The fate of eConception's portfolio companies and the firm's departing staff

[Wed 1 pm Dec 20]-A bid for GrooveTone, limbo or progress for others

The paring back of eConception is accelerating the plans of both the companies in which it has invested and the staffers who will be leaving the firm.

Since reporting on Friday that the Internet incubator is reducing its staff and focusing its resources on just a few of its portfolio companies, NashvillePost.com has spoken with the heads of most of the companies and several of the departing eConception staffers. Here is what we learned about their plans, beginning with the companies:

* LogicMedia Group. The online public relations firm looks forward to continuing its close association with eConception, according to its president, Silas Deane. "We think it will be great for us to get additional resources and the full attention of the eConception folks," he said. LogicMedia is hiring at least one person from another of the companies.

* Weberize. The Internet consulting company is probably further along in its development than any other company associated with eConception. Jason Dinger, who heads the interactive agency, said that additional capital from eConception will be helpful. Otherwise, the effect of eConception's changes on Weberize should be small. Weberize has an independent board composed of people across the country and the company achieved profitability this fall. Weberize is attracting ever-larger cliens, as its very recent signing of the Caterpillar Financial account attests.

* BidExpress. This company, which provides commercial property owners and managers with contacts with numerous service providers, expects to reach positive cash flow by the second quarter of 2001, its president, Terry Tramel, said. "eConception still is committed to supporting us," he said. He said he has access to enough capital to get BidExpress to that point; only for expansion purposes would he expect to turn to other sources for investment capital. Currently, BidExpress operates in Nashville, Huntsville and Knoxville and is developing its services in Indianapolis and Evansville, Indiana and in San Antonio, Texas. BidExpress sifts through more than 74 types of service providers -- such as roofing, guttering, drywall, maintenance -- and selects pre-qualified, insured contractors in each market. The company gets paid by the contractor.

* GrooveTone.com. has a deal on the table to be sold to another local company, but probably will not know until late January if the deal will close, according to GrooveTone head Jim T. Graham. If a transaction is consummated, it will mean additional resources that will enable the online marketer of Americana music to fulfill its original mission of marketing music from various genres. The company no longer operates from the eConception office, though its inventory fulfillment operation is still based there.

* HelpNetworks. This online provider of fundraising services for not-for-profits and schools is analyzing potential partnerships and capital sources, Hays Waldrop of HelpNetworks said. This is his busiest and most important time of the year because the firm receives a percentage of the money raised when consumers buy goods from companies that have agreed to donate a portion of their sales proceeds to not-for-profits and schools. The technology requires very little manpower. Mr. Waldrop is focusing his efforts on getting not-for-profits and schools to convince their patrons and associates to use Help Networks.

* eLearnX and EyeZoom. Both companies are now mostly developed products without full-time staff assigned to them. eLearnX, an online continuing education project, has operated without a staff for six months and has been the subject of acquisition interest by at least one non-Nashville company. EyeZoom, which provides remote viewing of places such as day-care centers, also is not being marketed full-time. Its former head, Mike Haynes, now works with web developer Acymtech.

NashvillePost.com also spoke with several members of the eConception team who will be leaving the firm. Remaining at eConception are founders Joe Freedman and Adam Small, and Alan Wernick, vice president of finance. They will be joined by some support staff in supporting several of their current portfolio companies. They also will provide Internet business consulting for corporate clients.

Those departing include:

* Jody Lentz, vice president of "buzz." He could not be reached Wednesday morning. His voicemail says his last day at eConception will be January 12.

* Afshin Yazdian, vice president of business development. The former attorney with Waller, Lansden, Dortch & Davis joined eConception earlier this year.

* Brennan Mullin, director of strategic alliances. The California native is interviewing with more established Internet companies in California. He graduated from Vanderbilt's Owen Graduate School of Management last June.

* Jarratt Bell, director of business development. He said that he is speaking with several of the eConception portfolio companies about opportunities, but is not limiting his future career possibilities just to Internet companies.

* David Williamson, vice president of business operations, could not be reached, though it is understood that he, too, will be leaving eConception.

* Richard Ovesen, chief operations officer. NashvillePost.com was unable to reach the Australian-born technology expert but understands that he, too, is leaving eConception.