Each week seems to bring new players to Web-land, but now there's a twist.

The new guns don't talk about startups; they focus on restructuring, mergers or re-tuning enterprises for new capital infusions.

Typical of this new breed of e-rescuer is Santa Monica-based NetCatalyst Inc., an outfit that calls itself "the liquidity engineers." The company provides advice or even management help to get a business to the next stage.

As widely reported, many e-companies are burning through their capital not a problem as long as another round of financing can be finagled.

"But in April, everything changed," said Riggs Eckelberry, a principal at NetCatalyst. "New capital is hard to come by. Now, companies really have to change their focus from simply growth to packaging themselves for the acquirer or investor."

Until recently the mad dash to e-commerce was merely about becoming "first in the space," or getting "lots of eyeballs" looking at a Web site. But the spring tech wreck rendered many such business plans obsolete, according to Eckelberry, a former freighter captain.

The sea change in investor sentiment means that almost every e-business must revamp its business plan, he believes.

Eckelberry said the company does what is called "instant CRM," which stands for customer relations management. For example, if a Web-surfer makes a purchase, a site ought to gather information about the buyer, offer various other products that might appeal to that buyer profile, and perhaps send e-mails in the future in an effort to generate more business.

NetCatalyst assesses whether that's happening and quickly moves to improve a client's site so it will be more attractive to a merger partner.

In a similar vein, Larry Braun, senior managing director at merger shop Barrington Associates, is running a small platoon of five merger professionals ragged these days, finding marriage partners for e-businesses that have retained Barrington as a matchmaker.

One Braun strategy: Sell the e-business to a bricks-and-mortar company. "We call it 'clicks-to-bricks,'" said Braun. "You need to find a partner who can unlock value in the e-business."

Many Old Economy companies actually have profits and money to make acquisitions, and they want the broader exposure and sales mix that an e-tailer can bring. So there are matches to be made, said Braun, who typically handles assignments with a total sales price ranging from $50 million to $400 million.

About 15 percent of Barrington's business is now Internet-oriented another sign that the power players in e-commerce are no longer only the dreamy venture capitalists but also the merger mavens and corporate restructurers.


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