RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — NCEITA is launching a new initiative to foster more effective entrepreneurial development and will unveil the results Tuesday.

Called “Opportunities in the Enterprise,” the program will feature the coming out party, if you will, for two high-tech startups. StrikeIron, the latest venture of software entrepreneur Richard Holcomb, and MercuryGate are both web-based software firms, and their leaders will appear as part of a panel discussion about who they are, what their mission is, and why they should get support and customers.

As many as 350 tech industry leaders and executives will gather at the Holiday Inn in RTP today for the opening of “Forum 2003”, the North Carolina Electronics and Information Technology Association’s annual showcase event. The topics are many, the speakers are first-rate, but the “Opportunities” program on Tuesday should be of particular interest to entrepreneurs.

Frankly, it’s a program one would expect to see at a Council for Entrepreneurial Development event rather than at NCEITA, which traditionally has focused on legislative and regulatory issues facing technology firms.

A ‘super focus group’

“The entrepreneurial community is very important to the state,” said Chris McClure, NCEITA’s communications and government affairs coordinator. “It also is very important to the knowledge-based economy.

“Anything that we can do to encourage entrepreneurs is a good thing.”

Sam Bayer, formerly an executive at HAHT Commerce and founding partner of MarketAcuity, came up with the idea, McClure said. NCEITA and MarketAcutiy struck up a partnership to put together a program.

“This is for smaller companies to get feedback on products and how they are showing them,” McClure explainted. “The forum will be like a super focus group.”

StrikeIron and MercuryGate will make presentations then be asked questions. “We want to see how they will react,” McClure said. “We want to give them some technical feedback as well.”

McClure made sure to point out that NCEITA is not trying to compete with CED. Rather, he said NCEITA wants to do its part to help boost entrepreneurship.

High tech needs help

Earlier this month, Joan Myers, president and chief executive officer of NCEITA, told members of the General Assembly that the state’s high-tech firms are taking a pounding. About half of the IT and other tech-related firms operating in North Carolina at the height of the dot-com boom are gone, she said.

“The statistics are quite revealing,” added McClure. “We’re working on putting more statistics together to further document what’s going on.”

The closing event on Tuesday will tackle that issue head-on.

Called “Postcard to the State: Creating Jobs and Building the NC Innovation Agenda,” the panel discussion includes a variety of high-tech execs as well as Republican Senator Patrick Ballantine of Wilmington.

“We want to talk about how to improve the business climate in the state,” McClure said. “It’s going to be almost a town hall-like discussion. It’s going to be very interesting to see what people have to say.”

The panel is scheduled to run 90 minutes, and it’s a large one — 10 people in all.

Among them is Noah Pickus, director of the Institute for Emerging Issues at NCSU. Pickus has been quite outspoken in his call for state leaders — private and public — to unit behind one integrated action plan in an attempt to reboot NC’s tech economy.

Today’s events take place at the Holiday Inn in RTP. Tuesday’s schedule is at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. For details, check:

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.