Bits&Bytes: Downtown tech firm TimeSys taps new leader
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The team at TimeSys Inc. has a new chief. Atul Bansal is set to take the reins at the Downtown maker of Linux-based tools that software developers use to make embedded systems -- the tiny computer brains within electronic devices.
Landing Mr. Bansal is a bit of a coup for 11-year-old TimeSys, which has stumbled to find the right market, customers and leadership to steer its ahead-of-its-time technology to success.
Mr. Bansal, who had been a TimeSys adviser, is the well-regarded co-founder and former chief executive officer of data networking firm Laurel Networks, now the local outpost of Israeli firm ECI Telecom.
Mr. Bansal will step into the top job, held in the interim by investor Joseph Raffa of Adams Capital Management. Mr. Raffa has been manning the operation since December, when TimeSys' most recent chief executive officer, Larry Weidman, resigned.
Neither Mr. Raffa, nor Joel Adams, a principal at Sewickley-based Adams Capital, which has put roughly $30 million into the firm to date, would comment on Mr. Bansal. The firm, however, did announce yesterday that Edward Nash, a former executive at such area startups at Ion Health and RedSiren, is now the company's vice president of engineering.
Sources said Adams Capital's decision to inject Mr. Bansal's well-regarded leadership skills into the mix bodes well for the sputtering firm.
Mr. Bansal is a "technical visionary" who knows what it takes to help a firm gain the footing it needs to flourish under tough circumstances.
Mr. Bansal, who could not be reached for comment, co-founded Laurel Networks in 1995 and helped it survive the dot.com bust early in the 2000s and subsequent telecom slump. In 2004, he handed the firm off to a new CEO, Don Pyle, who readied it for its eventual $88 million sale to its large Israeli parent.
Insiders say Mr. Bansal will know how to rejigger TimeSys for the blossoming Linux marketplace, which, more than a decade after the company's birth, is finally beginning to take off.
The move adds TimeSys to the patch of Pittsburgh firms linked to the celebrated Fore Systems legacy, the data networking firm that is frequently held up as a triumph for Pittsburgh's ambitious tech sector.
Fore Systems went public in 1994, creating a pod of instant millionaires, several of whom branched out to start their own firms after it was sold to British telecom firm Marconi. Fore's success spawned Laurel Networks and CoManage (now Syndesis) and is now seeing the third generation of promising Pittsburgh technology firms, including two Pine-based startups: podcasting shop TalkShoe and networking equipment and software maker Netronome Systems.
There's talk that more of Fore's grandchildren could turn up this year, as some of the top brass at Laurel Networks and another second generation firm, Spinnaker Networks, which was sold in 2003 for $300 million to California tech firm Network Appliance, consider jumping into new ventures.
The Heinz Endowments has invested $600,000 into a three-year effort to tap into the skills, connections and perhaps the wallets of the Pittsburgh "diaspora" -- people living and working all over the world with ties to Carnegie Mellon University and a yen for Pittsburgh.
The goal, said Christina Gabriel, the endowment's director of innovation economy programs, is to ignite growth in the local startup sector by linking the startups to the legions of well-connected talent in other locales.
Heading up the effort is Donald Bonk, former international trade manager for Southern Alleghenies.
His mission, since taking the job March 1, is to be salesman, connector and matchmaker of young tech upstarts and CMU's vast network, which includes alumni and the firms that sponsor research on the campus.
The goal is to build upon CMU's prior success luring firms such as Google and Intel to set up outposts in Pittsburgh, said Timothy McNulty, CMU's provost for tech initiatives. "It's meant to create more synergistic and strategic linkages across the university community" to spark economic development, he said.
The project, according to Mr. McNulty, won't replace, but will "augment and build on" other Pittsburgh tech-focused economic development efforts, such as the state-and-foundation-funded University Partnership headed by his colleague, Don Smith Jr., and tech incubators such as the Technology Collaborative.
Mr. McNulty said that when Mr. Bonk delivers his plan, expected in mid-April, it also will include ways to determine the short- and long-term success of the grant, using such measures as the number of alumni who returned to the region for business opportunities generated from the alumni network.
If you're among the legions of tech pundits, gurus, bloggers and, ahem, reporters convinced that Internet-on-a-cell phone is the hottest thing since "Crackberry"-enabled e-mail on your cell phone, consider this:
A study published by San Francisco-based MediaScreen Consulting found that while more than 60 percent of broadband consumers currently own an Internet-enabled mobile device, only 5 percent of them, roughly 5 million, use it to access the Web.
Think of it this way: 58 percent of consumers with the ability to use their cell phones to get online don't. Count extra fees and trouble getting and keeping a connection among the obstacles.
No matter how hard Meakem Becker Venture Capital aims to steer clear of the spotlight until "they're ready," as founder and principal Glen Meakem has said, it nevertheless seems to always get attention. Now the group is on the radar screen of Chicago bloggers and tech media.
According to regulatory filings, the young private equity firm, launched last year by the Sewickley-based former FreeMarkets Inc. chairman and its one-time chief operating officer David Becker recently poured $2.3 million into Chicago-based LiquidTalk Inc., which provides "new ways for businesses to create, organize and distribute" information to employees on mobile devices, such as "smartphones" and iPods.
GSP Consulting co-founder Joe Kuklis is now the lobbying and government relations firm's CEO. Partner John Dick announced yesterday that he'd sold his ownership stake in the South Side firm and planned to pursue a new business opportunity in the fall.
First Published March 31, 2007 12:00 am