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E-Commerce Success: WPI December Venture Forum Explores Business Start-ups

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE/
Contact: Arlie Corday, WPI Media & Community Relations

WORCESTER, Mass. - Any business on the Web would love to become the next Amazon.com of e-commerce. To explore how e-commerce has changed and expanded business opportunities, Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Venture Forum will present "E-Commerce: Turning Bricks to Clicks at Internet Speed" at its December meeting.

Julie Lewis, an associate with the Massachusetts Technology Development Corp., a Boston-based venture capital group, will serve as moderator for the meeting Tuesday, Dec. 14, at 6:30 p.m. in WPI's Kinnicutt Hall in Salisbury Laboratories. Admission is $5 for members, $10 for non-members and free for those with a WPI ID card.

"Most brick-and-mortar companies, if they haven't already done so, have created internal initiatives on how to expand their on-line presence," Lewis said. "Business-to-business e-commerce has exploded."

Last year, businesses spent $43.1 billion on Internet-based purchases from other corporations, according to Forrester Research Inc. This year, Forrester estimates, that figure will leap to $109.3 billion. Consumer on-line spending is surging nearly as fast. According to Jupiter Communications, consumers this year are expected to spend $12 billion shopping on-line, up from $7.1 billion last year.

The WPI Venture Forum will address how two e-commerce businesses, one in the business-consumer sector, and the other in the business-business space, have succeeded in capturing a portion of these fast-growing markets.

The keynote speaker is Misha Katz, co-founder and vice president of new technology at Furniture.com. Katz will address how the company grew from nothing to a 200-person-plus business today.

Katz, who helped establish Furniture.com's use of cutting-edge technology to give consumers a well-rounded shopping experience, continues to seek new ways to make the site even more exciting and user friendly. Katz is responsible for developing Furniture.com's Web site, as well as integrating technology into other aspects of the business. Katz attended WPI until he caught the entrepreneurial Internet bug and started Furniture.com.

Furniture.com has become the e-commerce leader in the growing $178 billion U.S. furniture and home furnishings market. According to Forrester Research, on-line sales of home goods and accessories will surpass $3.5 billion by 2003.

Furniture.com, a privately held Framingham-based company, sells home furnishings, outdoor furniture, mattresses and accessories. The company offers more than 50,000 products from 150 manufacturers and provides services such as advice from design consultants and in-home setup.

Although Furniture.com has its roots in a brick-and-mortar store, it made the transition to a company that delivers its product directly from manufacturers with no inventory or warehouses. The company first went on-line in July 1997 and completed its first round of financing in June 1998. This January, Furniture.com completed a $10 million round of financing from venture capital firms such as CMGI, Bessemer Venture Partners and Brand Equity Ventures. The company completed a $35 million round of financing in June to fund an aggressive brand-building program. Katz will explore consumers' purchasing habits in the new e-commerce paradigm.

Furniture.com currently has marketing agreements with Yahoo!, American Online, Go Network, Infoseek, Lycos and Microsoft Network.

In addition to the keynote address, WPI Venture Forum includes a monthly Case Presentation for a business plan. At the December meeting, PartsDriver.com Inc. will present a business plan for becoming an Internet-based business-to-business trading site for the aftermarket automotive parts industry. Excess inventory is a long-standing and widespread problem across this industry, costing manufacturers billions of dollars in lost revenue annually.

PartsDriver.com is creating a win-win environment for manufacturers and buyers. The e-commerce site will allow manufacturers to receive a competitive price for excess products while giving buyers access to parts at attractive prices.

Marc Lind, chief executive officer, president and co-founder of PartsDriver.com will present his business plan to be critiqued by a panel of industry experts consisting of Furniture.com's Misha Katz; John White, manager of e-commerce at Yahoo!; and Jamie Goldstein, principal of North Bridge Venture Partners, a venture capital firm. The panel will address issues such as positioning, strategic alliances, financing and branding. The audience will be able to make comments and ask questions. For more information about Venture Forum, contact Sarah Ribeiro at WPI at 508-831-5075 or visit www.wpiventureforum.org.