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Published: Friday, 7/11/2008

Area tech entrepreneurs get tips on funding

BLADE STAFF
Knudson Knudson
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Norman Rapino, an owner of IP Dynamics LLC in Toledo, is looking for capital to expand his company.

Rocket Ventures, the venture capital wing of the Regional Growth Partnership, has more than $22 million in state and private grant funds to aid northwest Ohio businesses.

But area businesses have struggled to secure local and state funds for high-technology research. In a five-year period when Ohio's Third Frontier program gave out 224 grants worth $665 million, northwest Ohio received just 16 grants worth $46.5 million, or 7 percent of the total.

Nearly 150 businessmen attended an event yesterday at the Toledo Hilton focused on pairing companies with funding channels.

Most are optimistic.

"I have a feeling that [Toledo] is like Akron [more than 100 years ago] when the Goodyear and Firestone companies started," said Mr. Rapino. "We really have an energy now."

He plans to apply for a Third Frontier Advanced Energy Program grant and use it to develop a device that converts DC electrical current from renewable sources to AC and sends it back to a utility company. Third Frontier is the state's $100 million high-tech funding program.

"Starting a business is tough. Starting a technology business is tougher," he said.

Greg Knudson, director of Rocket Ventures, said he is "pretty ashamed" about northwest Ohio's funding history. But he said he is working hard to spread the word.

"We go out to economic development groups, Rotaries, and every university," he said. Since January, the firm has held 152 presentations and has awarded about $1 million in grants.

It is working with 24 clients.

Amber Hawkins, president of Your Computer Needs of Toledo LLC, wants to become a client. She said her computer training and consulting firm could use funds to expand clientele and offer new services.

"I was surprised at the fact that so many different resources are right here in northwest Ohio," she added.

Last year, Suganit Systems Inc. in Toledo received $250,000 in Third Frontier funds. "We've made more progress, and are closer to commercializing a product," said Sasidhar Varanasi. The firm is working to produce ethanol from bio-mass. It plans to open a factory this year if it can obtain funds, he said.



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