Attendance at club meetings has increased -- in some cases by as much as 100%, according to Bob Hansens, president of Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs Club. Further collaboration is being discussed, and one club, Digital Equipment Corp.'s Technology Executive Roundtable, hopes to replicate the network in other cities in which it has chapters.
A small patent-licensing firm has begun marketing what appears to be the nation's only full-coverage patent-enforcement insurance. Louisville-based HLPM Insurance Services is targeting its product, which is underwritten by the Orion Group, at companies holding 3 to 100 patents. The theory? That such businesses can afford to pay for premiums but not for patent-enforcement court battles, which HLPM says typically cost $250,000 or more. But protection isn't cheap, either: for $250,000 in legal coverage, annual premiums start at about $4,500.
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Though most agencies resist the idea of offering fixed prices for specific advertising and marketing services, a few have already started using it to reach very small businesses with limited needs and tight budgets. One Denver-based ad agency, Ahrens & Whitlock, has started a special division to sell fixed-price, a la carte services (e.g., a logo costs $450) to companies with less than $1 million in sales. A New York- and Boulder-based public-relations firm, Media Syndicate, last year began offering a comparable service in its field: small businesses can buy a onetime press release and mailing to national media for a flat fee of $495.
High-technology councils are cropping up in regions not known as technology centers. While the first private-sector high-technology council, in Massachusetts, remains primarily political, many of the newer business groups concentrate on building fledgling high-tech communities. Thus, for example, councils in places like Rhode Island and Kansas focus on networking and economic development. The most common feature? An emphasis on improving education or ties to universities. The Minnesota High Technology Council sees its role, oddly enough, as a lobbyist for increased government spending -- on engineering education.
A mail-order office-products company is introducing what it claims is the first electronic distribution system targeted at the mass market of small businesses. Quill Corp., based in Lincolnshire, Ill., has developed a $15 software package that allows its customers to transmit orders and track product purchases via a modem-equipped PC. Quill founder and president Jack Miller predicts that 100,000 of its 750,000 customers -- the vast majority of which are small offices -- will be using the system within a year of its scheduled debut this month.
-- Martha E. Mangelsdorf
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