Editor’s note: “The Angel Connection” is a regular feature in WRAL Local Tech Wire. LTW asked consultant Bill Warner to share advice for entrepreneurs seeking angel investors and/or venture capital investment. He is chairman of the Triangle Accredited Capital Forum, an angel investor network with over 100 members throughout the Southeast.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – In reflecting on the recent Internet Summit in Research Triangle Park there were certainly an impressive group of entrepreneurs, investors and consultants presenting on a wide variety of topics. In addition to a delightful key note presentation by Bob Young, the conference covered such topics as the current state of the internet markets, as well as the future of the SaaS, email marketing, blogging, search engine, ecommerce, mobile internet, and social networking businesses. Many related topics about venture capital, internet law, internet infrastructure and internet marketing rounded out the conference with an overall comprehensive look at the state of internet-based businesses.

However, it struck me how different this group of people is from the comparable group of people who were presenting as little as eight years ago. During the dot.com era of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, there certainly was as much enthusiasm as we saw at this Internet Summit, but the business maturity of the presenters at that time was far less than today.

In the dot.com era, we would have heard about how “cool” the internet is and what the possibilities are for reaching consumers and collaboration, but not much on why any of it made business sense. Yet, these companies got millions of dollars to try out their ideas; signed on the backs of napkins over a beer at the bar.

At this Internet Summit, the discussions and presentations were distinctly different from the dot.com era:

• We heard about successful business models instead of business dreams.
• They presented where internet commerce is today in dollars and cents instead of the assertions that it will be billions someday.
• We got information on what works and what doesn’t work in internet marketing and blogging instead of claims that everything works.
• Entrepreneurs talked about how revenue traction is effectively achieved instead of boasting that the world would beat a path to their doors.
• Venture capitalists were discussing quantifiable markets and revenue models that work and had solid opinions on what makes business sense instead of clamoring to write checks.
• The black cloak was taken off of email marketing with a very real perspective as to why it makes sense today, instead of glossing over its simplicity.
• We heard about the details of what makes the SaaS model effective and the solutions to the real issues of successfully deploying the infrastructure and achieving cost effective marketing and sales programs instead of words about moving to the ASP model because it is cheaper.
• They presented solid business rationale for mobile applications and the outlook for new mobile technologies instead of explaining how cool ringtones are.
• The realities of social networking were presented including a balanced view of this delicate business model instead of projections about the wonderful world of collaboration.
• We got the down-to-earth realities about the future of search engine businesses were presented in a very candid and realistic way instead of the techno-geek talk of the dot.com era.

There was a distinct absence of the unrealistic zealots of the dot.com era. Where did they go? Heck, many of the people we saw at the Internet Summit were some of the very same people who made the outrageous claims during the dot.com era. They look older now. They sound like business people with a purpose. They make sense.

Then it dawned on me. Many of the entrepreneurs of the dot.com era have grown up and are now adults in the business world. They have learned a great deal from their experiences, regardless of success or failure. They are seasoned and thoughtful business people who absolutely know the ins and outs of their businesses. They are well connected to their industries and know exactly how their business models work, know what’s wrong with them and have innovative ideas on how to fix them.

Out of the ashes of the dot.com era has come a powerful breed of internet business professionals that know how to build successful internet-based businesses. In fact, they are teaching others as they lead their companies and mentor other entrepreneurs in the community. We are not in Kansas anymore. You can have much greater confidence that this industry is now being led by some of the brightest, energetic and insightful business professionals in America.

About the author: Bill Warner is the managing partner of Paladin and Associates, a business consulting firm in the Research Triangle Park area of central North Carolina, and is the chairman of the Triangle Accredited Capital Forum, an angel investor network with over one hundred members throughout the southeast.