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Matchmakers for venture-capital firms

Kirk Knight, a senior partner in Menlo Ventures Inc., was wading through 80 applications for two associate positions at the venture-capital firm. When Kirk told his father, Harry, about the flood of applications, Dad saw a business opportunity.

The opportunity - matching applicants with positions - became an executive search company for venture capitalists, called Knight & Irish Associates Inc., in New York.

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At least, that's how Joan Irish, president of the young firm, tells it. Since last May the company has been playing employee matchmaker for venture-capital firms, companies that invest in entrepreneurs and their new businesses.

''As more money flows in (to venture-capital firms), there's more money for people to manage,'' Mrs. Irish says. That means more managers, which means business for their firm.

The search firm spends about half its time finding managers for new venture-capital firms and the other half finding managers for a firm's various portfolios - or new businesses that it has invested in. It also runs a referral service for companies or restless executives who don't want to start a full-fledged search. Instead, they simply ask the firm what prospects it already has on file.

So far, business has been ''terrific,'' Mrs. Irish says. But rough waters could be ahead. Venture-capital executives say the ''old-boy network'' works pretty well; only new firms will need such a service. Her comeback? ''They may know some people available, but they don't know them all.''

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