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

CARY, N.C. — Stephen Wiehe has seen the best and the worst of the "dot com" boom and burst, having joined SciQuest in 2001, when the company was a startup that had gone public in 1999. In 2003, it needed to change course and went private.

SciQuest not only transformed its finances, it also changed focus with an emphasis on software-as-a-service (SaaS). Becoming a provider of online procurement services, the company emerged from its inside-out transformation to become a global leader in the SaaS marketplace.

SciQuest, Wiehe believes, found a value proposition in its SaaS model that customers needed – increased efficiencies, savings, and many other values that users could employ to improve bottom lines.

Wiehe, who also is chairman of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development, says other entrepreneurs and companies can learn from the SciQuest example.

"Making sure you are delivering increasing value to your customers should be something everyone is focusing on regardless of size and maturity of the business," he said.

"When we started the turn-around of SciQuest, many people thought we were crazy. We knew that if we focused on delivering clear, measureable, long-term customer value, we would succeed; the only question was to what degree."

The complete Q&A with Wiehe, who was North Carolina Technology Association "21 Award" winner in 2008, follows:

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.

Conserve and invest. A lot of people are talking about cutting back on their spending and investing. I guess SciQuest is a bit different. When the economy was strong, we weren’t into big spending, so now there isn’t that much to cut. As long as you believe your market opportunity is rational, tangible and realizable, I would recommend continuing to execute, but to invest conservatively and wisely.

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

Companies and organizations that deliver real, tangible value to their customers at a fair price.

What is your biggest fear/concern entering the new year?

I wonder/worry about what we don’t see. We can solve most problems as long as we can see and understand them. If you can’t see problems, it’s really hard to overcome them.

Conversely, what are you most optimistic about?

The U.S. economy. It’s going through a tough time right now, but it will turn around. There will be a lot of opportunity for the right people in the right place when it does. Just as the market and economy were over-bought the last couple of years, I would suggest that right now, it’s over-sold and overly pessimistic. As to when it turns around, my guess is late ’09, early ’10.

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.

We see a great deal of opportunity for our products and services. SciQuest helps organizations save money and become more efficient by gaining insight into and managing their spend. Yes, the sales process will be harder and probably longer, but as long as you can show significant value to your customers, you have an opportunity. As to specific sectors, I believe there is a great long-term opportunity for green technology, but I believe it’s too early. It’s like the first wave of the Web; a lot of money was invested in the space, but it was the second generation where it really evolved into a real and rational market.

If the IPO markets remain 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?

SaaS solutions allow organizations of all sizes to take advantage of enterprise solutions. With SciQuest, even small organizations can take advantage of technology to help them get more out of every dollar, to ensure they are buying products at the best prices and taking advantage of GPO discounts.

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?

It really depends on the maturity phase of the business. For startups, it will probably be financing, and for mature companies, the challenges will be different. Having said that, I think all companies must focus significant effort and attention on delivering real and significant value to their customers. In growth times, it’s easier to start and expand a company with a lower customer-value proposition. In tighter economic times, customers will be forced to evaluate if they are getting real value for their dollars. Making sure you are delivering increasing value to your customers should be something everyone is focusing on regardless of size and maturity of the business. When we started the turn-around of SciQuest, many people thought we were crazy. We knew that if we focused on delivering clear, measureable, long-term customer value, we would succeed. The only question was to what degree.

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?

I believe it will. Since SciQuest is cash-flow positive, it’s less of a focus for us. Having said that, we still watch our headcount and business activities closely, just as if we were burning cash; the only difference is our bank balance is going up rather than down.

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

I believe off-shoring will decline in the coming years. SciQuest has used offshore development resources since 2002. After trying it for several years, we found that we can build better products more quickly and at the same or lower overall cost with Triangle-based staff than offshore resources. Too many companies (us included) originally focused on just the labor costs when there are so many other factors that must be included: product quality, speed to market, and flexibility to name a few.

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

There is always a job market for "great talent." It may take time, but there is a market. If you aren’t having luck getting hired and you have been at it for a while, I’d suggest refocusing your job search, improving your skills and/or realigning your expectations to become the "great talent" organizations seek.