Editor’s note: Charlotte Beat is a regular feature on Wednesdays.After a visit last week by Richard Florida, author of “The Rise of the Creative Class,” Charlotteans were wondering whether being such a banking town prevents the city from nurturing a creative class.

Yet it was the city’s pro-business environment and UNC Charlotte’s nurturing of spin-off companies begun by its faculty that attracted two Asian researchers to the university who are hoping to develop the first “smart” Internet security systems.

Yuliang Zheng and Lawrence Teo came to UNC Charlotte in August 2001 from Monash University in Australia. Zheng, 41, joined the faculty of the College of Information Technology as a professor in the Department of Software and Information Systems. He asked Teo, 24, if he’d like to join him in the U.S., and Teo said yes without even seeing the campus. He is now working on his Ph.D. in information security. He has already been widely published and is an expert in open source technologies.

Named after a tough tree

Last September, Zheng and Teo formed Calyptix Security Corporation to offer protection for companies’ information assets using new and innovative technologies based on cryptography and network security. The name Calyptix is taken from the scientific name for the red ironbark, among the toughest of the hardwood trees. Although the firm is less than a year old, it was chosen as one of five UNC Charlotte spin-offs to present its business plan at the Five Ventures Conference held on campus last month.

So why Charlotte and its university?

Says Zheng, “I was encouraged by the university’s progressive policy in nurturing and supporting spin-offs. And it is moving quickly towards becoming a research-oriented university. No doubt it has huge potential.”

Adds Teo, “There are more opportunities here for business and research than in Melbourne. There’s certainly more opportunities for funding. Charlotte is more conducive to business.”

A yen for a business of their own

Both men are researchers at heart, but both also share an entrepreneurial drive that was born even before they came to Charlotte. “We want to see the fruits of our research used in the real world,” Teo says. “And I like trying out new things.”

According to Zheng, who has several patents and is often called “the Father of Signcryption Technology,” the IT security market is expected to grow to $45 billion by 2006. He and Teo are currently working on developing two products – Access Enforcer, a complementary system to firewalls and intrusion detection systems, and the Intrusion Detector, an IT security solution.

Being named a Five Ventures finalist gave Calyptix some needed publicity, plus access to event sponsors’ expertise in such areas as funding, law, business plan development and marketing.

Like many start-ups, Teo says their greatest need is funding. “We need to add another person with business acumen,” he says. “We both come from the research end, and we need someone with a different perspective.”

Names and faces:

When Duncan Moore spoke at UNC Charlotte last week, the University of Rochester professor and former tech advisor in the Clinton Administration talked about a new worry facing policymakers. No, not bioterrorism attacks or computer viruses or even a lack of money. No, the worry is about a lack of U.S. scientists and engineers. Seems American colleges are good at graduating folks with law degrees and majors in parks and recreation management, but not in the sciences. In fact, the number of science and engineering graduates is exploding everywhere else around the globe and will soon exceed the number of their American counterparts. Moore and Michael Fiddy, director of the Center for Optoelectronics at UNC Charlotte, share that concern and discovered that they’d both like to address it by impacting education about science in grades K-12. “I am sure that we’ll get him here again, and meanwhile we will try to develop some collaborations,” Fiddy says. —

Charlotte-based InfoVision’s TechExpo is Thursday at the Charlotte Merchandise Mart starting at 8 AM. A full-day program includes speakers on a variety of tech issues as well as product demonstrations. Details: www.infov.com/techexpo/index.htm

Mark your calendar for Wednesday, May 14, for a daylong conference sponsored by NCEITA and the Metrolina Entrepreneurial Council. “TopTech 2003: N.C. Innovation/Global Opportunities” will feature representatives from the public and private sectors speaking on public policy issues, market opportunities, R&D and government initiatives. The event, which will also include networking opportunities, will be held on the UNC Charlotte campus. To register, or for more information, visit www.nceita.org