RALEIGH — Dennis Toothman, Jack Huisman and John Draper came to The TechExec at Grant Thornton’s sparkling new offices earlier this week with good stories to tell.

Let’s start with Huisman, the director of sales at web services startup StrikeIron.

You know you have something hot when you make a cold call to a top executive of a multibillion-dollar firm and get a call back.

“I looked up the executive’s name and number on the web site, called and left a message about who we are and what we do,” Huisman said. He broke into a huge smile when he added: “I checked my voice mail later and I had a message to call him back. He said: ‘Let’s talk.'”

Toothman, chief technical officer and founder of CipherOptics, has a lot to talk about. CipherOptics just received federal certification for its high-speed encryption device (see news item in Hot Off the Wire). And with a partner like Northrop Grumman, who can’t help but smile?

Financed with a $12 million B round closed last year and backed by such heavyweights as Kodiak Venture Partners, CipherOptics is making a strong play in the security market. Its niche is protecting data at gigabit speeds.

Protecting and preserving data is more important than ever in these post-Sept. 11 days.

Execs pay attention when the question is asked: “What would you do if your building didn’t exist tomorrow?”

Draper, meanwhile, is the man charged with revitalizing the North Carolina Technological Development Authority. Draper is positive and upbeat despite the challenge the new business incubator faces after being forced into bankruptcy by the loss of state support. He talks a lot about the First Flight Venture Center, new tenants, prospects for growth, and the NCTDA’s record of growing companies as well as jobs.

He’s making progress.

A ghostly presence

Ghosts of tech’s past showed up, too. When a corporate top gun found out I used to work at Interpath, he said: “You are just the person I want to see.” Not me, I assured him. Interpath and I parted ways way back in 1996. He plunged ahead with his story anyway.

Seems this business, which shall remain unnamed, still has a router stamped with an Interpath label in its basement. “The lights are still blinking,” he said.

For those who don’t know, Interpath was one of the first commercial Internet Service Providers in the region, launching on — no joke — April 1, 1994 with technology and know-how (including some key personnel) from MCNC. But Interpath long ago ceased operating as an ISP. (It’s now part of USinternetworks.)

When the router is unplugged, maybe the CEO will get a phone call.

Names and faces

If you haven’t met Emily Toone, chief executive officer and founder of TPS, you are in for a treat when the opportunity occurs. A former technical writer, Emily set out on her own by founding TPS (www.t-p.s.com) in 1993. Its focus is documentation, training and content management, and TPS has flourished under the tutelage of the highly motivated mother of three. Her enthusiasm is infectious. By the way, Emily also is an author, having written a travel book, Spirits, Shoals, & Shipwrecks, a Guide to Bald Head Island, and a novel, Cape Fear’s Haunting Women. She donates all proceeds to a shelter for battered women.

Emily accompanied Linda Markus Daniels, one of RTP’s best known female entrepreneurs. Linda and husband Walter founded Daniels & Daniels in 1982 with an emphasis on high tech firms. It’s now Daniels, Daniels & Verdonik.

Research Triangle’s Jeff LeRose has a lot to talk about these days. The CryptoStick is getting global distribution outlets, and sales of the combo encryption-compression UBS device are growing.

Dave Jones, CEO of Peak 10, was all smiles as he made the rounds. Jones burns up a lot of time on the road every week traveling between the company’s four data centers in RTP, Charlotte, Jacksonville and Tampa, where he meets with his staffs, clients and prospects. Growth continues to be strong, he says, As for when Peak 10 might disclose where a fifth data center might be, stay tuned —

Andrew Billingsley, part of the business team at the Computer Training Unit at NSCU, came directly from the conclusion of a security seminar that the Continuing and Professional Education group put on for state, local, education and other officials. A big crowd and a strong lineup of presenters provide just another snapshot of just how out the security and business continuity sectors are. Dennis Kekas, interim director of Centennial Campus and a respected network developer, tuned in for Andrew’s de-brief.

Time Warner Cable’s Randall Fraser, vice president of government affairs, and Tom Lawrence, were making the rounds. Randall is extremely pleased with the progress TWC is making in the local telephony business. Noting that the Raleigh market was the second in the country to get TWC’s digital phone service, he says sales are strong and more North Carolina markets will be coming online soon. Tom is still best known to most people in the Triangle as a veteran news reporter at WRAL Channel 5. He carved out a full-time technology beat at WRAL a decade ago and helped put a friendly, informative face on the tech scene as it exploded over the next six years. Many people involved in tech go out of the way any time they see him to shake his hand — not seeking air time but to just say “thanks” for a job well done. Not many reporters are ever accorded that kind of respect. Two others come to mind immediately — LTW’s own Allan Maurer and The N&O’s David Rani.

Mike McGuire, who leads Grant Thornton operations in the Triangle, looked like a proud papa as he and his business development guru Tim Tompkins played host to the event. The Grant Thornton crew was treated to dinner later at The Angus Barn.

Richard Brown of Aurora Funds, John Cambier of MCNC Research & Development Institute plus Ben Brooks and Jason Caplain of Southern Capitol Ventures all had reasons to smile. Business is good and deals are in the pipeline, they say. At Aurora, one of its investments — Blackboard — recently went public and another investment — Merix — is red hot. MCNC invested in Chorus two weeks ago. “We are seeing a bunch of deals,” Cambier says.

David Motsinger, chief technology officer at Covelight Systems, had reason to be positive as well as he talked with Cambier. Covelight has recently introduced its big play in the security market. The company was cited by more than one person at the event as being one to watch.

Another company that may be poised to catch a wave is Inlet Technologies. Neal Page, the company’s CEO, has plenty to talk about since his firm deals with high definition television content processing. Neal, a computer engineering graduate from NCSU, has been involved in multimedia for more than 20 years.

Also seen and heard

If you need to know something about the Internet or high tech’s evolution in the Triangle, Paul Jones of UNC and ibiblio.org, the “People’s Library”, is a key person to ask. Willis Lumpkin, chief financial officer at Geomagic, is stepping down in the near future — Gino Bettinsoli of Trebax Software says “Things are picking up this year” — Jim Black of Nvidia made the rounds talking about the firm’s game cards and visual computing technology. The company has an office in Durham. On Thursday, Nvidia announced that Fujitsu Siemans Computers is incorporating Nvidia graphics solutions in new PCs for higher design performance capabilities.

A note of thanks

TechExec is a joint venture between LTW and ClearImage. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the hard work put in by ClearImage’s Dave Murray and his staff, along with Tompkins. We’re striving to make the TechExec an event where executives can get together for a few hours of networking with their peers with no hassles.

Among the companies represented but not already mentioned were: IBM, Icagen, Springboard Managed Hosting, 919 Marketing, FormRouter, Expression Analysis, Kilpatrick Stockton, the NC Biotechnology Center, Oriel Therapeutics, Pozen, Quintiles, RBC Centura, Red Hat, Synthematix, WindChannel, SAS, NC State, Centennial Campus, RTPTV and Carolina Newswire.

Our sponsors include SAS, Grant Thornton, Peak 10, Cisco, Mobile Reach and Southern Capitol Ventures. We’ll have at least two other events later this year. Stay tuned.