Editor’s note: First in a series of stories highlighting Raleigh Metro Magazine’s High-Tech 100 as produced by Local Tech Wire.Tech companies looking to rebound or to survive the “dot com” meltdown and the telecom crash, as symbolized by WorldCom, have to have good leadership.

But those chief executive officers also know they are targets and could be the first to go if the market stays sour and sales — or funding — don’t pick up.

So who are the men and women in the executive suites that seem to be poised to deliver? Based on interviews and discussions with a variety of sources — from fellow executives to venture capitalists and others — Local Tech Wire has identified 17 men and women to keep an eye on. And in the spirit of an arid fundraising climate, we’re leaving out the venture capitalists.

These 17 either be making waves or digging startup graves. Some names you will recognize. Some you won’t.

But then again, who had ever heard of Jim Goodnight, a professor at NC State, or Jeff Bezos of Amazon?

Susan Acker, Chief Executive Officer, Blue 292

When the market for B2B exchanges tanked, Acker, 36, the founder, president
and chief executive of Blue292, re-steered the company and went the software
route. But then the frigid tech climate set in, so Blue 292 went into
survival mode and sent pink slips…lots of them…flying. Recently it picked up
Canadian software firm Caribou Systems, and with it came customers with
household names. The result? Blue292 is still kicking and says it has enough
cash to operate through next year. The firm has proved that it can sell
software, but can it also service and maintain it? Daniel Eggers, managing
partner of Eno River Capital, which invested in Blue292, thinks so. “She’s
one of the best startup CEOs I’ve ever worked with,” he says. “She has the
ability to rethink what she’s doing even while she’s putting 100 percent
effort into doing it.”

Leslie M. Alexandre, President and CEO, NC Biotechnology Center

Alexandre, 44, has some big shoes to fill as the new president and chief
executive of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. Formerly assistant
director for industrial relations for the federal government’s National
Cancer Institute, Alexandre is the successor to Charles Hamner, who recently
retired from the biotech center after 14 years at the helm. That’s no easy
task, especially when the state budget is getting squeezed tighter than
Britney Spears’ buns in pair of hip huggers. Alexandre says she’ll look to
federal programs and private foundations for support.

Jud Bowman, CEO, Pinpoint

His is the fairytale of a teenage entrepreneur: While in high school, he
founded Pinpoint with his buddy Taylor Brockman. They wooed investors with
their wireless search engine to add $5 million to their piggy bank. Everyone
was charmed by their youth and intellect. “When I met him I likened it to
meeting Tiger Woods at 18,” says Steve Nelson, partner at Wakefield Group, an
investor in Pinpoint. But then big, bad wolf Tony Blake, who turned out to be
a phony from Silicon Valley, took the reins and steered the company nowhere
when it was desperate for more cash. Blake was fired, and Bowman regained
control. Existing investors injected more greenbacks, but Pinpoint is still a
stretch from the Holy Grail…profitability. Does it have a happy ending? Even
if Pinpoint doesn’t, Bowman will, says Nelson. “He’s the single most talented
business executive under the age of 30 I’ve ever met. I would back a guy like
him for 30 years.”

Josh Chodniewicz, CEO, Art.com

What dot-bombs? Art.com is doing just fine, thank you — its revenue is up
500 percent over last year — in no small part because of Chodniewicz, 28,
the company’s feisty, persistent founder and chief executive who built the
startup on loans totaling $300,000. It took the e-tailer of posters, prints
and frames almost two years to sell an item, but Art.com now fills 40,000
square feet of office space and employs more than 150. Chodniewicz has said
publicly that Art.com will grow to 1,000 employees in three years. It’s hard
to imagine that Chodniewicz isn’t flirting with Wall Street, since he
recruited CFO Manoj George, who led Red Hat’s secondary offering. The $16
billion poster, print and photo industry is extremely fragmented, so “it’s
like he’s created this space,” says Ben Brooks, managing director of Southern
Capitol Ventures and a mentor to Chodniewicz. “It’s hard to bet against him.”

