ASHEVILLE … Capital financing, technology and the spirit of entrepreneurship was commendable at the 3rd Annual Carolina Connect. But the real question is: What is it going to take to connect a growing number of entrepreneurs with more private investor capital? For presenters and attendees at Thursday’s event, the answer fell into one basic theme — grit. Top capitalists and investors from around the nation are not just going to show up — that is clear.

Tom Fisher, vice president of technology for a semi-conductor division of Qualcomm in San Deigo, explained going grassroots is what it takes to start a movement behind entrepreneurship. Infastructure is key. Certainly organizations like the Blue Ridge Entrepreneurship Council (BREC) are helping that happen, he said. “I have seen tons of interest today, and many gems.”

In the keynote lunch presentation, Jim Armstrong, Asheville native and Managing Director of Clearstone Venture Partners, called the day “authentic.” Armstrong said that it is critical to think about investment capital as if western North Carolina was creating a start-up economy.

He continued with explaining three basic needs: assemble a group of people who have “seen the movie before” or who have a proven pattern of building successful companies and selling them; create a family tree of entrepreneurs; and match needs with talents, including documenting accomplishments.

“Success for western North Carolina lies in its ability to leverage the quality of life that already exists and build the infrastructure for the Series A investor,” he added.

The full day capital conference included panels on sales, research and capital strategies, strategic partnerships with investors and corporations, and VIP roundtable discussions.

More than 230 attended the event, many from the Queen City and the Triangle region. Conference organizers say it was the best showing of the conference’s three-year history with more than $2.5 billion dollars of private equity investor capital represented. Financiers from firms such as Clearstone Capital from Silicon Valley, CA, Noro-Moseley in Atlanta, Aurora Funds from Research Triangle Park, Wakefield Funds from Charlotte and more than 30 angel investment funds from the southeast participated.

Relationship building strong

Curtis A. Sheely and his partners came from Columbus, Ohio in search of financing for the Needle Zap, a product of E Med Future, Inc. The device reduces the danger of accidental needlesticks and disintegrates the entire needle portion of the hypodermic syringe for safer use. The company is looking to open an R&D office in the Asheville area.

Tara Holden, a newcomer to Asheville, and CEO of eGlobal Design, knows first-hand technology is growing in the area. She says sales have been strong, particularly in the hospitality area for the young company. A transplant from Ft. Lauderdale, the firm specializes in building brands on line. Chief technology guru for the company, Tim Gallagher, spoke to a crowd of 45 at the sales and marketing session about consistency and market dominance.

Winn Maddrey, founder of Blue Nine Partners in Charlotte, told Local Tech Wire that western North Carolina is wrestling with how the area will define itself, yet retain its uniqueness. “We’re seeing some special networking and collaborative approaches, and that’s good for the area.”

Media Arts Project is one such example of a consortium of web design, visual creative directors and business owners who have come together to be a strong voice in the community. Maddrey was the founder of Crescent PR before its 2001 merger with Raleigh’s Capital Strategies, today known as CapStrat.

Bill Warner, CEO of Paladin & Associates based in the Triangle, addressed more the 100 people explaining that due diligence goes two ways when looking for angel investing. “Know your investor, know your story and tell it in a compelling way,” he said.

Other familiar faces were Terry Thorson Cox from Charlotte’s Business, Innovation and Growth Council as well as Nick Mirisis from NCTA. Both were energized by what they heard.

The day ended with the Tech Exec reception hosted by Local Tech Wire. Brad Leinhart was active pitching one of his new ventures, Sasci Pharma. The company is looking for initial capital to begin the FDA approval process. The reception was sponsored by AdvantageWest, NanoTech Capital, A-B Tech’s Small Business Center, Peak 10 and Proof of Concept, Inc.

Event corporate sponsors included Womble Caryle Sandridge & Rice, Grant Thornton, eGlobalDesign, Qualcomm, KemperStrategy, ESI Advisors, BUILDERadius, RBC Centura, Local Tech Wire and Business Wire.

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