Zirius Inc., a Research Park computer networking firm specializing in online backup, system tools, and subscription services, has been acquired by New York-based Topaz Group and renamed SureTech. The new name also brings a new direction and a new president.
Topaz and SureTech are the brainchildren of Alberto Molina, who now heads up the enterprise. Born in Colombia, Molina came to Rhode Island when he was 3 years old, when his father attended Brown to earn his Ph.D. in biomechanical engineering. Molina’s mother also attended Brown, where she earned a master’s degree in genetics.
Molina himself, however, was drawn not to science, but to theater. After graduating from Yale in 1993 he set off for New York to run his own theater company.
It was not a success. “That obviously didn’t make money,” he says.
But the temping market was good in New York and the jobs to which he was assigned got him familiar with offices and corporate styles. Soon he found himself building a database for Schlumberger, training people to work in web applications, and, before the Internet bubble popped, he worked for iTurf.com, a highly popular teen culture website that went out of business in 2001.
With acting out of his plans (if not fully out of his blood), Molina wanted to work in computer technology. He and a partner started Triserve in 2002 to do large-scale media applications. The company became Topaz in 2003.
Within a few years Molina had built a solid customer base, and expanded the number and types of web technology he could provide simply because people kept asking him: “Hey, you do tech — can you help me out?” He quickly realized the need for businesses to have technicians on demand, but not on the payroll. Almost by accident, he says, he understood his new business model should be providing on-call service to clients who are either unable to have an IT department in-house.
He settled in Princeton less by accident. His wife, Dana, is a Princeton native and they wanted to live near her family. But Molina also thanks Einstein’s Alley, the Kingston-based advocacy group whose mission partly is to promote high-tech businesses in the Princeton area. “I have to give props to John Romanowich because he created an atmosphere that’s great for entrepreneurs and to Congressman Rush Holt for developing Einstein’s Alley,” he says. “I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Romanowich, a member of Einstein’s Alley, is president and CEO of SightLogix, an Alexander Road-based firm that develops high-tech security systems for large outdoor areas.
In his search for ways to expand his business in the area, Molina found Zirius, owned by David Henry. He established SureTech as an entity under the umbrella of Topaz, bought Henry’s “nice roster of clients,” and kept Henry on to work with his former clients. The marriage, he says, is the combination of Henry’s ability to do sales and marketing and his own technical skills.
The current economic climate is good for a business like SureTech, says Molina. Companies are starting to realize that there is a great value in finding a middle ground between expensive web applications and freebies like Google. Back in the early 1990s, he says, few companies had the money for powerful new information technology platforms like Microsoft Exchange (the E-mail, calendar, and unified message software). Those who could afford the tens of thousands of dollars it took to buy it often had no money to expand it (companies heavy with personnel often require multiple versions of Exchange) or no money to pay anyone who could maintain it.
But then along came websites like Google, which offer free business E-mails and advanced (still free) calendar builders, word processing capabilities, and a host of other office-friendly services. And while it for a time seemed a no-brainer that companies would forgo the purchase, registration, subscription fees, and staffing needs required by information systems in favor of the freebies, companies began to find that they had no idea what they were doing. High price tags at least came with technical support; free programs leave you out on your own.
Those companies starting to realize the need for qualified IT service providers are the ones Molina targets. But, he says, he wants to keep a level head about it. “We don’t want to maximize performance to the Nth degree because then it becomes prohibitive,” he says. Rather, he wants to maintain a balance between performance, flexibility, security, and cost. Ultimately, the goal of any task, he says, is to find what each client needs and to frame it among available programs in order to wed need with reason.
SureTech will continue to provide online back-up services for Zirius’ former clients, but Molina says he wants to zero in on medium-size businesses and help them establish more efficient computer systems. TerraCycle, the Trenton-based manufacturer of goods and chemicals made from recycled materials, is one of his clients and an ideal business for him to partner with. TerraCycle, he says, offers many possibilities for expansion through its product line and will need continuing tech support.
SureTech, 332 Wall Street, Princeton 08540; 609-920-0331; fax, 609-228-7464. Alberto Molina, owner. Home page: www.suretech.com.