Peter Coad, Chief Strategy Officer, TogetherSoft

Is he happily supervising from the sidelines, as chief strategy officer, as
he maintains? Or is he quietly struggling to retain power over TogetherSoft,
the company he founded? Since February when Coad relinquished his role as
chief executive to John R. “Beau” Vrolyk, an interim CEO on the West Coast,
questions have been flying. But no one outside TogetherSoft has the answers.
In one breath, the 3-year-old company openly talks about its soaring
revenues…$47 million last year…and the possibility of making its Wall Street
debut by year-end. In another, it’s firing members of top management,
including the company’s CFO and VP of marketing. If it indeed does go public,
TogetherSoft will have to do a lot more explaining.

Jim Goodnight. founder and CEO, SAS

Goodnight, the founder and CEO of the world’s largest privately held software
company, had said two years ago he planned to take SAS Institute public by
2002, but those plans were shelved temporarily when the public markets turned
south. Now Goodnight is under pressure to ‘fess up as to whether or not he
really plans…or ever had plans…to take the $1.13 billion firm public. SAS is
still talking with investment banks although it has said there’s no urgency
to go public. Meanwhile, a survey shows that 87 percent of SAS employees
don’t want the company to go public.

Bob Lynch, President and CEO, Nitronex

Lynch, 44, the president and CEO of Nitronex, appears to be leading the
gallium nitride crusade. Nitronex grows gallium nitride crystals and deposits
them on silicon to create what it promises to be the highest-power,
lowest-cost semiconductor in the world.
Since joining the startup in 2000 Lynch, who came from Digital Microwave and
Cree, has nabbed a total of $34 million in venture capital financing. “Bob
has a tremendous ability to get things when or ahead of when they need to be
done, with a very efficient use of resources,” says General Partner Mike
Slawson of Alliance Technology Ventures, an investor in Nitronex. His task
now is to prove the material’s reliability and gain customer acceptance.
Nitronex, which says its growth plan will include an IPO, will begin volume
production of its packaged wireless components next year.

Christopher Price, CEO, Nobex

Here’s another who has his eyes on the public markets. While lining up
investors for a $40 million mezzanine round…AEA Investors has committed to
$12 million…CEO Price of Nobex inked a licensing deal with GlaxoSmithKline
that could be worth as much as $283 million. It all depends on whether the
oral insulin Nobex has developed can make it through clinical trials, win
regulatory approval and make it to market. The deal enabled Nobex to decrease
the upcoming round to $35 million, leaving company officials with more equity
as they position the company for a public stock offering next year.

Christy Shaffer, CEO, Inspire Pharmaceuticals

It’s been a nail-biting year for Shaffer, the first female CEO of a publicly
held Triangle company. She took Inspire Pharmaceuticals public in August
2000. Shares of Inspire plummeted 73 percent earlier this year after the
company reported its lead drug candidate, a treatment for dry-eye disease,
fared no better than saline drops, the placebo in Phase III studies. Previous
tests had showed that the drug was better than saline solution. That left the
future of the drug…as well as the company’s revenue…in limbo. But the latest
results “demonstrated a highly statistically significant improvement over
placebo,” giving shares of Inspire a much-needed 103 percent boost and the
data to file a new drug application.

Ronald Stanton, CEO, LipoScience

All eyes are on Stanton, CEO of LipoScience, who is going where no man…or
woman…in the Triangle has gone in the last 18 months: the IPO route. The
medical diagnostics company filed a registration statement in March with the
Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering of up to
$100 million in stock. It’s a move that takes guts and revenue growth,
especially now that the public markets are in the toilet. Five-year-old
LipoScience sold 249,000 tests measuring blood cholesterol levels last year
that produced $18.5 million in revenue, according to documents filed with the
SEC.

