Les Bethune could have picked a better year to co-chair the program for Money & Markets.

After all, he and co-chair Kent Christison are trying to build enthusiasm and generate attendance in an economic mood that is about as exciting as “Love Boat” re-runs.

But Bethune, who works at Ernst & Young LLP, and Christison, who is part of the Kennedy Covington Lobdell & Hickman LLP, are actually excited about the job. M&M is on Friday, and Bethune says attendance is looking good while the program is shaping up as “outstanding.”

“This is one of our four flagship conferences,” he says enthusiastically by cell phone as he jets from one appointment to another. “This is going to be a fantastic networking event, and that is one of the biggest by-products. People will be sharing ideas and thoughts.”

He’s not going to be the captain that runs the ship aground, either.

“We have pulled together what we think is a great group of speakers, lots of really strong venture capitalists, strong bankers, and strong entrepreneurs talking on a variety of subjects,” Bethune says in rapid-fire promotional speak that would be good enough to land a sales job anywhere.

Sustaining and creating

The program’s title, “Financing, Partnering and Value Creation Strategies for a Changing Economy,” is certainly spot-on in one respect. The economy is changing.

A lot of talk at M&M will not be about creating new ventures but keeping existing ones out of Chapter 7 and Chapter 11.

“We’ll be talking a lot about sustaining companies,” Bethune acknowledges, but he also insists that deal makers are coming looking to do more than trade business cards. “Generally, the consensus is everybody wants to know about the state of the capital markets from the venture side, what the options look like for mergers and acquisitions, what sectors are hot and what sectors aren’t.”

Bethune is going in smiling because he sees at least some warm spots ready to be sparked into flames.

“My view is that we have bottomed out and are on the ascent upward,” he says, although he admits, “It’s going to be a slow climb.

“But I think the optimist is getting better, and people are thinking about getting a little more active.”

No guarantees

Entrepreneurs or execs running firms on a shoestring shouldn’t expect investors’ pocketbooks to open easily, however.

“Getting cash flow, getting to break-even, and generating profits is really important,” Bethune says. “Entrepreneurs who have gotten investment have to understand that it’s not a given another round of financing will be there.”

Just ask the former employees at Zoom Culture and its investors.

The recent investments in SmartPath and Relativity plus the continued growth of Accipiter, now that it’s back in local hands, demonstrate success remains possible with or without VC money. And one lawyer tells Local Tech Wire his firm is involved in “three or four” VC deals that are about to close.

“We’re still seeing some financing that’s getting done,” Bethune says. But he points out many of the M&M panels and discussions will be about how execs can find alternative financing.

“We’ll be talking about the things that can be done in this environment,” Bethune adds, salesman to the last.

(For information, visit CED’s web side at: www.cednc.org

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.