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Leila Lance of PenNetWorks in the company's new office at 3535 Market St. The Penn-owned firm will provide support for new internet based companies. (Samantha Simon/The Daily Pennsylvanian)

PenNetWorks, the University's new business "accelerator," moved furniture into its fifth floor offices at 3535 Market Street just three weeks ago, but the facility is already prepared to start spawning new businesses. "I could fund someone today," said Craig Markovitz, PenNetWorks' chief operating officer. Markovitz is also an employee of the Redleaf Group, the Pittsburgh-based company the University has partnered with to run the accelerator. The facility will provide people starting Internet-related companies with equipment, network infrastructure, legal and accounting advice, human resources and technical assistance. Many would-be entrepreneurs have already presented proposals for funding -- Markovitz said PenNetWorks has received about 30 proposals so far, about 80 percent of which are from Penn affiliates. Proposals can range from a full business plan to simply a new idea, Markovitz said. Markovitz said the company would select proposals to fund by January at the latest. PenNetWorks will be holding several marketing events next semester -- speeches and casual discussions about technology and entrepreneurship. Arthur Andersen, Sun Microsystems, Ikon and several other firms have signed on as sponsors. PenNetWorks now has eight full-time staffers, along with representatives from the University and sponsor companies as well as a group of interns who spend time in the offices. The firm will have video-conferencing capability soon, which will allow PenNetWorks to collaborate with other Redleaf offices across the country. But while PenNetWorks is just getting off the ground, many other Internet incubators have been going under due to the slowing interest in technology stocks. Markovitz said that the financial health of PenNetWorks would not be affected by the downturn in Internet-related stocks -- even though the stock value of RedLeaf investor Safeguard Scientifics has plummeted. Yesterday, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Safeguard Chairman Warren Musser has sold 80 percent of his Safeguard stock and now owns only 1.5 percent of the company he founded. The falling value of Safeguard and Safeguard-related stocks required him to pay back his brokers for stock he had purchased on margin. Last month, Internet Capital Group, a Safeguard partner company, laid off 35 percent of its staff after reporting larger-than-expected losses for the third quarter. Safeguard stock closed yesterday with a drop of more than 90 percent from its 52-week high. Internet Capital Group stock was also trading low, down nearly 98 percent from its high. "We feel pretty good about where we stand in light of the market and incubator debacle," Markovitz said. "Safeguard is an investor, but they're certainly not our only investor." Markovitz said the company feels its model will allow it to succeed in the long-term. "We have a viable business plan," he said. "We're not letting the current conditions of the market offset our plans."

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