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"I also want to thank my parents in Vergaio, who gave me the greatest gift: poverty" -- Roberto Benigni, who won Oscars for Best Actor and Best Foreign FilmEDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

Color Boeing Red-Faced

BOEING IS NOT THE FIRST COMPANY that comes to mind when one thinks of decorating expertise. But when it has to, the big aerospace company can do up a house with the best of them.

Five hundred guests are expected to watch the televised liftoff of Boeing's troubled Sea Launch rocket program, a joint project with Russian, Ukrainian, and Norwegian partners to launch communications satellites. The first launch, from a converted oil rig platform in the Pacific Ocean 1,400 miles south of Hawaii, is set for Mar. 27. So Boeing hired Hollywood designer David Banta, who did the backstage rooms at this year's Oscars, to decorate a Long Beach (Calif.) warehouse where the guests would view the launch. But Banta made the mistake of decorating in black, a bad luck color in Russia. The Russians were furious. How to avert an incident? Boeing had Banta hurriedly redo the house in a new shade--"orbital blue."

Sea Launch could use some good luck. It has already earned Boeing a $10 million federal fine for sharing classified technology with foreign governments. Sixteen other sea launches are in the works if this one succeeds. A failure could scuttle the $1.2 billion program. But if that happens, it won't be because the curtains didn't match the sofa. EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

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Taking Your Road Show Online

IMAGINE THAT A BEVY OF BROKERS AND CORPORATE PRINCIPALS ARE PITCHING YOU to invest in a company. The company is private, not public, its funding needs small--$1 million to $10 million.

But instead of being in some nondescript hotel, you're at home, online, attending a virtual "off-road show."

That's the idea behind the new "private equity marketplace" being offered by San Francisco-based OffRoad Capital. It will be, claims founder Stephen Pelletier, the first organized online meeting place where high-net-worth investors can find opportunities in small, rapidly growing companies that have passed the startup stage. The interactive environment will offer quarterly online Q&As with CEOs, financial data, and chat rooms for investors to compare notes. And all companies will have investor exit strategies.

OffRoad, which starts operations this summer, boasts, among its directors, former Securities & Exchange Commissioner Steven Wallman. More established financiers, however, are doubtful about successfully competing, online, with the small investment banks that do similar funding. It will take time to "prove they can really pull this off," says Hans Severiens, coordinator of The Band of Angels, Silicon Valley financiers. OffRoad is betting, though, that its time has come.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

Trimming Red Tape on Student Loans

CAN SILICON VALLEY FIX THE MUCH MALIGNED FEDERAL STUDENT LOAN PROGRAM? Highway 1, the consortium set up to help Al Gore & Co. reinvent government, will give it a go. Its mission: improve services and cut costs by putting most student loan processing and payments online. Right now, 80% of that work is processed on paper, 20% electronically. Highway 1 wants to reverse that within five years.

The deal, expected to be sealed later this spring, will put technologies from IBM, Eastman Kodak, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and others to the test. All belong to the nonprofit group set up to help U.S. officials such as Gore--Mr. Information Superhighway--make government agencies more efficient. The group has bipartisan support and will work with the Education Dept. for free.

At the Veterans Administration, Highway 1 boasted that it reduced response time to clients from 6 months to fewer than 30 days by computerizing records. But education experts say that with $150 billion in loans, 7,000 colleges, and 4,000 lenders, the student loan program is too complicated for a quick fix. But even a slow fix may be O.K.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

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