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Executives seek gold in Net start-ups

Disney's Buena Vista Internet group exec Jake Winebaum becomes the lastest in a growing list of high-profile executives to embrace the world of new Net-based companies.

Corporate executives from all walks of life are itching to play the Internet start-up game.

Jake Winebaum, chairman of Disney's Buena Vista Internet Group until today, became the latest in a growing list of high-profile executives to embrace the world of new Net-based companies.

From e-commerce start-ups to portals and auction sites, the explosive growth and acceptance of the Internet has lead to a dearth of executive talent within the booming industry.

Winebaum, 39, has teamed with Sky Dayton, the 27-year-old founder of national Internet service provider EarthLink, to form eCompanies, a venture capital incubator for Internet start-ups.

Since 1992, Winebaum oversaw Internet-related initiatives at Disney, a traditional media company that has aggressively expanded online with its acquisition of Infoseek and the creation of the Go Network.

Under Winebaum, Disney's online ventures had mixed results, according to analysts.

"I felt that it would be a good time to turn over reign to pursue my dream to be an owner and have Disney and Sky [Dayton] as my partners," said Winebaum, who will claim an ownership stake in the new firm.

Winebaum is not alone in his move to the Net.

Former Disney Online president Richard Wolpert recently formed CheckOut.com with Hollywood power broker and fellow Disney alumnus Michael Ovitz.

Last month, WebTV Networks co-founder Steve Perlman stepped down to explore new entrepreneurial ventures.

And the lure of the Internet also was too much to resist for former Microsoft executive Peter Neupert, who resigned last July to run Drugstore.com, an online pharmacy.

Disney and EarthLink will invest in Winebaum's new company, which will fund and develop Net-based firms.

News.com's Jim Hu contributed to this report.