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All those failed startups from the dot-com boom live on in a growing University of Maryland database of dot-com business plans and marketing documents. In fact, the two-year-old Business Plan Archive has grown so fast that government and private benefactors have donated $470,000 to develop a dedicated digital repository for the materials.
The archives' lead researcher, David Kirsch, says the archive will be a useful tool in understanding what happened in the 1990s, but also in understanding online-business fundamentals.
"We want to let today's entrepreneurs learn from the mistakes," Kirsch says. "The successful companies, the living companies, have their own living records. It's the failed companies, whose documents are endangered that interest us, and we want to save them."
The University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business received a $235,000 grant from the Library of Congress to store business, marketing, technical plans, and venture presentations from more than 2,000 failed and successful Internet startups. Partners in the project matched the Library of Congress' grant. Those partners include the Center for History and New Media; the Internet Archive; and Gallivan, Gallivan & O'Melia, a consulting firm that specializes in collecting and culling documents.
The project comes under the aegis of the Library of Congress' National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program.
Kirsch, who is assistant professor of entrepreneurship at the business school, said the project strives to save the "born-digital documents" of the dot-com era. He noted that many documents of the period were created in digital formats, and they will be saved in digital format in the archive. This is the project's main thrust. Some selected documents, however, created and available only on paper will be scanned into the archive, he says.
The Library of Congress issued a statement saying, "Recent estimates suggest that upwards of 30% of all business records produced today never touch paper."
The business school and the Library of Congress are working with Gallivan, Gallivan & O'Melia to gather documents. Then, the archive will work with the Center for History and New Media, at George Mason University, which specializes in developing online histories for educators, and with the Internet Archive, which captures Web filings.
"My general orientation has been to focus on failed companies," says Kirsch. He is interested in entrepreneurs who might have raised $50,000 from friends for an idea that didn't pan out after 18 months of striving. Those records are valuable for new entrepreneurs.