Tech Industry

Consulting firm to help employees with their dot-coms

Aiming to retain top-notch talent, Web consulting firm Viant launches a program to fund its employees' entrepreneurial endeavors.

Aiming to retain top-notch talent, Web consulting firm Viant launched a program today to fund its employees' entrepreneurial endeavors.

Like its rivals in the so-called e-services space, such as Scient, iXL and Razorfish, Viant has already incubated several Internet start-ups, providing everything from investment help to office space in exchange for a stake in the company.

"In this space, the good news is that we're building up a pool of talent where it's not uncommon for our folks to steal roles at other companies," said Mark Leiter, chief business strategies officer at Viant.

"What this (program) enables us to do is to say to most of our talented people that come up with a good plan, 'We'll back you; we'll give you capital; we'll give you a Viant team that keeps you in the Viant family.'"

Under the new program, called Viant Ventures, employees submit ideas, and a team of senior managers and advisors pick from one to three ideas a year to fund. As with their clients' ideas, the deal will be staffed with a Viant consulting team which will help develop a business strategy and provide other consulting services to launch the new business. Viant will get a stake in the new business.

At least one other company has a similar program. Giant software developer Autodesk, widely known for its design software used by architects and engineers, currently reviews business ideas from employees and considers whether to help incubate and raise capital for some of them under its Autodesk Ventures unit.

By doing this it "lets employees both enjoy the advantages of working for a large organization but also participate in start-up opportunities," said Jon Pittman, vice president for Autodesk Ventures. Pittman said this type of program gives employees an alternative to meet their entrepreneurial goals without having to leave the company or pitch their ideas to an external investor.

"We'd like a chance at those deals first," Pittman said.

A number of companies have recently explored additional ways to boost employee retention and attraction. For the most part, analysts view the recent move as a way to combat the overall shortage for qualified technology workers.

"It's incredibly difficult for any technology provider or consulting company to try to attract anyone with half a brain and experience in e-business," said David Yockelson, an industry analyst at Meta Group. "It's not only difficult but very expensive, and there's a huge amount of competition just in the services business alone."

Most technology firms have seen seasoned workers lured away, said Tom Rodenhauser, an analyst who heads ConsultingInfo.com.

"(Viant's program) is an acknowledgement that folks are still being recruited to dot-com start-ups," Rodenhauser said. "This substantiates the notion that people in the consulting world are still moving into the dot-com" world.

"These (employees) are probably seeing start-up and dot-com opportunities right and left," Yockelson said. "This way, they get to stay within the Viant fold, and Viant gets to maintain that intelligence, the connection (to its employees) and ultimately has a direct path to that business once it grows."