Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of interviews with tech executives in the Carolinas and Georgia about how companies can survive the “nuclear winter” of 2009.

DURHAM, N.C. — Dennis Dougherty, dean of venture capitalists in the Southeast, isn’t ready to write off the possibility of economic recovery in 2009. But the Intersouth Partners veteran does believe that the economic havoc of the past year could have a long-term impact on "exits” for venture-backed startup companies.

IPOs were as scarce in 2008 as a Republican victory in the November elections. And Dougherty wonders if IPOs will ever be the rage they were during the "dot com” boom of the late 1990s and succeeding years.

“What if there was never an IPO market again?” Dougherty said in an interview with LTW.

“Companies would be required to grow more slowly, to merge with peers and to form partnerships sooner with bigger companies. All this might have a dampening effect on deal values and maybe exit values. But, it might also have a positive effect on the number of products that make it to the market.

“At the end of the day, we all seek to build real companies that make real products,” he added “How many biotech companies that went public in the last 20 years are still independent and selling products? Not many.”

The entire Q&A interview with Dougherty:

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.

All the above. First, make sure that you can make it on the cash you have or KNOW you will generate. Then be prepared to take advantage of unique opportunities that always arrive during changing times.

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

See 1. Surviving is a form of winning when your peers and competitors give up. However, if there is a really good opportunity, find a way to make it happen.

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

That our political leaders who don’t know what to do will convince the public that they have a solution and act for political expediency. This could result in an outcome worse than 1931.

And, No. 2" A major terrorist event in the U.S. could seriously destabilize an already very fragile economy.

Conversely, what are you most optimistic about?

That there is a lot of pent-up cash ready to be spent or invested. Americans will begin to spend again once they are convinced that Washington has a workable plan for a broad-based recovery.

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.

Biotechnology will lead the way. Biotech’s first “dance with the stars” was in the late ’80’s. Here we are, 20 years later, and the biotech dream which was just around the corner is just now being realized. Clean tech will likewise take time and won’t be any panacea for 2009.

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?

What if there was never a IPO market again? Companies would be required to grow more slowly, to merge with peers and to form partnerships sooner with bigger companies. All this might have a dampening effect on deal values and maybe exit values. But, it might also have a positive effect on the number of products that make it to the market. At the end of the day, we all seek to build real companies that make real products. How many biotech companies that went public in the last 20 years are still independent and selling products? Not many.

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?

Financing, which includes balancing important cost-cutting measures with smart R&D initiatives.

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, especially for startups. Companies should not spend money they don’t have. This means do not spend in a way that will require your company to raise outside financing, including bank borrowings, in the next 15 months. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t plan to raise outside capital, but if you must raise money to survive, it may not be available or only at a alarming cost. If a company has already charted a course that requires financing, create a plan that is highly capital-efficient, as this not only reduces dilution, but will be applauded by new investors. In tough times, access to funds is much more important than the cost of funds. If you are offered financing, take it.

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

Stay in school.