Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of reports about “Nuclear Winter 2009: Survival of the Fittest.”

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – How will companies survive in the coming “nuclear winter” as the world’s economy slows and capital remains tight? How will some companies grow in tight times?

“Expand, spend, and grow,” says Brian Hamilton, chief executive officer of Raleigh-based .

Hamilton, who co-founded the 2007 Inc 500 ($7 million in revenue) company a decade ago and is a pioneer in Web-based corporate financial reporting data, warns that now is not the time for executives to be timid. Seize the moment, he says.

Local Tech Wire will be publishing a series of interviews with executives and experts from a variety of fields in coming days. The goal: To share insight of leaders who either survived the fallout of the “nuclear winter” in 2001-2 when the “dot com” and telecom industry crashes wiped out thousands of companies and the wealth of millions or learned the lessons of that collapse and hopefully have prepared themselves to survive the emerging new one.

LTW’s Q&A with Hamilton:

A “nuclear winter” appears to have descended upon us as a New Year begins. But in the last such ‘winter” the Internet and Web 2.0 emerged as entrepreneurs seized upon tough times to deliver innovation and to grow their businesses or start new ones, not just survive.

1. What is your advice to fellow and would-be entrepreneurs entering the New Year – Conserve, cut or invest? None of these? Please explain.

Expand, spend, and grow. Historically, the best time to expand your business is during a recession, when competitors are cutting back. It is time to gain market share. Be careful on how you spend, however. Put money into growth expenses. Do not cut advertising or marketing expenses. Do not cut salespeople.

2. Who will be not just the survivors but the winners still standing when the recession ends sometime in 2009?

Over the long run, the markets are efficient. Businesses that provide less service and less value lose. Businesses with great products and great services grow. Stay focused on the customer. If you meet needs, you will win. Are you truly listening to your customers and making your products and services better based upon what you learn from them? Be fanatical about customer service.

3. What is your biggest fear/concern entering the New Year?

That people will not execute on “2” above.

4. Conversely, what are you most optimistic about?

I have complete faith in America and its people. I am optimistic about the free enterprise system as well, despite its flaws. The average recessionary cycle in the United States is short—about 11 months. The average expansionary cycle is longer—about 4 years. We will get through the current softening in the economy, and we will be just fine.

5. In what areas do you see opportunities for growth in 2009 – Means to help companies become more efficient? Enabling technology to help people do more with mobile devices? Investments in clean technology? Further evolution of the Web? Tell us what you think.

I think the best place to be is in technology that saves people time. Think of Google. Remember when everyone went to the library to do research? Now, the first place people stop is "Google". They save people tons of time. Ditto for Microsoft "Word", etc. If you save people time in your business model, your business will win.

6. If the IPO markets remained closed, how can life science, medical device and other capital-intensive startups best generate cash to keep investors onboard and the company doors open while pursing R&D?

The private equity markets will be big investors over the next few years as they try to take advantage of lower equity prices (which should make entrepreneurs slightly wary). The IPO market will rebound but it will take some time, perhaps a few years.

7. What do you believe will be executives’ biggest challenges this year – Financing? Growing sales? Balancing the cutting of costs with need for R&D as well as consumer support?

The biggest challenge is always to grow sales and contain costs. The root of growing sales is understanding needs; and the root of understanding needs is listening and making better products and services. Look at GM today as compared to, say, 30 years ago. Was GM listening to its customers 20-30-40 years ago? If they had been, would they be where they are today?

8. Will venture financing tighten, especially for startups, as recent surveys have indicated? If so, how do you (or) your clients (or) your portfolio companies adapt?

Yes, venture funding is tightening and it will continue to do so. You adapt by getting profitable with lightning speed. You must generate positive cash flow and not make excuses for not doing so. Look for alternative funding sources; venture capital is very expensive capital.

9. Do you believe off-shoring of jobs will increase this year? Please explain.

Yes, outsourcing is a "mega-trend" for the foreseeable future.

10. What advice would you offer to job seekers in such a tough environment?

Be creative, be persistent, once hired, be excellent at your job.