ASHEVILLE,Two angel investors in western North Carolina have chipped in on a planned $2 million first round for a South Carolina-based geographic information system (GIS) company.

The deal follows the first venture pitch meeting held by the loose-knit Blue Ridge Angel Investors Network (BRAIN) in March, when three startups made presentations to potential investors, says Jim Roberts, executive director of BRAIN and the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurial Council.

Both the angel network and the entrepreneurial organization are coordinated by AdvantageWest, a regional economic development agency in western North Carolina. Officials are trying to encourage the development of more technology startups in the area to create more home-grown jobs, and they says these initial investments show that the networking and educational events are beginning to pay off.

“We’re one for one, having generated an investment from our first meeting,” Roberts says. “We see this as a proof of concept; this is everything we hope to accomplish. We hope this is the tipping point toward more good things.”

The beneficiary of the investments is Navigational Sciences of Charleston, SC, a three-year-old company that is developing a global asset tracking system for ships and cargo containers using two-way satellites and wireless communication networks.

NavSci President and Chief Executive Eric Dobson says that the BRAIN money is part of a $2 million funding round that he hopes to complete in the next two months. The funds will help the company complete the development of its products. NavSci is working with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on wireless technologies and is creating a GIS internally, he says.

Expanding into Asheville

“There’s a fairly well established market for asset tracking along highways, but what is missing is a robust tracking system inside ports,” Dobson says. “Our communication system provides container management, port management and shipping management.”

The company is demonstrating its products to “a few key companies,” such as shipping lines, defense contractors and port authorities, and hopes to line up customers and strategic partners in the coming months, he says. The products should be ready for market by fall 2004.

NavSci was allowed to present at the BRAIN meeting because the company is looking at building an operations center in Asheville in the next year or two, Dobson says. He says the location is attractive because it is near Oak Ridge, a new high-speed network computer was recently installed there and it is away from South Carolina’s hurricane-prone coastline.

“Charleston is our home, and we need to be here to work closely with the port, but we also need to have a network operations center that is outside the hurricane zone so all of our data and connections are secure,” he says.

BRAIN will hold another pitch meeting for investors next month and is planning a conference on entrepreneurism in September, Roberts says.

Navigational Sciences: