SCORE’s Mentors

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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the January 15, 2003

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Creating His Own Niche

Wei-hsing Wang started his own business, Niche USA,

when he was ready to turn 40. That was three years ago — three

difficult years — and he is beginning to see some results. This

week he announced that one of his products, ZoomerOne, a software

that can streamline students’ web browsing, is being marketed to

teachers

and schools through a county consortium. It’s one step toward Wang’s

goal which is nothing less than to be the Next Big Thing in the

information

business.

"For 150 years, people have been trying to get information across

the barriers of time and space," says Wang, "and we want to

provide the faster, easier connections and offer people more freedom.

Our vision is to become `The Next Big Thing.’ Not to replace anything,

like TV did not replace radio, computer did not replace paper, but

the next big thing which will have a place in people’s life. We are

not in the browser market, nor the search engine market, but we

believe

we will see competition in the "zoomer" market. This is a new

domain.

To get this far, Wang has been able to tap Central New Jersey’s

resources

for small business. He attended the meetings of the New Jersey

Entrepreneurial

Network (NJEN), the New Jersey Entrepreneurs Forum (NJEF), and the

New Jersey Technology Council (NJTC). He took workshops given by

PriceWaterhouse

Coopers, Arthur Anderson, and Deloitte & Touche. He is an incubator

client of Randy Harmon of the Small Business Development Center’s

Technology Commercialization Center, and at Harmon’s suggestion he

signed up for a consultation with Rutgers MBA students — a

semester

long project that cost $2,000. To hone his speaking skills (and to

overcome his shyness) he joined the Princeton Toastmasters club. He

hired attorney David Sorin, then with Buchanan Ingersoll, now with

Hale & Dorr, to handle his legal affairs. Carl Giordano of Duane

Morris

& Heckscher is his patent attorney, and Tom Scott, of FRx Software

Corporation at Princeton Meadows Office Center, offered marketing

advice.

His best help, Wang says, came from SCORE, an organization of

volunteers

sponsored by the Princeton Chamber and supported by the federal

government.

His three SCORE mentors gave him some unusual advice — not to

seek outside investment from angels or venture capitalists, for

instance.

So far Wang has been surviving on support from three friends who are

silent partners. But he isn’t looking back, and in fact, he invites

other would-be entrepreneurs to join him. "Job security is a thing

of the past," he says. "I had observed how many people’s

careers

were being turned upside down by big companies’ re-organizing,

re-forming,

and re-sizing. These kinds of changes woke up many ladder-climbers,

me included. I would like to call on people with an entrepreneurial

spirit to step out of their comfort zone and join me."

Wang’s parents had come almost penniless from Shandong (known as the

home of Confucius) to Taiwan. His mother worked as a nurse and his

father became a plant manager. But they also started a small drugstore

business, and Wang and his older brother spent many hours helping

at the store.

Wang graduated from National Taiwan University in 1981 and has a Ph.D.

from Boston University in computer science. His master’s thesis was

in artificial intelligence, and his Ph.D. dissertation was in

performance

analysis of databases and networks. Something of a Renaissance man,

he also has in-depth knowledge about traditional Chinese culture and

is an accomplished harmonica player. He also has translated computer

science books and articles into Chinese. He and his wife, Victoria,

a programmer, live in Princeton and have two school-age children.

At AT&T Bell Labs Wang worked in intelligent network database systems

and wireless base stations, but one experience there helped him

realize

that he possessed abilities beyond technical expertise. During the

years that AT&T was fighting with MCI for market share, an executive

decreed that the researchers with PhDs must man the phone lines and

sell telephone services. "It was unbelievable," says Wang,

who is a normally a taciturn, shy person. "A room full of PhDs

on the telephone, selling. But I did well. I even won an award. And

I thought, maybe I can do this."

In 1995 he was the webmaster for AT&T’s best practices website.

The World Wide Web was young then. Netscape was still in pre-release,

Microsoft was not even involved in the Internet.

"I took a risk and gave up the big company life to join a small

California company, BroadVision," Wang says. Long working hours and

fire-line pressure did not seem to be a problem. Then he decided to

take more risk and start a virtual company with three long-time

friends

in New Jersey and California.

