West Virginians Jump At Chance To Invest In High-Tech Business

Fairmont entrepreneur Wade Linger has a second incarnation of TMC Technologies, and he has found an outpouring of support in the local community


By Pam Kasey / The State Journal


When Fairmont entrepreneur Wade Linger recently started a second incarnation of his successful information technology business TMC Technologies, he was surprised by the outpouring of support in the local community.

"What we found was that there was a tremendous amount of pent-up interest in being a part of a high-tech company in this area," Linger said.

TMC started in 1996, backed by a small group of angel investors. The business grew and succeeded, and the owners sold it in 2005 to Greenbelt, Md.-headquartered Global Science and Technology.

Linger moved on to other pursuits, opening Wade's Garage, an automobile restoration business in Fairmont, and serve on the state school board.

But as the end of a five-year non-compete agreement rolled around, a group of the original TMC investors, represented by Murvyn McDowell, contacted Linger to see about starting up again.

"My reaction was really more of a question: Is the market prepared to accept us coming back into it?" Linger recalled.

"My secondary reaction was, 'How would we go about raising money to fund the startup?'"

The first time around, investors put in the startup capital while Linger himself took the risk for all borrowed funds. This time, he wanted to raise enough money for the company to stand on its own.

"We went back and talked to the original group of investors to see what kind of interest they had," Linger said. "Most of them were interested in doing it again, and they were pretty enthusiastic."

He and McDowell also invited another dozen people who would have liked to invest the first time around, and they responded enthusiastically as well.

And then a surprising thing happened.

"Those people started asking if they could bring other friends in," Linger said.

"When the word got out that we were doing this and that we were including people that hadn't been previously involved, it generated an unbelievable amount of interest," he said. "People were showing up virtually every day asking if they could play."

Over two months, he said, with very little promotion, the group raised capital that measures "in the seven figures" from what has turned out to be 53 shareholders for the TMC Technologies.

Many are people who usually have no way to be part of the region's technology sector.

"An awful lot of the high-tech companies in this area are either large corporations, mostly owned by people or stockholders out of state, or they're small entrepreneurs, family-owned businesses or real small ownership groups. So a lot of people in the area have never had a chance to participate," Linger said.

"We have stockholders that are doctors, lawyers; we have small business people in town, real estate people," he said, looking down his list. "I see a couple people that run auto body repair places, coal miners, insurance sales people, a mechanic or two -- it's really a broad spectrum of people who want to be involved."

This is Jack Bish's first chance to invest in a local high-tech company. Retired operator of the family grocery store Berle's Market in Pleasant Valley and now the town's mayor, Bish sees it as an unusual opportunity.

"Like your Wal-Mart," he said, "Comes in, makes X amount of millions, but if you don't got a share of Wal-Mart you don't get a share of it. This is a chance for local people to invest in a local company with the chance that somewhere down the road the stock will appreciate."

Bish's daughter is a school teacher.

"What I'm investing today may be something she'll thank her dad for one of these days," he said.

Having a larger set of investors to answer to could be intimidating, but to Linger, it's a resource.

"That's quite a Rolodex," he said. "Who could we possibly need to talk to in the context of our business that somebody on that list isn't going to know?"

Linger sees high-tech creating opportunities for West Virginians.

TMC employs seven now, and Linger projects 50 employees in 2013 and 125 in 2014.

And, he pointed out, his own children are taking opportunities that didn't exist here 20 years ago.

Linger has two sons who are high-tech entrepreneurs in Fairmont: Robert Linger of IT company Reliable Systems Inc. and Benn Linger, who started BennCorp to publish applications for mobile devices.

"We hear so many negative things these days about the economy," Linger said. "Then you pop something like this up, and everybody says, 'Yeah! Entrepreneurship's not dead in this country or state, capitalism's not dead; let's put some money in, hire some West Virginians and make this thing go!'

"I think it's such a positive thing -- not about me but about the whole community."


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