Techs Positioned for Defense Opportunity

La Jolla Village News, January 16, 2002, By Lindsey Robinson

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, San Diego has moved into stealth mode, recalibrating its wireless and telecommunications expertise to leverage business opportunities in military and defense government contracts. This could be a window of opportunity for San Diego tech companies such as Qualcomm, Titan, SAIC and ORINCON, while mid-sized companies and start-ups refocus.

“The Team at SEED was incredible. Tony Medrano and Lina Ramos worked with our technology leaders and executives to create a superb business plan and investor presentation. More importantly, they developed a successful strategy for a powerful stand-alone business that is fundable by the highest caliber VC’s, and they even helped us execute.”–Dr. Victor George, Vice President, SAIC and CEO/Co-Founder of IsoPix

The San Diego Regional Technology Alliance (RTA) recently held its yearly Venture Plan Conference 2001 at the Mission Valley Marriott, underscoring new start-up fundamentals and testing the ability of San Diego’s tech industries to retool for a Bush military buildup.

“Remember your business plan legitimates your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats,” said Tyler Orion, president of the RTA. “Attention to industry and market analysis should include market characteristics like demographics, market size, competition and growth potential, comparative advantages, customer base, pricing and services. Brand recognition includes expressing your company’s philosophy while defining financials and future objectives.”

Even when rewriting a company’s business plan in light of new opportunities, Orion advised crunching the numbers, doing the regressions and concentrating on company forecasts, income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, debt and capital expenditure budgets.

Local surveillance telecommunications heavyweights such as Gene Ray’s Titan Corporation, which doubled its food positioning detection scanners into anthrax mail testing capabilities, are parlaying commercial-to-defense technology transfer. Other local big hitters, including Qualcomm, Ericsson, Compaq and Intel, SAIC and General Atomic, have vested interests in security, reconnaissance, telecommunications, Internet, and global positioning, while San Diego sports more than 400 mid- and small-sized San Diego technology companies with comparable tech transfer capabilities.

“Many technology industries have lost half their market value in the past year and a half, as the NASDAQ has lost more than 50 percent,” said Eric Chriss, partner of Tatum CFO Partners, LLP. “We now see an opportunity to turn tech industries around. Our interim and long-term CFOs provide stability for start-ups, turnaround companies, or companies transferring commercial technology to defense contracts.”

“A client of mine develops special bulletproof vests, a second develops solar suits made for guerilla warfare, and another manufactures armor-plating for cars. Companies that can retool their commercial expertise into big defense opportunities will generate local jobs and revenues, while upgrading America’s laggard defense.”

Another of Chriss’s clients contracts military command post vehicles that provide LAPD and NYPD with national guard capabilities during catastrophic events, or to protect terrorist targets including dams, nuclear power plants, public works, or super structure, such as San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

“The Regional Technology Alliance was built on defense technology transfer (of) private investment into commercial industries,” Chriss said. “Local technology industries are again being fueled by government venture capital and grants.”

“I’ve learned some of the benefits of hindsight — that early-stage entrepreneurs must be willing to surrender their position and rank in the company if they are truly interested in the success of the company,” said Mark McWilliams, president of Q3DM.

“Many companies lose out, focusing on company valuation instead of business development, and make the mistake of holding out for a better deal, when they should have sold,” continued McWilliams, who believes that even networking with competitors may end up advancing future alliances due to new business opportunities. “You should surround yourself with experts in your business who are more knowledgeable and add to your market advantage, and I’ve gone through entire product cycle development keeping an eye on the exit strategy.”

“A great company depends on your management’s team, your technology, the strength of your markets, the dependability of your operations, and whether other people think the company’s great, too,” said Tony Medrano, Stanford MBA / JD and President of Seed Enterprise.

Working one’s way up the venture capital (VC) food chain, start-ups must be realistic in understanding which stage of development they are in (i.e., funding) and how they will match up with investors.

“Management’s biggest mistake is just thinking what you need is funding, confusing a product with a company, or beating around the bush on financials,” Medrano said. “Get to the point: First impressions count, and admit and understand your weaknesses. Be willing to listen… to the right advice, and surround yourself with a quality team. It’s as much about what you know as who you know, and that means doing due diligence.”

Participants advised building an outside board early during business plan development, networking, recruitment of experienced CEOs, development of an exit strategy and solid legal, accounting, auditing, banking and consulting teams.

“Avoid pitfalls like entering a market with the wrong sales or distribution strategy, fix mistakes when they happen, don’t pass up VC funding in favor of higher valuation from a strategic investor, and know when to sell your company,” said Medrano, adding that it’s critical to be coach-able.

“Lina and her team at EMERGING GROWTH know how to build a profitable business. This expertise helped our CCAT Grant awarded companies identify point of entry and growth opportunities in the homeland security market.” –Lou Kelly, President, Lockheed Martin Orincon Technologies, Chairman, Center for Commercialization of Advanced Technologies

Regarding angel investing, start-ups should look for between $500,000 and $750,000 in funding and angels who know the market. The first year should focus on monthly or quarterly projections, and record keeping should include identifying vendors and suppliers, watching government regulations, and consideration of pre-money valuation, or the company’s current stock ownership distribution.

Venture Planning Associates contributed a due diligence checklist that included business plan considerations addressing comparative revenue studies, research papers, patent issues, pre- and post-investment valuations, and alternative funding strategies. The company should have its charter and by-laws, corporate transactions and holding company structures in order, and joint ventures records and relevant governance documents up to date. The financial statements are most important and should include monthly income and financial projections, an updated business plan, and a list of off-balance sheet liabilities not included in the last financial statement. Other details, such as auditor’s reports, management responses and account policy summaries, can weigh in an audit.

Documentation of tax material, including federal, state and municipal returns, pending issues, the tax basis of company or stock assets, tax sharing or indemnity agreements, and letters of agreements should be reviewed. Debt is another eyesore, and management should track all evidence of debt obligations, lines of credit and all agreements and correspondence, including cost of sales breakdown, schedules, payment advances, current reserves, distribution, marketing and administrative expenses. Employment agreements should include policies regarding collective bargaining, consulting contracts, a company human resources handbook, annual report, compensation breakdown, participation in employee benefits programs, potential labor dispute arbitration proceedings, severance policies and pension rules. Risk management should address any current litigation, regulatory compliance, contracts and partnership considerations.

Other strategies include critical analysis of target markets, customer profiling and what a client’s distribution-supply chain links are, alternative research and development sources, networking, knowing the competition, trends in operations and products, acquisition targets, joint ventures and partnerships, and assets related to plant, property and equipment considerations.

Of course, the bottom line is funding. Target up to eight local VCs, and start with Price Waterhouse Coopers Money Tree Survey for San Diego, log on to

Lastly, a company might only be as strong as its weakest link. Today’s future competitors may be tomorrow’s stock swap. A company should continue to visit VC Web sites, track investment goals, get the best experience and technology focus it can afford, and remember it’s all about revenues. What investors want are well-defined value propositions, experienced management teams with vision and expertise, and proven market product and service sustainability. San Diego start-up tech companies should follow the form of a Motorola, IBM, Intel or MS which are reinventing themselves to court big defense contracts.

RTA’s Venture Plan conference included a wealth of San Diego VC contacts, including: Ampersand Ventures, Aztec Ventures, Enterprise Partners, Seed Enterprise, Forward Ventures Imperial Bank, Qualcomm Ventures, Mission Ventures, Timeline Ventures, and numerous community tech alliances.