Friday, July 13, 2001

Financier says Butler can lure high-tech startups

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Allan Isen, a nationally known optometrist who became a successful financier, has a vision for how to make Butler County a place where high-technology entrepreneurs want to work.

        Providing venture capital and support services to small start-up high-tech businesses is one of the keys, he told a selected group of business people and Butler County officials at a special dinner meeting Thursday at the Hamiltonian Hotel.

        “Once entrepreneurs and innovators believe the obstacles they're going to face getting financed aren't all that bad, they will come to Butler County,” said Mr. Isen, founder and president of AVRA Financial Inc., a public investment company that offers guarantees to investors who provide equity financing for budding entrepreneurial enterprises.

        The Butler County officials invited Mr. Isen, who lives in Sun Valley, Idaho, to speak here because they are mounting an aggressive effort to attract high-tech businesses to the county.

        The commissioners are leaning toward enacting a county sales tax increase as high ashalf a percentage point to allocate $5 million for a venture capital fund for entrepreneurs, road improvements, a fiber-optics network, and other projects that would help entice high-tech companies to move into Butler.

        “People with dreams follow the money,” Commissioner Mike Fox said. “With the national economy being tight, this is a great time for Butler County to use venture capital to attract businesses.”

        Mr. Isen, who invented soft contact lenses and once fitted President Lyndon B. Johnson with contacts, said he began a second career in finance because he enjoys helping small start-up companies.

        AVRA has set up a system that provides guarantees to investors and financial backing and support services to small, fledgling companies.

        “We're interested in keeping them from failing,” Mr. Isen said. “But we have to plan for a high failure rate among these companies and make their up-front costs nominal,” Mr. Isen said.

        The large private venture capital companies looking for the next Microsoft Corp. choose one start-up out of 100 to invest in, he said.

        “The problem with that is that probably 50 of those companies have a chance to be really good companies,” Mr. Isen said.


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