What's a high-tech CEO to do in a city that lacks face-to-face interpersonal networking? Borrow some tools and build a network of his own.

Jack Plunkett, CEO of Houston-based Plunkett Research, a business-information publishing company, was frustrated with the sprawling Texas city's fragmented technology community. Plunkett felt that Houston was ripe for some vibrant technology networking. "Because the tech corridor runs up and down I-45," Plunkett says, "it's hard for people to get together to meet one another."

Instead of crying in his five-alarm chili, Plunkett flew to Silicon Valley to study how the closely connected techies there structure their own networks. What he found was a variety of networking options, ranging from barroom discussions to formalized lectures. Upon his return to Houston, Plunkett bypassed card-swapping cocktail hours -- which he considered unproductive -- in favor of a more structured group, which he formed and named the Technology Entrepreneurs' eXchange, or Texchange.

Registered guests of the group now attend Texchange meetings every couple of months at the Houstonian Hotel. Plunkett provides a suggested reading list, so guests are ready to go when they arrive. Scheduled speakers also spark conversation with mini-lectures on a variety of topics.

The group has been around only since June 2000, but Plunkett hopes he can connect venture capitalists with entrepreneurs to lend a spark to Houston's technology community. And with advisers from Houston-based energy company Enron and local VC firms, Texchange looks as if it's got the right tools to get people together. So far, attendance is up, from 65 to 145, and Plunkett says he's even heard mention of Texchange-inspired deals in the making.

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