`The victims are not just in New York'

Livewire: A Pennsylvania startup was on the verge of a major step forward, until a bolt out of the blue Sept. 11.

September 30, 2001|By William Patalon III

The terrorists savaged the plans of York, Pa., startup Livewire International Inc. on Sept. 11. The company was expecting the first installment of a $1 million investment that morning, but it never came and probably never will. The company that promised the money was nearly destroyed.

"I feel like the rug was pulled right out from underneath my world," said J. Bruce Pavesich, a Glen Arm man who became Livewire's president in April.

Livewire had spent about $2 million developing e-commerce "kiosks" that people could use to research resorts, make travel reservations, buy ski-lift tickets and purchase leisure equipment. It planned to plant thousands of those kiosks in bike shops and golf-pro shops, but it needed a substantial outside investment.

Fifty potential investors said no. With the collapse of the once-hot dot-com sector, the industry is shunning most anything Internet-related. But Cantor Fitzgerald - a Wall Street bond trader known for its toughness - pledged $1 million from a private venture fund it runs.

On Sept. 10, Cantor's general counsel said Livewire could expect an $80,000 advance the next day, with the remainder to come after both sides signed the investment agreement later that week.

The airliner that hit the north tower the next morning struck near the top, where Cantor Fitzgerald's offices were. About 700 of its employees are presumed dead. Chairman Howard Lutnick - who was out of the office and survived while his brother died - has dedicated himself to helping the families of his dead workers. The Livewire investment was shelved.

Today, Livewire Chairman Craig Souser, Pavesich and one salesman in Colorado's ski country are the firm's only employees. Nine others were let go, five recruits were told they couldn't be given jobs, and payment on $400,000 in vital equipment was stopped.

Pavesich, who draws no salary, is pushing to find the "angel" investors whose money could save the company. He and Souser grieve for the families of the dead but also feel star-crossed in coming so close to transforming Livewire from startup to operating company.

"We're a victim," Pavesich said. "I'm sad for all the victims in New York, and now we're a victim, too. The victims are not just in New York City."

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