RALEIGH — Some of the best and brightest in the Triangle, with a bit of a sweet-tooth boost from the Triad, put on a pretty good demonstration of technological prowess, salesmanship and entrepreneurship on Thursday.

A host of public companies gathered with more than 150 institutional investors from around the Southeast at the first NCINVEST event. CEOs, CFOs, VPs and investors relations folks trotted out spiffy PowerPoint presentations touting products, potential markets, revenues, promising developments, and — in some cases — even profits.

The Kripsy Kreme team showed up from Greensboro not only to talk about its remarkable growth plans but also with a truckload of donuts. Now what could be better than that?

“This is the type of showcase we need more of,” said State Treasurer Richard Moore in his luncheon speech.

Most of the presenters were from the Triangle, and one of the lasting impressions left from the day was just how much technology punch is here. People always talk about RTP, its universities and high-tech and life science firms, which is nice. But to see the companies gathered in one place and to hear about the remarkable research and development taking place was good, good, good.

Trimeris touted its AIDS drugs. Inspire talked about its drug pipeline. SciQuest talked about the total redirection of the firm and how the move is paying off. Red Hat talked in detail about its determined move into the enterprise marketplace and the heavy-hitting allies it has on board for the push. Pozen talked migraine headache drug progress — and don’t we need that in these days of global chaos.

(For the record, I didn’t see anyone from the North Raleigh Hilton walking around with duct tape and plastic sheeting.)

Cree touted the continued progress in laser research and storage. After hearing the presentation, Dan Davies, editor of The Business Leader, said with a smile that he’s now convinced that everything we ever say and do in life will be recorded — on new, high-capacity DVDs.

Small to large

The lineup included the small to large public firms. Embrex, Salix Pharmaceuticals, Martin Marietta Materials, Pharmanetics, Paradigm Genetics, Closure Medical and Progress Energy also presented.

Every exec had 30 minutes or so to make their pitch and take questions. After the “forward looking statements” warning and, it appeared, with someone from each firm briefed on Sarbanes-Oxley and ready to intervene if some exec got a bit too excited, the execs went for the gold.

Christy Shaffer tossed aside a fussy microphone and walked investors through the advance toward market this year of its dry-eye drug. It should hit the market in the first half of next year and be followed by four others over the next two years.

“We are a success story for this state,” she said proudly.

Transformation stories

Kevin Thompson, executive vice president and CFO of Red Hat, said he had an accounting background. But one would have thought he was a Linux developer the way he walked the audience through Red Hat’s transition into a big industry player, aligned with IBM, HP, Dell and Fujitsu and driving up sales of its Advanced Service products for the enterprise network.

He acknowledged that Red Hat is much different from the go-go days in 1999 when the company went public and the world seemed to think Linux developers were going to doom Microsoft. But Thompson also said, “All the noise was built on hype. My CEO (Matthew Szulik) has said the company was built on theater.”

Not now, Thompson insisted. “In the last 24 months we have really transformed the company.” He talked about “real numbers,” “real profit” in the last quarter, and stressed “no debt.”

Stephen Wiehe knows all about internal transformations. The president and CEO of SciQuest has gutted and refocused that company on procurement and materials management. Some of the nation’s biggest universities have signed on, and SciQuest also has a growing list of pharmaceutical clients, including GSK.

“Our ROI is measured in months rather than years,” he said, referring to clients who utilize SciQuest’s software solutions. While the company is still losing money and its stock remains below $1, Wiehe was a picture of confidence and high energy. “There’s a story here,” he said.

Wiehe also made sure to point out that he and other executives are buying SciQuest stock. “Our fourth quarter was the best in our history,” he said. “The fourth quarter shows we are getting traction — Our No. 1 goal is to sell.”

Someone in the crowd asked when SciQuest would be profitable.

“June 17,” Wiehe said. “I just can’t tell you which year.”

That said, he pointed out SciQuest has done its own internal reviews. Like just about every other firm these days, Wiehe said the economy isn’t helping. “When the turnaround comes, we’ll get much more visibility.”

Countdown for Trimeris

But perhaps the most riveting, and certainly the most technologically challenging, presentation came from Nixon Ellis, president of Trimeris.

Trimeris is counting down the days to an expected approval from the FDA in March for its HIV drug Fuzeon. So much of AIDS research has taken place in the Triangle — from AZT to Triangle’s work and to Fuzeon. This drug holds particular promise of the hundreds of thousands of people who have been treated by a variety of AIDS drugs and have proved to be resistant or had toxic reactions.

“We are weeks away,” Ellis said. The target date for word from the FDA is March 16.

Institutional investors are not easy sells. They listened politely, asked some pointed questions, and then got their chances to grill the management teams in private sessions afterwards. Whether any went right out and issued orders for $1 million in shares isn’t known. But they were nibbling. The crowd stayed pretty much the same size until the very end.

And people on all sides, including the presents and sponsors (the Triangle Chapter of the National Investor Relations Institute and Association for Corporate Growth) were pleased enough to talk excitedly about having another show in 2004.

“Wait till you see the next one,” one of the top sponsors said during the break.

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.