Early Briefing: Satellite Companies' Next Try

It's Monday, so the Business section is turned over to local business.

*In the 1990s, a bevy of local companies promised a new era of satellite-based services, providing cheap mobile calls, high-speed Internet connectivity, streaming video and moreother services. Companies such as Bethesda-based Iridium and Reston-based American Mobile Satellite spent billions launching satellites but lost out to traditional cellular networks and land-based Internet providers that offered cheaper and more reliable service.

The satellite companies have spent the past few years retooling, though, and now are prepared once again to make big investments. The companies envision channels of live television on mobile devices and on TVs in the backs of cars; satellite phones the size of slim cellphones; and advanced systems to keep track of trucks, cars and goods.

They risk is that they repeating the mistakes of the '90s: Several companies are going deep into the red to trying to realize their visions.

Marla Malcolm Beck with a Bluemercury customer. (By Bill O'Leary -- The Washington Post)

*Beauty boutique founder Marla Malcolm Beck says the most valuable advice that she has ever received is in the form of five-letter acronym: DROOM. Or, Don't Run Out of Money.

The advice came courtesy her mentor, Washington entrepreneur and dealmaker Jonathan Ledecky. Beck took it to heart when she started Bluemercury nearly a decade ago. Since then, she has slowly built a profitable, multimillion-dollar chain with 28 stores across the country with plans for aggressive growth.

Expansion in a downturn is a potentially risky move. But Beck said she hopes to take advantage of increased vacancies and slipping rents in many of the chain's target markets as other companies shutter stores and slow expansion plans. She believes that her affluent customers -- the average shopper is a 38-year-old woman with $130,000 in annual income -- are less vulnerable to the downturn than most. And, adhering to DROOM, she shored up capital before the current credit crunch, allowing Bluemercury to continue to grow.

"DROOM taught me to raise capital when we don't need it and to always be frugal in everything we do," Beck said.

*Retailer Linens 'n' Things is closing 177 stores. Sharper Image is liquidating 86 stores. Starbucks is putting the lid on 600 locations.

Across the country, a growing wave number of retailers have recently declared bankruptcy or are in the midst of reorganization, leaving dark, empty blemishes on the nation's shopping centers. The impact on the Washington area so far has been muted so far, as the region's affluence and strong job market continue to shore up consumer demand.

*For the second time Prince William County has birthed a promising life sciences company. This time the county hopes to keep it.

The county recently agreed to spend $100,000 to develop space for the new company, Ceres Nanosciences, so it can test its drug for detecting human growth hormone. The start-up took form in the county's Innovation at Prince William business park, as a spinoff from work on George Mason University's campus there.

If the tests are successful, the company would have to decide whether it can afford to stay put as it expands. The Innovation business park was created a decade ago to help nurture new companies and help them prosper, as a means of transforming to transform the county into a hub for the life sciences.

*The smart card that speeds travelers through airport security will now get Washington Redskins fans into FedEx Field faster. FLO, a Chantilly start-up that makes the airport cards, signed a three-year exclusive deal with the football team last week. For a $100 annual fee, fans will receive Redskins-branded FLO cards that will let them enter the stadium through separate "fast lane" stadium gates.

*Bill Strathmann earned his business chops consulting on mergers and acquisitions with BearingPoint. Now, as the chief executive at Network for Good, he's bringing those skills to the nonprofit world.

Based in Bethesda, Network for Good creates online fundraising tools and processes electronic donations for small and midsized nonprofit groups. Last week it acquired ePhilanthropy, an Ellicott City-based nonprofit that teaches online marketing and ethics to the same sort of small groups. It's Network for Good's fourth acquisition since 2004.

*Under the Olympic spotlight, Bethesda-based Chindex International will have the chance to show the international community that a firm can successfully transplant American health care -- medical equipment, commercial health insurance and private hospitals -- to a communist country. "A lot of eyes are on China these days," said Lawrence Pemble, Chindex's chief financial officer. "We're benefiting from that desire and focus."

By Terri Rupar  |  August 4, 2008; 5:00 AM ET  | Category:  Morning Brief
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