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Published: Friday, 6/6/2003

Tech agency plans a merger

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Touted as a solid step toward bringing the area technology businesses and jobs when it began three years ago, Toledo's Regional Technology Alliance is about to dissolve into a larger organization.

The alliance yesterday took its first steps toward being folded into the Regional Growth Partnership, Toledo's main economic development agency which has assisted the alliance with staffing and money for two years.

Despite some assurances to the contrary, some alliance board members yesterday expressed concern that the tech group's mission might get lost.

“I just don't want the RTA to disappear into the wallpaper,'' said board member Julian Gravino, who is president of EISC Inc. ``I don't want someone saying two years from now, `I don't what the RTA is or ever was.'''

In other business at its quarterly meeting, the alliance said its previous plan to create a $20 million venture capital fund (known as In4) will be put off for five to eight years, given the weak economy and difficulties in raising venture capital. In the interim, the group plans to use the $540,000 it has raised to establish a short-term seed money fund for tech start-ups.

In key action, the alliance board approved a proposal to be sent to the growth partnership that would lead to the merger. The partnership is expected to approve the plan, which would be sent back to the alliance for a final vote. the tech group could be dissolved by early July.

Its mission of creating an environment where technological growth is encouraged and embraced should continue, said Don Jakeway, president of alliance and the growth partnership. But the alliance's 15-member board would be eliminated and its director, Amy Whitehead, would become vice president of technology for the partnership. Alliance members would no longer pay dues.

The partnership's resources should enable Ms. Whitehead to better carry out the purpose of the alliance, Mr. Jakeway said.

Jim DelVerne, who is not on the alliance board but is co-owner of Gateway Defender, a local computer network company, said yesterday he was unsure whether the merger would be good or bad.

``It may change things from the standpoint that the RGP has a heckuva lot more resources. We just hope [technology] doesn't get lost in the shuffle,'' he said.

Brandon Cohen, owner of Vault9, a local software company, said local tech companies would have a powerful ally if technology becomes a priority for the partnership.

``I think it's great opportunity for technology, specifically ... because the RGP is a bigger organization that has a lot more reach,'' he said.

Alliance board member Heinz Bulmahn, Bowling Green State University vice provost for research, said he was concerned that plans to add four alliance board members to the growth partnership's board included no one from academia, a prime source of tech start-ups.

Mr. Jakeway suggested it would be possible to add the area's university presidents to the partnership board and that a board slot could be held by someone with a technology entrepreneurial background. At some point, he said, the partnership might even add “technology” in its name.

Ms. Whitehead, conceding that she understood the concerns that technology growth might be diluted under the partnership, but said the alliance needed a stronger presence on the partnership board.



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