On one of the last Saturdays of the summer sunbathers at beaches all along the Jersey Shore were treated to what first appeared to be a colorful aerial act of some kind. From a couple of miles away, it looked like a kite flying exhibition. But it was moving, south to north. As it came closer, the message became clear: Comcast was promoting its services to business owners in a big way. No fewer than six little airplanes were towing enormous signs advertising Comcast Business Class.

Business Class is the name the company has just chosen to brand its offerings to small businesses, which it is packaging in just the same way that it packaged its consumer products. Small businesses are being urged to sign up for a trifecta of services — phone, Internet, and television — for one price, starting at $99 for one phone line, a beginner-speed Internet connection, and basic cable television.

“We’ve made a major push for this year for the small and mid-size business market,” says Gary Williams, Comcast’s regional vice president for business services. The company has taken 6,000 square feet of additional space in Windsor Corporate Park, its New Jersey headquarters, and has embarked on an ambitious hiring program, seeking especially salespeople and customer service reps. “We’ve grown the small business team by a good 100 percent in the past 18 months,” he says. The company refuses to divulge the exact number of employees in its New Jersey small business unit, but says that it plans to up the roll by some 50 percent or more this year.

“We define small business as anywhere from one to twenty employees,” says Williams, a Rutgers alumnus (Class of 1987), who joined Comcast in 2000 after working in the telecommunications industry, where his experience included selling AT&T telecom equipment to New York Telephone.

The small business market is now served almost entirely by Verizon, sometimes through re-sellers, says Williams. His company is now gearing up to grab a share of the market. It is limited, however, to customers whose businesses are located in areas where Comcast is already providing television and Internet. In those 339 New Jersey towns, the company can probably provide business services, either by installing its equipment in office building telecom closets or, if demand warrants, laying new wires.

Williams indicates that prices for business telecom and media services to small business could come down as a result of Comcast’s vigorous entry into the field. “Before, there was never really any competition,” he says. Still, he says, there is room to make money, even at the $99 a month price point. “We’re doing it at a price that’s reasonable,” he says. “We need to price above margin.”

Comcast is giving a one, two, or three year price guarantee to its business customers, ensuring that they will not see increases in the near future.

So far, says Williams, many customers have been in the service industries — everything from doctors’ offices to bars. The inclusion of television is a plus for many businesses, he says, offering entertainment to patients in waiting rooms or a product showcase for retailers.

Comcast’s small business division offers up to eight phone lines, Internet speeds up to 16 Mbps — at a premium over the basic 8 Mbps speed — and extras, including free web hosting for up to three web pages.

Each phone line, above the first, adds $39.95 to the package price. Higher Internet speeds and more television stations also add to the price.

Still working hard to win over consumers to its bundled media package (there was a new Wii game machine waiting for anyone who signed up for premium in-home service toward the end of the summer), Comcast, as lots and lots of airplane banners make clear, is casting its virtual net further afield, and hoping to become a real competitor to Verizon in the office, as well as in the home.

Comcast (CMCSA), 50 Millstone Road, Windsor Corporate Park, Building 300, Suite 200, Cranbury 08512; 732-935-5410; fax, 732-935-5572. Gary Williams, regional vice president, business services. Home page: www.comcast.com.

Public Offering

MISTRAS Holdings Group/Physical Acoustics Corp., 195 Clarksville Road, Princeton Junction 08550; 609-716-4000; fax, 609-716-0706. Sotirios Vahaviolos Ph.D., president and CEO. www.pacndt.com.

Mistras Group, an engineering company that was founded in Princeton Junction 30 years ago, and has grown to a 1,700-employee operation with 34 offices around the world, is going public. Its initial application to the SEC for listing on the New York Stock Exchange has been filed and reviewed, and the company expects to begin trading in approximately October. The offering is expected to raise some $172 million.

“It’s not a good time,” says Sotirios Vahaviolos, founder of Mistras, which began its life as Physical Acoustics. But, he explains, the company’s equity investors “want to get some of their money.” A Greek immigrant and graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson (Class of 1970), Vahaviolos controls a majority interest in the company, his employees are part owners, and outside investors have about a 33 percent interest.

In an interview with U.S. 1’s Barbara Fox, published in the newspaper’s August 7, 2002 issue, Vahaviolos, a former AT&T employee, explained why he had started his own company.

“Before the breakup the old AT&T was the greatest company ever created. It paid for my education and made me a better person. But you could not survive there if you were a loner. They wanted team players. I wanted to create a more nimble Bell Labs, to make decisions more quickly, without all of the signatures, and be more market driven.”

Mistras provides nondestructive testing services for the oil and gas, aerospace and defense, transportation, nuclear power, pharmaceuticals and food processing industries.

Nondestructive testing is the examination of infrastructure to identify any defects and to optimize safety and operating performance without affecting the usefulness of the assets.

NDT is seen as an alternative to many traditional inspection techniques, which may require dismantling equipment or shutting down a plant.

Mistras provides outsourced NDT inspection services, as well as software for capturing, analyzing, storing, and monitoring inspection data. Its clients include Boeing, BP PLC, Dow Chemical, and General Electric.

Mistras employees work around the clock on behalf of its clients, using software and the Internet to monitor the structural integrity of bridges, oil tankers, power plants, rail cars, tank lines, offshore welding platforms, and all manner of industrial machinery in real time,

The company plans to use the proceeds of its initial public offering for general corporate purposes, including working capital, and possible acquisitions.

In fiscal 2007, the company reported income available to common shareholders of $1.9 million on revenue of $122.2 million. This compares with a loss of $2.4 million on sales of $93.7 million in fiscal 2006.

Credit Suisse, JPMorgan, Robert W. Baird & Co. and Banc of America Securities LLC are underwriting the offering.

New in Town

Ascent Scientific Ltd., 263 Wall Street, Princeton 08540; 609-356-5109; fax, 609-228-6191. Paula Klockner, U.S. office manager. Home page: www.ascentscientific.com.

Ascent Scientific, a custom chemistry company with global headquarters in the United Kingdom, has opened an office on Wall Street. This office will provide service to the company’s customers in the United States.

Paula Klockner, whose title is U.S. corporate office manager, is heading up this office.

The company offers a range of high receptor ligands, or molecules with an affinity to bind to a second atom or molecule, and synthetic chemistry services that, according to its website, are priced “so low that as many researchers as possible will be able to afford them.”

The ligand range includes receptor ligands and signalling tools in research areas such as glutamate, GABA, ion channels, cannabinoids, opioids, 5-HT and more.

The chemistry service provides cost-effective custom synthesis of organic molecules, fluorescent labels, standards & references, stable isotope labels, and receptor ligands.

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