The realization has taken a while to materialize, but Dave Lenartz says Spokane’s business establishment has finally figured out that software is good for them.
Eight years ago, when he started Byte Dynamics, people like Lenartz were regarded with skepticism, if they were regarded at all, by the powers that shaped Spokane’s economic development strategies.
“Originally,” Lenartz says, “a lot of the smaller software firms weren’t recognized as being any kind of a factor in the local business community.
“Now, we are recognized as being good businesses to have - clean, safe, offering high-paying jobs - and those kinds of companies are even being wooed by the Economic Development Council and the Chamber of Commerce.”
But Lenartz isn’t sure that people yet realize how significant the software industry has become here. Mostly scattered throughout the area in the form of tiny, low-profile companies, the industry remains relatively invisible.
“But it’s gotten much bigger,” Lenartz says. “It’s gotten much more diverse. There are a large number of software developers here working in obscurity. There’s an awful lot of business going on, and people aren’t aware of it.”
In addition to being founder and president of Byte Dynamics, Lenartz has founded a second software company called Internet Capital Corp. Along the way, he’s become something of a spokesman for the emerging software industry in the Inland Northwest.
Lenartz served as president of the Washington Software Association for almost two years. He is currently co-chair for the Inland Northwest Technet Committee, an arm of the Spokane Area Economic Development Council, designed to support the area’s software community.
Technet, he says, identifies about 200 software or software-related companies in the Spokane area.
“They range from the small mom-and-pop entreprenurial type enterprises to the big companies like Key Tronic, Output Technology, Olivetti, Itron, and now Packet Engines,” he says.
Lenartz grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich., and obtained a degree in electrical engineering from Michigan Technological University. He describes himself as a “control systems engineer.”
He was working for McDonnell Douglas in Huntington Beach, Calif., 15 years ago, when Kaiser Aluminum hired him away to help design control systems for their new Trentwood fabrication plant.
After a few years he moved to Itron, where he designed software to drive their hand-held computers. Three years later, he moved on to a small local start-up called Logue McDonald, which built semiconductor test equipment.
Two weeks after his 30th birthday, though, he went out on his own.
“Going my own way was something I’d always wanted to do,” Lenartz says. “I’ve been frustrated by any number of things in my career as I tried to move ahead. So I saw an opportunity, and I took a risk.”
The risk was Byte Dynamics. The opportunity was a research and development project for Kaiser Mead’s carbon bake area. Lenartz’s new company did software for the control systems of Kaiser’s high temperature furnaces.
Today, Byte Dynamics employs eight people, and grows at a rate of 15 to 20 percent a year, Lenartz says. It’s customers include Nynex, the big New York telephone company, as well as local companies like Itron, Telect and Johnson Matthey. And the work has come full circle. Lenartz is working on the control systems for a new carbon bake furnace Kaiser will bring on line next month.
Last year, Lenartz saw the need to diversify to keep his growing Byte Dynamics crew busy between projects. So he came up with Internet Capital Corp.
The company is an Internet service provider designed to help small companies put together funding through initial public stock offerings. After the IPO is made, Lenartz provides client companies with an Internet forum for trading their stocks.
Internet Capital Corp. has developed the software and website to do that and it now awaits U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission permission to begin doing business.
“It’s getting frustrating, although we are very, very close,” Lenartz says. “I don’t think they understand what we are really trying to do, and they definitely do not understand the Internet.”
Lenartz says the Internet is a forum for commerce - including stock trading - which offers all kinds of difficulties for the SEC as opposed to traditional trading of stocks. To the SEC, he says, the whole thing looks similar to the defunct penny stock market, which was tainted with fraud.
Lenartz says he has provided solutions to each of their concerns, “but they just won’t make a decision.”
Lenartz has become convinced that they are waiting for him to get tired and go away. And, he admits, if they won’t give him some firm answers within the next six or seven months, he might have to do that.
“But we’re not the only ones trying to do something like this,” he says, “and the Internet isn’t going to go away.”
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