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TEK21 INTERNET SERVICES FIRM FLOURISHING IN DOWNTOWN BYTE BELT

Downtown Buffalo is fostering an Internet venture -- backed by an heir of former Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie -- that will aid the city's effort to become a hothouse for technology start-ups, company and city officials announced Friday.

Tek21 has about 30 workers and expects to double that in three months, Dan Robbie said. The company sells services to World Wide Web sites.

"Buffalo has certainly embraced what we're trying to do, and there's a lot of young talent here," said Robbie, former president of Joe Robbie Stadium.

The company is based in the former Corn Exchange building at 100 S. Elmwood Ave.

Founded in 1998, Tek21 represents another notch in the Buffalo "Byte Belt," the city's strategy of fostering tech firms in the well-wired downtown, Mayor Anthony Masiello said.

"This is a company that is bringing other companies to our city, which means more jobs (and) more revenue," he said.

Tek21, a reference to 21st century technology, aims to become an Internet conglomerate by providing services and financing to other technology companies. Such economic networks or "econets" leverage the skills of member ventures while recycling development money within the group.

With profitability expected this quarter, the company doesn't need a high-flying stock offering to build its business, Robbie said -- without ruling out an offering in the future. He wouldn't disclose the private company's revenue or capital.

Dan Robbie is one of nine children and heirs of former Dolphins owner Joe Robbie. The family sold the football team and its venue, now Pro Player Stadium, to H. Wayne Huizenga after Robbie's death in 1990.

Tek21 hopes to add a new venture to its econet group every 60 to 90 days, said Dennis T. Brown, director of partner development. He and Thomas Barends, a former UPS manager who is Tek21's president, are among the company's local backers.

Tek21's base business is selling e-mail services powered by another Buffalo company, Chek.com. The branded e-mail service allows clients to provide mailboxes on their Web sites to potential customers.

For example, Tek21 client Regal Cinemas hands out e-mail addresses ending in @I love the movies.com. Users visit Regal's site to pick up their mail, giving the company a way to communicate with -- and advertise to -- movie goers. Behind the scenes, Chek's technology runs the mail service.

"They are reselling our service," Chek.com president George Chamoun said. Tek21 collects a share of contract fees and future ad revenue.

Building from that base, Tek21 will market other services that generate traffic for Web sites and increase their "stickiness," or the time that users spend there, Robbie said.

Its first econet partner is Safeplayer.com, a Canadian company that's developing a helper application for Web-based e-mail. Safeplayer's "gizmo" alerts a user when new mail arrives by displaying a pop-up graphic on the screen.

The six-person Safeplayer.com is relocating from Edmonton, Alberta to Buffalo to be part of the Tek21 Econet, officials said.

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