Three volunteer SCORE mentors — Ivan E. Becker, president of

Princeton’s

SCORE chapter 631, Gerald J. Bose, CEO of Intellilink Corporation

on Alexander Road, and Harch S. Gill, founder of PARS Environmental

on South Gold Drive — provided nuts-and-bolts experience.

"Wei-hsing

Wang is a very innovative individual," says Gill. "He has

developed what I believe to be innovative software that will benefit

both the web page users as well as web page vendors or sellers.

Wang’s mentors helped him work through his initial

business

plan. Wang ended up discarding his first idea — to sell a security

interface between retailers and credit card companies — in favor

of using the software to expedite web searches. "At SCORE we lead

people to think about certain ways of operating businesses," says

Becker. "My suggestion was to see if scientists would welcome

something that makes their jobs easier."

Wang’s current product has educational software for using the web

in a safer and/or smoother way. He and three silent partners wanted

to have "zoom" in the name, but many versions of it were

already

in use. He consulted with attorney Sorin on what name to choose and

came up with ZoomerOne.

He devised his logo based on the concepts that computers use binary

language and that the Chinese "yin and yang" was the earliest

binary system. "I drew the traditional yin yang circle but with

a piece missing, showing that we are trying to find a niche

market,"

says Wang.

He attended the NJEN and NJEF meetings and practiced his pitch.

"Modesty

is part of my character, but I realize that modesty does not help

business," he says. "So I have been trying to be more

outspoken

and have also joined the Princeton Toastmasters club."

ZoomerOne is now being deployed in several different ways. In a school

setting, it can collect information from multiple web sites based

on educational needs and teachers’ input, so the students will be

presented with the best material. Wang is working with the Princeton

Public Library so that cardholders can tap into the library’s

databases

from their home computers more easily. One version of ZoomerOne is

on trial with the University of Pennsylvania’s biochemistry

department,

and it can also be useful in company intranets, by allowing employees

to access data held by different departments.

"Web users today have a four-step process: select a search tool,

work with the search tool, try out the list of URLs, and work on each

page to locate the needed information," says Wang. "While

it is hard to skip any steps for an initial search for information,

repeating the same steps for updates is avoidable." He compares

today’s browsers to VCR players that play one page and then another.

In contrast, his tool is like a TiVo system, which uses artificial

intelligence to let the viewer select and eliminate material.

Wang further explains the concept of his software by noting that

Internet

searches are four dimensional. Web sites have depth, and search tools

can search on multiple sites with one keyword or concept. The third

dimension is when multiple search engines search on the same concept.

The fourth dimension is time, because web pages are changing

constantly.

Say you want to search quickly on Subject A for a particular audience,

Audience B. "If you search fast forward on all four dimensions,

you will get a million hits that no one can read. So we zoom in on

one area while keeping the audience in mind — say, science for

three to fifth graders, or biochemists involved in a certain research

area. We get quality, not quantity in our results."

Censorship is not involved, so this filtering software may please

librarians. "We are not keeping something out but only inviting

some web sites in," Wang says. The core technology can be

customized

for each audience, grade school students or biochemists. Experts

preselect

the sites to be used by the filtering software, and the company also

taps the expertise of Google.

Because the tool can differentiate between elements on a page, the

tool can also remove advertising, which pleases some school systems.

"Schools will pay extra to have ads removed," says Wang.

Another

way to make money would be to sell advertising to those who want a

narrowly defined audience who are frequent users of particular sites.

Still another option is to license the technology so a company can

define its own version of ZoomerOne, making sure that its own site

is included.

Wang is well aware of the difficulties involved in real time

monitoring

systems for personalized pages, a la Amazon.com Once you order

something

from Amazon.com, be it a math book or a babies’ picture book, Amazon

pigeon-holes you according to those parameters. "Once they put

the label on you, it’s hard to change the label. So buyers try to

put up a wall between themselves and the sellers by using false

identities.

Then the identities are hard to remember."

