RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Sights, sounds and observations from Venture 2003:

Did you notice all the young folks with tattoos? Will those be a barrier to getting hired, now that suits are back? Remember ponytails and beards?

There are more comb-overs these days at VC conferences than wonder kids — Jud Bowman of Pinpoint being an exception. And he’s even north of 21.

The presenters were crisp, many of the companies seem to have great promise, the crowd was enthusiastic, and the guest speakers were top notch. A great two days.

Overheard — and worth repeating:

“We’ve got to find a lead.”

At a venture conference, one firm — Aurora — definitely demonstrated a willingness to lead. Check out StrikeIron, Metabolon and Regado Biosciences.

“No one wants to ‘lead’, but they all are willing to be part of a syndicate.”

I’d call Jeff Clark or Scott Albert — at Aurora.

“Angels have been through so many down rounds — we’re ready for a few up rounds.”

No kidding. Angel investors are an endangered species.

“Is the runway long enough?”

Companies pitching for funds have to balance burn against the economy. Guess wrong, game is over. Remember Zoom Culture?

“We can get drugs to market faster.”

Where have we heard that before? Hopefully, this time the companies are right.

“We’ve done a couple of deals, but they’re confidential. One investor doesn’t want to be identified.”

In these days of VC doom and gloom, why stay quiet?

“Our intellectual property is well fenced.”

No kidding. Too bad too many people fail to remember how the wild range of the Internet helped trigger the technology boom we enjoy the fruits of every day. Remember the wild, wild west?

“Other IP is being prosecuted.”

Lawyers are very much in demand — even in down times. But given all the fights over IP and patents, entrepreneurs do have to protect themselves.

“That’s our big competition — build or buy.”

Custom software and application developers are doing best when they show cost-conscious firms how to save money these days. But at bigger corporations, political in-fighting is still a problem.

“It’s drugs! It’s drugs! It’s all drugs! I’m not a drugs person!”

The Venture 2003 presentations did have a strong biotech and life science flavor, but look at what deals are getting done.

“If you aren’t making money — have fun!”

It’s hard to have fun going bankrupt.

“This investment is an opportunity like no other one available today.”

Well, well, well — the “dot com” days aren’t completely over.

“Call me in three weeks.”

At least it’s not six months.

“RTP is an incredible microcosm of opportunity.”

I wish I had said that.

“What’s the temperature around here?”

What am I, a thermometer? Barometer? Let’s say this – Mid-70s, and getting a little warmer. Certainly better than the “freeze” at Money & markets in January.

“Now that the war is over — well, at least the worst part apparently is over.”

Victory has yet to be declared, Saddam’s whereabouts are unknown, but the troops are starting to come home and the Iraqis are marching in the streets. Some are even yelling “Yankees, go home!” Isn’t freedom wonderful?

Rick Smith is managing editor of Local Tech Wire.