Carolyn Underwood, founder, president, CEO, Artecel

Underwood, who spent years as an executive at Burroughs Wellcome and Triangle
Pharmaceuticals, has a fat task as the founder, president and CEO of Artecel
Sciences, a two-year-old spin-off of Zen-Bio. The 17-employee company needs
to raise $15 to $20 million in second round venture capital to continue its
exploration of using altered fat cells to plump facial wrinkles, replace bone
marrow destroyed by cancer radiation treatments and repair brain or central
nervous system damage. A recent medical breakthrough in transforming stem
cells from fat into nerve cells from researchers at Duke University Medical
Center and Artecel will help bolster support. The big question: Will they act
like nerve cells?

Vivek Wadhwa, founder and CEO, relativity

Wadhwa, founder and CEO of Relativity Technologies, is bouncing back after he had a heart attack and missed
payroll by two days. A cash infusion from existing investors saved
Relativity…for now. Wadhwa, an outspoken
media magnet, has been widely quoted in the Wall Street Journal and
BusinessWeek, and managed to get Relativity a spot on Fortune’s Cool Company
list last year.

Kay Wagoner, Founder and CEO, ICAgen

There’s something to be said for an executive who can raise money repeatedly
in anemic fundraising times. Wagoner, founder, president and chief executive
of nine-year-old ICAgen, has secured more than $50 million to expand and grow
her biotech company, which seeks and develops novel pharmaceuticals using ion
channel modulation. “Growing a company…especially biotech…in the Triangle in
’93, ’94’, ’95 is a great measure of a person,” says Doug Darr, VP of
business and technology development at the NC Biotechnology Center. Wagoner
has inked partnerships with pharmaceutical giants Abbot Laboratories,
Bristol-Myers Squibb and Yamanouchi Pharmaceuticals.

Max Wallace, CEO, Cogent Neuroscience

He navigated Cogent Neuroscience from a gene-seeking concern to a
drug-discovery firm when the market for genes cooled, but can Wallace,
co-founder, president and CEO, raise the $25 million he needs to keep his
company in tact? The company got $15 million two years ago, and started the
hunt for new cash a week before 9/11. He may not have timing on his side, but
as a veteran entrepreneur who helped found Trimeris, Sphinx and SARCO,
Wallace has experience and a fat Rolodex in his favor.

Mark Weedon, former president and CEO, Merix

Where will Mark Weedon land? Less than 10 months after he joined Merix as president and CEO, Weedon
raised $40 million, a possible record round of venture capital financing for
a Triangle biotechnology company. He then resigned in July. Weedon joined Merix early last year after
more than a decade at Burroughs Wellcome, where he was president of Canadian
operations, and later global general manager for over-the-counter products at
Glaxo Wellcome. Since then he has been hiring seasoned executives to help
forge ahead with the development of personalized cancer vaccines. Sound too
sci-fi to be true? Merix recently submitted an investigational new drug
application to the Food and Drug Administration to conduct a Phase I trial
for a melanoma vaccine.

Scot Wingo, CEO, ChannelAdvisor

First he sold Stingray Software for $21 million in 1998; then he traded
AuctionRover for roughly $100 million in stock in 2000. Serial entrepreneur
Wingo has a history of forming, building selling companies, which is why
investors lined up to ante up $5.7 million when he and partner Aris
Buinevicius bought back ChannelAdvisor from GoTo.com last year.
Wingo also has a reputation of running a burnout factory. Zap an email to one
of his disciples at 9:30 p.m., and you’ll likely get a response in 30
minutes.

Bob Young, CEO, Lulu

Red Hat co-founder Young, donning his signature red baseball cap, was for
years the face of Red Hat. But that era has ended, although he retains a seat
on the board and plenty of Red Hat shares, and Young has moved on to a new
project, one that was state secret No. 1 until he unveiled it himself in
June. It’s called Lulu Enterprises, and Young is its one and only investor.
Its subsidiary Lulu Tech Circus will hold tech events covering topics such as
graphics, education, gadgets, games and extreme computing aimed at consumers.
Look for Lulu’s first show in September.