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BitFlash co-founder hands sword to entrepreneur Add to ...

When BitFlash Inc.'s co-founder Fredric Charpentier passed the sword to incoming chief executive officer Antoine Paquin yesterday morning, he likened the company to a boy preparing for his future as a warrior in ancient Greece.

"Spartans generally entrusted their teenagers to an instructor in the military who would put them through their paces and throw them into the world of battles," Mr. Charpentier said in an interview, recalling his speech to BitFlash employees in Ottawa.

"This is exactly what Antoine will be doing, which is taking a company that has developed a technology, but now needs to go out there and confront the real world."

There couldn't have been a more flattering analogy for high-tech entrepreneur Mr. Paquin.

Ottawa-based BitFlash is working on Internet software that allows graphics to be displayed on wireless devices.

In just three years, Mr. Paquin, a 34-year-old military buff who hopes eventually to take BitFlash public, has built and sold two Ottawa-based semi-conductor companies and with an estimated net worth of $200-million earned a spot on Canada's Rich 100 list, according to Canadian Business magazine.

The sale of his Skystone Systems Corp. to Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., in June, 1997, and Philsar Semiconductor Inc. to Conexant Systems Inc. of Newport Beach, Calif., in April earned him and investors $275-million (U.S.) in cash and stock. He was also a key investor in Extreme Packet Devices Inc. of Kanata, Ont., another semi-conductor startup that was sold in March to Burnaby, B.C.-based PMC-Sierra Inc. for $415-million in stock.

"Business is modern warfare," Mr. Paquin said, quoting his favourite part of Mr. Charpentier's speech delivered to employees yesterday. "The casualties are not blood and heads, but just sales. So it's a civilized form of warfare."

BitFlash employees can expect Mr. Paquin to be a strong delegator, said Luke Smith, who was Philsar's chief operating officer and currently is division director at Conexant in Ottawa.

"He does not micromanage," Mr. Smith said. "He sets broad goals and guidelines and lets his subordinates execute within those guidelines.

"He likes order but he doesn't personally like to create order."

But he did intervene at Philsar, a business he invested in before getting involved full-time. He has said that company was strong technologically but was clearly lacking focus and access to money. So he got directly involved, then fired the company's founder, Luc Lessier, and took over.

During his tenure at Philsar, Mr. Paquin focused the company on selling one main product instead of "a wide variety" and advancing them on several fronts that "weren't synergistic," Mr. Smith said.

Others, such as Denzil Doyle, chairman of Ottawa-based Capital Alliance Ventures Inc., a $90-million (Canadian) fund, have sat on two company boards with Mr. Paquin including Semiconductor Insights Inc.

"He does seem to have the magic touch and, even though I've never worked with him as a CEO, I've seen him operating as a board member and he does have a good strategic mind," Mr. Doyle said.

Mr. Paquin said he has spent the past six months contemplating what he should do next.

He had the chance to join some venture funds as a managing general partner, but chose to head BitFlash because "that clearly wasn't my calling.

"I really love working with good people and building solid companies, so the choice was left to which company," he said.

BitFlash has a product that needs to be developed and sees it as an opportunity to take the company public, he said. "I've done the acquisition thing a couple of times and while I don't rule it out, it's not what I'm aiming for."

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