HIGH-TECH BUSINESS

High-technology businesses are those enterprises engaged in securing growth and revenue from industry sectors characterized by rapidly changing and advanced technology. In fact, advanced technology has come to be utilized in so many different industries that members of the business community now often regard it as its own unique industry subset, with applications across the spectrum of the world of commerce. Today, high-tech businesses are involved in industries as diverse as food exporting, retail product design, oil extraction, and a host of others.

Businesses immersed in the world of high technology range from huge corporations (Microsoft, Intel, Nokia, etc.) to small enterprises of relatively short duration. The differences between these organizations are many, but it is perhaps more consequential that their leaders—whether the president of a multinational computer chip manufacturer or the owner of a ten-employee CAD/CAM outfit—share a recognition of the startling changes that technology advances are bringing to the global marketplace and the opportunities that such changes are creating. Those managers and business owners afflicted with what J. Wyman termed "technological myopia" in Sloan Management Review, on the other hand, are unlikely to establish a presence in high-tech business. According to Wyman, failure to adequately study the potential ramifications of technology can lead to two potentially harmful kinds of managerial myopia: Internal myopia, in which the business fails to recognize technology's full power or uses it poorly; and external myopia, which is basically a fundamental ignorance of the implications of an emerging technology.

Successful high-tech firms, on the other hand, are adept at recognizing the possibilities associated with technological advancements, and nurture corporate cultures that enable them to seize on those opportunities.

CHANGE AND UNCERTAINTY IN THE GLOBAL MARKETPLACE

Today's high-tech companies are operating in a business world that all observers agree is changing at a pace that often seems alternately exciting and unnerving. Economists, business executives, consultants, and entrepreneurs alike have debated fiercely about the ultimate character of these changes. As The Economist observed, "the belief that technology and globalization promise unbounded prosperity and render old economic rules redundant has infected American managers, investors, and politicians with remarkable speed…. Why has the belief in the New Economy spread so quickly? One reason is that some of its elements really do exist. Imports and exports do play a bigger role than they did a generation ago. Information technology is altering the nature of America's economic output, as well as the ways that companies operate." Indeed, it is this latter factor that is most often touted as the most dependable and significant engine of economic growth in the United States and the world, despite the wave of bankruptcies that washed over the Internet and the closely affiliated computer industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After all, exciting new technologies have revolutionized huge areas of the business landscape, from manufacturing to communication to marketing, and they are less subject to the vagaries of international trade disputes, weather, and other factors that can impact exporting and importing. And Neil Gross and John Carey, writing in Business Week, pointed out two other important reasons why observers expect many high-tech businesses to continue to soar: 1) There is a relatively low cost associated with purchasing and implementing the necessary equipment and other infrastructure for high-tech ventures, at least when compared with many other industries; and 2) breakthrough technologies in such areas as computers and communication equipment can be rapidly designed into commodity products.

Moreover, researchers point out that unlike other growth sectors, high technology ventures are not limited to larger corporations. Indeed, small business enterprises have carved out an impressive niche in the industry, and they are expected to remain firmly entrenched in the world of high-tech for years to come (although many of the successful ones may no longer be small by that time) due to the sheer magnitude of demand for their services. "Despite a long list of hurdles," wrote Entrepreneur' Heather Page, "high-tech entrepreneurs can still look to the future with well-founded optimism. Thanks to a recent convergence of opportunities—namely changing market needs and the evolution of technologies to address them, ready access to capital, and a larger pool of talented technical personnel to hire or partner with—the odds have swung in favor of high-tech businesses in recent years."

KEYS TO LAUNCHING AND MAINTAINING A SUCCESSFUL HIGH-TECH BUSINESS

In addition to adhering to common-sense entrepreneurial guidelines—don't spread your finances too thin, devise a sound marketing strategy, hire good employees, weigh the impact of your actions on your family, etc.—people hoping to start or add to a high-technology business should take into account the following keys, many of which concern taking advantage of available opportunities in such areas as education, training, and financing:

Keep up with industry changes. This can be a daunting task, but the entrepreneur who stays up to date on new technologies and innovations, new applications, and changing markets will be far better equipped to spot the gaps in products and services that still dot the high-tech landscape and fill that spot with their own company's offerings.

Make full use of technology transfer opportunities. In recent years, laboratories and research institutions operated by universities, government agencies, and corporations have all shown a much greater inclination to share their knowledge and technology with entrepreneurs and other business enterprises in commercial industries. "These types of programs are effectively placing technology in the hands of those most capable of turning it into viable ventures: entrepreneurs," claimed Page. "Moreover, not only is it now easier to identify which technologies can make the shift into the commercial sector, but more systems are being created to facilitate their transfer."

Use the Internet and other Information Technology (IT) markets to full advantage.

Reward and challenge employees. Workforce stability and reliability is an important factor in small business success for just about any entrepreneur, but its importance may be particularly pronounced in one of the fast-paced high-tech industries. Indeed, it is a far more serious matter to replace a software programmer three months before a new product launch than it is to replace a cashier or stockperson. For many small high-tech companies, workers are among their most valuable assets; the smart entrepreneur will compensate them accordingly, via salary, benefits, promotion, responsibility, or some combination thereof, to best ensure a high degree of employee retention.

Admit mistakes. Given the rapid pace at which high-tech industries are changing, companies need to be aggressive in their prosecution of new strategies and initiatives. Yet almost inevitably, a high-tech business will find itself pursuing a product or market that, for whatever reason, comes to look decidedly less appetizing than it appeared when it was first targeted. The key to weathering such disappointments, say many analysts, lies not only in diligent research and detailed planning, but also in pulling the plug on plans that have gone sour rather than pouring additional money and resources into it while your competitors pursue more promising avenues.

Explore various funding options. High-technology companies in such areas as communications, networking, the Internet, and various other software applications have become major recipients of funding from venture capital companies, although this trend declined noticeably in 1999 and 2000 due to convulsions in the stock value of numerous high-tech firms. Another option for high-tech start-ups and small businesses, however, is one of the growing number of programs sponsored by federal, state, and regional agencies to help them secure risk capital and research and development funding.

Utilize education and training opportunities. Entrepreneurial programs have proliferated across the country in recent years, and many of these feature a heavy emphasis on technology.

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