Running a giant company with thousands of employees and a slot on the Fortune 500 used to be the dream of every bright-eyed business school grad, but times have changed.

Building or running a company and then cashing out to dabble in various deals has become the new goal.

Venture capital firms and incubators are prime destinations for local business leaders, because top executives don't just want to run the major companies of today, they want to help launch the cutting-edge companies of tomorrow.

Dabbling in deals provides a freedom not available to public company executives, who are accountable to shareholders.

"I want to control my own destiny," said Abbott Brown, who recently left his position as senior vice president at publicly traded Global Crossing Ltd. to head his own equity firm, Ridgestone Corp. "I wanted to get back to being closer to the businesses, to be involved with smaller, earlier-stage companies, and to be away from a large corporate environment."

Brown isn't alone. Sky Dayton, founder of Internet service provider EarthLink Network Inc., last year joined with Jake Winebaum, former head of the Buena Vista Internet Group, to form the incubator eCompanies. They have said the incubator structure streamlines administrative processes and frees up time to brainstorm new ideas.

Gordon Binder, chairman and chief executive of Amgen Inc., recently announced he would step down from the company to pursue venture capital investing. Michael Montgomery last fall left his position as president and chief executive of Sega GameWorks to raise money for the Digital Coast Capital venture fund, founded by the Digital Coast Partners investment firm. And Kevin Wall left his post as vice chairman of iXL Enterprises, an Internet strategy consulting company, and co-founded the Shelter Ventures incubator.

Like others, Wall began thinking about entering the investment world after being constantly asked to sit on various companies' boards or become a private investor. "It was my intention that I would go into the business of building an accelerator to help these companies," Wall said.

Instead of jumping into a venture alone, Wall founded Shelter Ventures with Art Bilger, who has a strong investment background, having been a financial advisor and corporate finance executive at Drexel Burnham Lambert.

"The reason that Art and I get along so great is that my talent set is different from his talent set, and they are complementary in the New Economy," Wall said.

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