ZoomerOne works on many levels. Scientists at Penn are using it to

have a constant flow of data from the U.S. patent office, medical

databases, and journals. Instead of bookmarking seven sites and doing

regular serial searches, their search with Wang’s software takes one

word, goes seven places, and assembles the information.

Even the invisible web is accessible to ZoomerOne. On

U.S. 1’s website for instance, www.princetoninfo.com, the article

archives are on the visible web, but to get information about

forthcoming

events would require using a database on the invisible web.

When Wang started his business three years ago, his advisors told

him to avoid outside investment because — in this recession —

the valuations are very low. "If we can generate income, we can

survive," he says. "When you look at the whole economy, it

is not much better." So attending venture fairs does not rank

first on Wang’s list of priorities. "Between attending a venture

fair and keeping an appointment with someone who might be a paying

client, there is no choice," he says.

Similarly, his business plan is conservative, perhaps more

conservative

than the one drawn up by the Rutgers University Graduate School of

Management Consulting Team under the supervision of Michael Corridon.

Going through the consulting process with the MBA students opened

his eyes to all sorts of business factors that, as an engineer, he

had never encountered. But when the students presented a plan at the

end of the semester, it did not meet the approval of his SCORE

advisors.

Looks fine on paper, they said, but it makes assumptions that may

not come true.

Wang has an agreement with Dana George Wilson, coordinator of the

Mercer County Educational Technology Training Center (ETTC), a

grant-funded

program created by the New Jersey Department of Education. ETTC will

offer ZoomerOne to school districts at a special group rate. All

Mercer

County teachers now have access to ZoomerOne through a 60-day trial

program.

"We are delighted to take the initiative to make great technology

products available to schools in the county at the lowest group

rate,"

says Wilson. "Introducing ZoomerOne is the beginning. ETTC will

partner with more companies to provide more hardware and software

solutions to our schools."

Though Wang made all the "right" moves and consulted with

the right people, that has been offset by bad timing. His company

was launched in the midst of the "New Economy" and was hit

successively by the market crash, the 9-11 disaster, and the

accounting

crisis. "We started with founders’ support and had three very

tough years," he says.

But he has repositioned the company for the "old economy"

and is certainly not sorry he left the corporate world. His job might

not have lasted very much longer anyway. "Many of my friends who

worked in a big company thought it was a safe place, but it’s

not."

Says Wang: "Try living on a shoestring first, so you can survive.

Don’t buy big ads. Don’t buy banner ads. Don’t spend money without

the promise of payback."

Niche USA LLC, Box 147, Princeton 08542. Wei-hsing

Wang, owner. 609-688-9364; fax, 609-688-3470. Www.nicheusa.com

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SCORE’s Mentors

Born in Hungary, Ivan Becker immigrated to America as

a 16-year-old orphan, started a company as a division of a larger

firm, and ended up as CEO of a publicly traded $1.4 million plastic

extrusion firm, Blessings Corporation. With a Horatio Alger-like story

as his credential, he teaches graduate students at New York

University.

"I was an intrapreneur. I don’t care what the establishment says

about how to do business, because in my company, I was able to do

whatever I wanted as long as it made sense, and what I thought was

best was usually against what Harvard Business School taught."

Along with Harch Gill and Gerald Bose, Becker is a mentor for

Wei-hsing

Wang. Becker also mentors Tim Lefens, who has a business offering

visual arts for the severely challenged. This year Becker is the

president

of the Princeton chapter of SCORE (Service Corps of Retired

Executives),

housed at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce.

As the volunteer arm of the Small Business Administration, the

40-year-old

SCORE has 10,500 volunteer counselors in 389 chapters. As in SCORE’s

early days, the counselors have management and industry experience,

but now more and more people serve while they are still employed.

"SCORE is saying that it must become more conversant with modern

technology, and that not all the counselors should be retired,"

says Becker. "That we should recruit people who are working yet

willing to serve a business for the future." That’s hard. "Had

I been still working I would not have been able to commit to meetings

far ahead," says Becker.

Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE),

Chapter

631, 231 Rockingham Row, Princeton 08540. Ivan Becker, president.

609-520-1776; fax, 609-520-9107. Www.score.org


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