RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – CED Venture Connect will occur in its entirety virtually, with the goal of connecting entrepreneurial companies to the resources that they need to grow.

That’s according to acting CEO Kelly Rowell, who noted that the entrepreneurial support organization based in the Triangle has been hosting conferences in some form since 1984 with that goal in mind, adapting events to the current needs of entrepreneurial communities across the state. Action runs Tuesday through Thursday.

Ahead of the 2020 event, right at the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic, CED quickly pivoted to a virtual format, with only a week to adjust, said Rowell.  The resulting event was a pared-back version focused on company pitches, without the extensive panel discussions the organization coordinates most years.  Even still, said Rowell, “we were able to produce 80 pitches, connect 400 people and host three live investor sessions, which we consider to be a success.”

The three-day is expected to draw more than 600 attendees with an abundance of what the CED says will be compelling, timely content. Panel discussions with experts across sectors in life sciences, biopharma, fintech, early-stage startups, and investing, along with others, and include company pitches from North Carolina’s most promising companies poised for growth in 2021 and beyond.

According to CED, there are more than 100 investors from 20 different U.S. states participating as speakers, panelists, and attendees, including individual angel investors and angel investing groups, venture capital funds, growth equity, strategic funds, and corporate funds, and more than 100 technology and life science startups have prepared pre-recorded digital pitches that can be viewed on-demand throughout the conference, with many founders serving as panelists for the live virtual panel discussions.

That includes a panel moderated by Pat Scheper, head of Venture Banking, Live Oak Bank at Live Oak Bank, that focuses on the trends in FinTech.

“It’s all about that theme of things moving closer to the end-user,” said Scheper, noting the example of web-based lending companies such as LoanWell, whose CEO Bernard Worthy will participate on the panel moderated by Scheper.  “For web-based lending, it’s really about using financial technology to remove friction from the process. That means reducing steps in the process and/or the need intermediaries between the lender and borrower.”

“I think LoanWell is one of the most interesting early-stage companies in this area and one more people should know about,” said Scheper.  “I’m not sure everyone knows what a CDFI is, let alone what Bernard and the team are doing to innovate for them and the potential impact that has.”

Innovation and impact

Innovation and impact are one potential theme running through the conference lineup this week, and many of the panel moderators who spoke with WRAL TechWire prior to the event noted they plan to provide actionable insights that can be executed in the context of today’s current markets, whether companies are implementing new go-to-market strategies, competing with other emerging brands on consumer products, expanding their sales efforts in business-to-business sales in a virtual environment, or competing for talent, whether engineering or sales.  High-tech jobs are in high demand across the state, particularly in the Triangle, a recent report found.

“The markets are ripe for creative approaches and innovative solutions that solve new problems,” said Larry Long, Jr., director of collegiate sales at Teamworks, who will moderate a panel focused on how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way companies develop and implement effective sales processes to drive growth in a virtual-first environment.

Panelists will discuss how to increase sales in such an environment, covering what is working and what hasn’t worked, how to iterate and test a sales approach, and how to tackle challenges of recruiting, hiring, and on-boarding sales professionals in a virtual format, said Long in an interview with WRAL TechWire.

“We expect to see an increase in open sales positions as companies return back to ‘growth mode,’ adding headcount,” said Long.  “Startups are in competition for great sales talent, and competing at a global scale.”  That necessitates creative methods to attract, and also to retain, talent, said Long.  “There is tremendous opportunity for innovation in the market at this time.”

North Carolina companies are well-positioned for the future, said Scheper, as across the state, innovation economies are growing, fueled in part by talent both homegrown from universities and highly-skilled workers relocating to the state.  This workforce, said Scheper, is “locked into most of the current trends” and thus able to take innovative ideas to their next iteration, driving growth.  Scheper noted that established companies like Google, which announced a project that will create 1,000 jobs in the region last week, are seeing this growth and innovation across the state, along with the innovation ecosystems that have developed, and are now looking at investing in these economies.

A hub of potential

“The Triangle creates exciting but also relatively solid businesses,” said Scheper.  “We also are an attractive ‘hub’ for companies in those big epicenters.”

“This event also symbolizes the collective impact of our regional entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Rowell, “which we would like to celebrate by building awareness of companies that are launching and scaling.”

Those interested in joining Venture Connect 2021 can still register, said Rowell, at the ticket price of $300 per person.  The event will be held on the Jujama platform, a comprehensive virtual event platform and application that allows guests to build a personal agenda, view company profiles and pitches for the more than 100 startups, and connect with other attendees through 1:1 video meetings.

“Attendees can expect not only three days of quality content, but they can also leverage the platform to make connections and network with other attendees, all without ever having to leave Jujama,” noted CED’s CX operations manager, Lindsay Rivera,  noting that the platform’s “functionality makes it incredibly easy to search, send messages, and set up meetings with other attendees which we know is a major reason to attend any conference, virtual or in-person.”