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Saluting Free Enterprise: CED Hands Out Its Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards

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DURHAM, N.C. — On the 20th anniversary of the

Council for Entrepreneurial Development's

Excellence Awards, it seemed fitting that John McConnell would receive the final official award of the evening.

After all, as he said, "I am one of the Triangle's first entrepreneurs."

The millionaire businessman who built and sold two medical information technology firms for hundreds of millions of dollars, smiled broadly as he walked to the stage. A big round of applause from the crowd, with many people standing, added to the moment.

As Frank Sinatra's voice boomed "I did it my way," McConnell accepted the Entrepreneurial Excellence award from Monica Doss, president of the CED. But McConnell couldn't resist taking the microphone for some impromptu remarks about himself - and the entrepreneurial world in general.

"My teammates have told me, 'John if you had done it


way, you would be bigger than SAS and Jim Goodmon," McConnell said, triggering a roar of laughter.

SAS is the world's largest privately held software company, built from scratch with some ideas and a few fax machines by Jim Goodnight and partners 30 years ago. And Jim Goodmon is president and chief executive officer of Capitol Broadcasting, an entrepreneur and pioneer in technology and broadcasting who earlier in the evening received the CED's Community Impact award.

McConnell then cast a couple of good-natured barbs at Dennis Dougherty, co-founder of venture capital firm Intersouth Partners which was launched in 1985.

Dougherty has made a nice living while "he has put nothing at risk", McConnell said jokingly of the man who is considered the founding father of the VC industry in the Triangle. Dougherty had also been recognized Wednesday, acknowledged as the recipient of the Charles Hamner Leadership Award, which is named after the retired longtime leader of the N.C. Biotechnology Center.

With VCs around these days, life can be different for entrepreneurs, McConnell stressed. He pointed out that unlike when he started Medic Computers in 1982 and had to put up collateral to get initial financing entrepreneurs today can get "a $5 million valuation" with virtually nothing other than a business plan.

"This is a great world we live in," McConnell said with a smile, creating another wave of laughter.

McConnell has made it a point to make his team members joint owners in Medic and A$ Health Systems so that many became millionaires as he did. The CED award recognized him for the selling of A4 earlier this year to Allscripts, a Chicago firm, for $272 million in cash and stock.

The commitment to building successful businesses - financial and otherwise - as exemplified by McConnell was the recurrent theme throughout the evening. A crowd of hundreds gathered at the American Tobacco Historic District for the CED's collective salute to individuals and companies, from startups to veterans such as McConnell, Goodmon and Dougherty.

"The most important word is community," Goodmon said in remarks videotaped before the presentation. "If we're not working to build a better tomorrow, then why are we here," he asked.

Capitol is one of the most innovative broadcasting companies in the country, having helped pioneer High Definition Television, the Internet, digital FM broadcasting, wireless news and video distribution, and developed WRAL.com, one of the most heavily trafficked TV station websites.

Capitol, which owns the Durham Bulls, WRAL-FM, and numerous other properties (including WRAL Local Tech Wire), developed the American Tobacco Historical District in Durham where the CED awards banquet took place.

Goodmon also is an active leader in community-based organizations.

Karen LeVert, president of three-year-old Southeast TechInventures, received the Outstanding Service to Entrepreneurs award. STI assists companies and researchers seeking to commercialize technology developed at universities.

The "Private" Deal of the Year award went to Square 1 Bank, which is based at the American Tobacco district. Square 1, in business less than a year, raised $105 million and is focused on working with venture-backed companies.

rPath, which is less than a year old yet already has an international client base as a building of software appliances, was cited as the Start-Up of the year.

Another start-up, Precision BioSciences, was cited as the FastTrac Company of the year.

The "Public" Deal of the Year went to biotechnology firm Targacept, which went public earlier this year.

Geomagic, a developer of 3-D rendering software, received the Technology of the Year award.

Durham-based Parata Systems was selected as the Growth Company of the Year. Parata, which means to prepare or make ready in Latin, manufactures automated prescription systems. Parata is more than doubling in size as it acquires a business unit of Fortune 500 firm McKesson Corp.

The Chairperson's Service Award went to Gene Haley, chief executive officer of Wilmington Pharmaceuticals, and Steve Harper, a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina t Wilmington. Both were instrumental in helping the CED merger with the Coastal Entrepreneurial Council.

The CED also recognized Doss for her 20-year tenure as president of the organization.

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