START-UP FOCUS

The founders of Advanced Technological Solutions (ATS) certainly had plenty of incentive to go into business. As managers of an IBM electronics-repair plant in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, they (along with their employees) faced the prospect of being "surplussed" -- IBM-speak for canned -- during Big Blue's downsizing. So the managers decided to try an employee buyout. All but a few of the plant's 121 former IBM employees had to take a reduction in salary and benefits "in order to make ATS competitive," says community-relations manager Carl Powlett. In exchange, they will receive an employee-stock-ownership-plan contribution equaling 10% of their total compensation for the first five years. Employees' emotions are a mix of "excitement and disappointment," reports former plant manager and newly appointed ATS president Wesley Ratcliff. "When there's been a long-term relationship and then you go out on your own, you have to have some apprehension."

But ATS isn't going it alone completely. Before the company opened its doors for business, last October 1, it had spliced together $9.5 million in start-up funds (including working capital) from Chase Manhattan Bank, the New York State Job Development Authority, IBM, and the plant's management. ATS, which repairs computer keyboards and monitors, has also received a five-year contract from IBM. Ratcliff projects first-year revenues of $30 million.

-- Alessandra Bianchi