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Palo Alto--Startup chaos reigns on the top floor of a Queen Anne Victorian on Florence Avenue. Guy Kawasaki and his staff of 10 are making due in cubicles squeezed together and vying for time in the coveted conference room.

Kawasaki, 44, is the marketing guru who helped make Apple's Macintosh a household name, and author of seven how-to books on starting technology companies. Now he is pouring his efforts into his own startup, Garage.com, which he hopes to use to discover the next Apple, Hewlett Packard or Netscape.

Garage.com--named to evoke the mythic Silicon Valley garage rented by David Packard and the one owned by Steve Jobs' mom--seeks to solve one of the valley's constant quandaries: how to connect people with talent and people with money.

"Angels" abound in the valley. They have millions to invest and have experience running technology companies. But only a precious few have seats at the Los Alto Country Club where the famed "Band of Angels" listen to pitch after pitch from entrepreneurs.

Garage.com hopes to connect some of the best-heeled of the angels with entrepreneurs who have business plans, but who aren't yet ready for a first round of venture capital funding. Or even to quit their day jobs.

While most Sand Hill Road venture capitalists want to wait until the seventh inning of game four to put their money on the Yankees, they may be willing to make a relatively small risk in game one.

"If there are two guys in a garage who can go straight to the VC's, that's great," Kawasaki says. "But there are many people not ready. They can't get $5 million because they don't deserve $5 million and they wouldn't know what to do with $5 million."

The goal, Kawasaki says, is to get entrepreneurs ready for Sand Hill Road by providing from $500,000 to $1.5 million in seed money. That is enough to get a prototype built or an idea more fully developed. Kawasaki's company makes money by taking a five percent equity stake in the nascent company.

Garage.com's first deal was to find funding for Santa Cruz's Reality Fusion, which has developed a videocamera-based computer interface. The technology allows users to control a computer without touching the screen or computer.

When Reality Fusion's founder, Barry Spencer, heard about Kawasaki's project, he drove to Atherton and tied a copy of his business plan to the gate of Kawasaki's driveway.

On October 1, he got the seed money to hire talent, recruit a board of directors and get the company ready for a first round of venture funding.

Spencer's angel was Joe Costello, former CEO of Cadence Design. And as a five percent stockholder, Kawasaki is using his connections to get talent on Spencer's board. In a few months, Kawasaki will help Spencer introduce his company to venture capitalists.

The angels that qualify for Garage.com must have at least $1 million liquid and some experience in investing in or operating tech companies. Proposals submitted to Garage.com are evaluated by the staff and by the board of advisors, which includes former Apple exec, Heidi Roizen, futurist and author, George Gilder and prominent VC Ron Conway.

Business plans that pass muster are promoted to "Heaven," where they can be perused online by angels. At that point, Garage.com steps back and lets the two parties become aquatinted at their own pace.

So far, one introduction has yielded a deal, four more vetted business plans are posted in Heaven, and two or three more are waiting at Heaven's gates.

Once they are in Heaven, entrepreneurs can withhold certain details about themselves--their names included. They can also control with whom they begin discussions. In part, this is a protection for those garage moonlighters who happen to have day jobs they don't yet want to jeopardize.

"Confidentiality is a core business belief," says Garage.com's Barbara Gnos.

The business plans must have a tech element, but it can be as simple as run-of-the-mill e-commerce.

"They could be selling dog biscuits over the internet," Gnos says.
Michael Learmonth

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