DURHAM, N.C. – Theo Tam and Wynn Xiao Wu were more than a bit nervous for their first serious “dates” with potential investors in their fledgling medical device startup.
But after making 20 brief presentations and getting a great deal of feedback, Tam and Wu were all smiles as they left the “Speed Dating” course on Tuesday.
“I see that they are very interested,” Tam said after he and Wu teamed up to make their elevator pitches to 20 investors at the Council for Entrepreneurial Development’s 24th annual venture capital conference. “They were very engaged.”
The Duke graduate students are part of ImaGyn, which has developed a low-cost, portable device for cervical cancer screening called a “cerviScope.” The team recently won the second annual CUREs competition, an addition to the Duke Startup challenge for business plans. ImaGyn won $100,000 to help start their company.
The CED picked ImaGyn as one of 17 very early stage companies to meet briefly with investors in the Speed Dating program. Since the companies are very young in formation, they are unlikely to win venture support at this point. But VCs from Atlanta, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Boston, Miami and the Triangle as well as other areas gave the entrepreneurs feedback on their pitches.
And in the case of ImaGyn, the potential backers listened even though the initial focus of the firm is to deliver devices to doctors in developing countries at little or no costs in order to battle the ravages of cervical cancer. Profits will come later.
“When it came down to investments, we don’t promise any economic return,” said Tam, who once worked at Google and an aerospace firm before seeking an MBA at Duke. “They still listened. They had a lot of advice and ideas about what directions to go.”
Matt Bennett, president of Discover Technologies in RTP, also went through the Speed Dating process and left encouraged.
“My purpose was to network, to meet as many potential investors as possible,” he said. Asked if the VCs provided advice that would help him hone his pitch as the company grew, he replied instantly” “No doubt.”
Bennett had little time to explain his company’s technology that relates to “plastic muscles.” But, then, elevator pitches to be successful must be brief, to the point, and address VC’s need to know points such as product focus, market and management team.
“In almost every pitch, I got the same question,” Bennett said, “so I know what needs to be refined.”
The question: What is the first application for the technology Discover Technologies is developing?
“We have a technology platform,” said Bennett of his firm, which is based at the First Flight Venture Center. “The investors want to know what we will develop first.”
Among the eager listeners was Kathy Harris of Noro-Moseley Partners, one of the best known venture firms in the southeast.
“There were some good ideas,” Harris said as the Speed Dating round closed. “It made me appreciate how tough it is for entrepreneurs to really keep their passion and keep their enthusiasm and keep focused to give a presentation 20 times in a row in a very short period of time. They must love what they do.”
Some 750 people turned out for the conference at the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club. More than 50 later stage companies are making presentations over the two-day event, which wraps up this afternoon.
While the Speed Dating presenters aren’t ready for presentations on the big stage, don’t be surprised if some of the firms aren’t back in the future and closing deals.
“Some of them definitely will work as venture-backed opportunities down the road,” Harris said.
Did someone say love at first sight?