RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Entrepreneurs, take heart. Speed dating, “lounge” events and “Calling All Entrepreneurs” are just three events this week that serve as examples of where you can meet potential investors and get feedback about your business plans.
Despite the awful economy and increasing amount of bad news about the state of the venture capital industry, persistent entrepreneurs can find events to showcase themselves. You just have to be looking.
Wednesday in RTP and in Atlanta, events took place that matched startups with the money class.
The put on its second Life Science Company Showcase – a “speed dating” event where entrepreneurs from four companies made their case to venture capitalists and other professionals.
In Atlanta, the “Capital Lounge” event from the creators of the generated a crowd of some 200 people – all entrepreneurs and investors.
Thursday in Atlanta, VCs from were putting on another “Calling All Entrepreneurs” where they will meet face-to-face with entrepreneurs to discuss and critique business ideas.
The Biotech “speed dating” included four rounds, each lasting 30 minutes, with entrepreneurs getting 15 minutes to make their best so-called elevator pitch.
So what did the entrepreneurs think?
Gregory Bowers, CEO of Helical Sciences of Greensboro, raved to the Biotech Center’s Jim Shamp about numerous benefits.
“I see this process as critical for early-stage companies like mine,” he said. “When you go to the venture community you typically only get one shot. The North Carolina Biotechnology Center has been an extremely valuable tool and partner for us as we move forward with this new technology.
“We got great feedback. It makes you realize that sometimes we get so caught up in our business that we can’t see the forest for the trees. Now we can go back and make all the changes that were suggested today, so we’re ready when we go back and do this again for real. And these are some of the same people we might be talking to then. I’d much rather have these questions asked now, rather than when millions of dollars are at stake.”
Bill Janzen from Chaperone Therapeutics in Durham, told Shamp he appreciated insightful feedback.
“Here’s just one example of how useful this was for me: all four groups picked up on the same important thing I had left out of my presentation – information about my competitors,” he said. “Now that was good feedback!”
And Clayton Duncan of Vindica Therapeutics of Durham liked talking without money pressure.
“Sure, we can always make our presentations better, but this is especially useful because there was no money involved today,” he explained to Shamp. “As a start-up company, I don’t have a staff to help me prepare for these presentations. I think that’s typical. But I got the same feedback Bill did – I left out the part about competitors, too.”
The venture capitalists told Shamp the sessions are good learning tools.
“The idea here is to provide direct feedback, in a supportive environment, to help these companies hone their skills so they’ll later be able to raise money,” Jeff Clark of Aurora Funds said. “Since we’re not making funding decisions today, we’re able to help by telling these companies, ‘This is what we’d like to see.’"
“This is all about these companies. Garheng (Kong of Intersouth Partners) and I suggested it and the Biotechnology Center was able to make it happen. It’s not rocket science, but it helps new businesses in this community get off to a good start. It’s an example of how this state’s bioscience community can show interest in raising the tide for entrepreneurs.”
According to Derek Norman of Hatteras Ventures, people on both sides of the “speed date” sessions benefited.
“This event helps both directions,” he explained to Shamp. “It not only helps these new companies get valuable exposure, but it also helps those of us in the venture community to better know the landscape of this area. We see it as our duty, as part of this community.”
The program is just one of many the Biotech Center puts on across the state as part of its mission to grow North Carolina’s life sciences sector.
“Each of the four companies here today told us they got valuable feedback to help them better position their companies for success,” Yonnie Butler, the Biotech Center’s business development director, told Shamp. “This is the only time these young businesses and the investors can be together without any real pressure. The investors know they don’t need their checkbook in front of them. They’re free to make suggestions in a non-threatening environment.”
In Atlanta, meanwhile, David Jones and Jason Caplain of Southern Capitol Ventures liked what they saw at the Capital Lounge event. Put on by serial entrepreneur Scott Burkett and Michael Blake, director of valuation services for CPA firm HA&W, the mixer drew a huge crowd.
“The event brings together in an informal format entrepreneurs and investors,” Jones told The Skinny. “There were well over 200 folks present including entrepreneurs, angels and VCs, with no service providers allowed.
“Entrepreneurs from healthcare, energy, food and technology markets residing from Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and all points in between,” he added. “Many are just raw ideas, a few have some revenue traction and several had over 10 employees and good sales traction.
“Overall, we feel it’s a great way to get to meet and see entrepreneurs early on.”
Jones and Caplain stayed overnight for their own “Calling All Entrepreneurs” session Thursday. They put on one last week in the Triangle.
Participating in events like these, attending venture conferences and related events such as networking mixers put on by the Council for Entrepreneurial Development or the technology Association of Georgia and others can open the right doors for entrepreneurs. But you may have to do your homework and spadework to find the doors on which to knock.
Whether you find them is up to you.