Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of interviews with top high-tech community leaders in the Carolinas and Georgia about how to grow new businesses and keep existing ones alive in the touch economy expected for 2009.

GREENVILLE, S.C. — As a venture capitalist, economic developer and entrepreneur, John Warner wears many hats as the “Swamp Fox.” And Warner says executives must be ready to capitalize on opportunities a crises presents.

“Never waste a good crisis,” Warner told Local Tech Wire. “Business models proven in challenging financial times like these can explode when conditions improve.”

Warner not only puts on the “InnoVenture” venture capital and entrepreneurship program each year in Greenville, but also has organized and directs the “Swamp Fox” community of business leaders and entrepreneurs seeking to grow high tech in South Carolina. He also recently merged his own company with Jute Networks in Asheville, N.C. Jute is focused on social networking.

LTW’s Q&A with Warner:

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

Never waste a good crisis. Listen closely to your customers, invest aggressively where you add value, and cut aggressively where you don’t. Business models proven in challenging financial times like these can explode when conditions improve.

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

People who are providing a solution to what customers must do but for which they do not have a great option today will be winners, just like they always are. The half-lives of solutions in search of problems are considerably shorter today than in better times.

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

Running out of cash. Run out of cash, and the game is over.

Conversely, what are you most optimistic about?

Large numbers of talented people are being launched out of organizations that are imploding. The aftermath of the greatest economic crisis of our lifetimes will be the greatest entrepreneurial explosion of our lifetimes.

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.

Anything that provides a quantum leap in improvement is something customers must do. All the categories you listed will have ecstatic winners and squealing pigs. Winners are not based on technology. Winners are based on using technology to provide solutions to challenging problems that customers are willing to pay to solve.

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

Look for early adopter corporate customers in whose interest it is to help you complete the prototype and the first commercial version of your product. Early adopter customers are by far the largest sources of risk capital, and they are non-dilutive to equity.

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?

Profitable, sustainable growth through the crisis. Convincing the most talented people you have now or can find to be on board your company because this is going to be one heck of a ride.

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?

Professionally managed venture capital in the Southeast has practically disappeared for startups as VCs hoard their capital for their existing portfolio. You adapt by being creative and tenacious in finding other sources of the resources you need to be successful.

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

Sure it will. The world is flat, so business will settle in locations that excel in some factor that is essential for competitiveness. Companies that are intensely cost-driven will continue to move jobs to low-cost locations. The world is flat; but the world is flat in both directions. There are enormous opportunities in global markets where the factors of competitiveness favor us.

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

Start your own company and take charge of your own destiny. The first place to look is the company that just let you go. They still have to get the job done that you used to do somehow, and they are probably looking to outsource that somehow. There are probably others like them, too. If you can make it in today’s environment, you’ll excel with the sun comes back out. Carpe diem.

(In other words, seize the day.)