Using Warrants Helps to Close the Deal

Investors are always concerned about balancing risk with potential rewards when making angel investments.  Recently P2Bi was able to close their deal quickly by adding warrants as a “sweetener” to the deal for early first round equity investors, resulting in a quick close to their deal minimum and the early round warrant deal closes on August 8th.  

The Deal

Early investors who committed to the first round of P2Bi’s Series A funding received warrants for up to 50% of their investment amount with half expiring in December 2013 and the other half expiring in June 2014.  The warrants allow the investors to purchase additional shares at the original offering price of $1.50.

So, what does this look like to an individual investor? 

Someone investing $50,000 would have the option to purchase up to $25,000 worth of additional shares at the original offering price of $1.50 up to December 2013, or if that was not exercised, they could purchase up to $12,500 worth of shares by June 2014.

Why is this beneficial? 

In every deal there is an execution risk.  The deal looks great, but investors wonder how the company will do once the investment has been made.  The warrants allow investors to observe how well the company performs against its benchmarks and to decide whether they want to make an additional investment at the same rate once the company proves itself and the risks are reduced.  This is always attractive to an investor since later stage funding rounds where risk is substantially reduced typically will have a price that is as much as double or triple the original investment cost per share.

For more information about how this deal was structured you can contact Bruce Morgan at P2Bi (bmorgan@p2bi.com)

Investing in Tech Companies – RVC Event

title picPost by:  Adam Holcombe

On July 9, another strong showing from the members of Rockies Venture Club appeared at a monthly RVC event in downtown Denver. The discussion included a number of the startup community’s elite members to include: Erik Mitisek – CEO of Colorado Technology Association moderated the event which featured Chris Onan – of Galvanize, Andrei Taraschuk – of Boulder and Denver New Tech, and Jenny Slade – of National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).

Chris Onan opened up by defining Denver’s current grow engine as more arriving millennials than in any other US city. This growth in the city will ultimately lead to increased quality and quantity of ideas going forward. Chris also mentioned that a potential problem facing Denver is that there is a lack of strong tech bellwethers to build the community around. However, in his own words “money finds good ideas”. This challenge goes out to those looking to pave the way from idea creation to the launch of a new value-creating venture. Chris also highlighted a key point that leads entrepreneurs to success “you must give to get”. This important concept highlights the importance of patience as yet another virtue necessary for entrepreneurial success.

Andrei Taraschuk was next to speak about the business ideas that have been most prevalent in the local community as of late. Andrei has seen more hardware along with Smartphone related devices recently due to the increased usage. These “small screen” devices are rising in popularity across the globe, and “growth is expected to continue at a 10% compound annual growth rate through 2016”1.  Andrei also highlighted that it takes a long time to build a community for start-ups and explained the importance of fostering the relations between entrepreneurs and venture capitals. Andrei highlighted an interesting dynamic between himself and Chris Onan, as Andrei had pitched a business idea to Chris as a potential investor about six years ago and Chris didn’t invest at the time. Andrei’s key point was to focus one’s efforts on building a business and don’t worry about the cash. He, along with other members of the panel, went against the conventional wisdom of viewing the attraction of capital, as definite start-up success by describing, “Don’t celebrate dilution”.

Jenny Slade gave the closing comments. Her data driven comments were core to what drives her decisions to play a significant role at NCWIT. She forecasted significant growth in tech jobs in the next 10 years with only 18% of current computer science majors being female. This undoubtedly leads to her next point that “we are missing half of the good ideas”. Her true goal is to ensure the startup community leverages diversity and all that women bring to an organization. Many tend to agree as the change in business dynamics lend more favorably toward collaboration and multi-tasking, women are viewed as more equipped to keep pace than their male counterparts (For More). One key point Jenny made was that women tend to await an invitation versus interject themselves into a start-up. In her words, one clear way to keep women from applying to a job is by putting “ninja” in your job description as women are generally less inclined to desire to be viewed as a ninja versus men.

This successful RVC event is yet another example of how a bonded community can truly leverage its strength in strong, local organizations to enhance growth and value creation. The key concepts included give in order to get, build the business and don’t worry about money, and finally don’t miss out on half the good ideas by not inviting women into your organization. I truly appreciate the “lessons learned” from a group of true business leaders in the community, and I wanted to share the insight gained from the event. I look forward to being apart of more RVC events like this in the near-term.

 

About the Author – Adam Holcombe is a partner of Cohort Capital, a Venture Capital Firm in Denver featuring a group of young professionals out of DU and CU’s MBA programs coming together to find and fund great opportunities. Although we source our deal-flow from across the country we have a love for Denver and the regions budding entrepreneurial ecosystem. We believe the city is poised to become one of the country’s top regions for start-up activity.

 

1: http://www.fiercemobileit.com/story/global-smartphone-market-growth-estimates-vary-among-research-firms/2013-06-03

Generic Go To Market Strategy: Startup Killer

taxi

A detailed, focused, and feasible go to market strategy is a critical distinguishing feature between the majority of startups that fail and the few that achieve great success.

As an example, imagine you are an angel investor listening to a pitch from a company developing an aftermarket add-on to improve automobile gas mileage. Its go-to-market strategy consists of identifying early adopters of efficient automobile technologies and targeting them at auto shows in environmentally conscious and heavily regulated states like California and Massachusetts. The company will sell products directly through its website while building relationships with aftermarket auto parts chains and independent retailers. The emphasis will be on young professionals, targeted through a massive web-based campaign to build awareness and drive adoption. Conversations with early customers will inform product improvements and enable the startup to refine its marketing pitch.

With a few minor changes, this generic and high level go-to-market strategy could apply to almost any technology in any market. As an angel investor, you’ve heard it many times before, and you’re skeptical: activities like “identifying and targeting early adopters”, “building awareness”, and “driving adoption” are easy to talk about but difficult to do well.

Now imagine you are an angel investor listening to another company that is at the same stage of development for an almost identical product. In this hypothetical example, the company tells you that it has identified automobile emissions reduction programs in three major US cities, with the largest in New York City (NYC).

NYC’s program offers attractive rebates for devices that reduce particulate emissions in cars. Although not the primary function of the startup’s device, the company was able to tweak its design slightly to take advantage of the little-known incentive. The company found a chain of aftermarket auto parts dealers in NYC that cater to environmentally conscious car owners, and it has engaged them in discussions about the product’s design and price point while exploring the potential for a distribution agreement. Additionally, a “green” NYC cab company is interested in advertising the product on the roofs of its cabs in exchange for discounts on the startups’ devices.

Based on the attractiveness of the market, the startup has decided to launch its product in NYC and quickly follow with launches in other major cities, starting with the other two that have automobile emissions reduction programs. It will use what it learns in NYC to refine its rollout in the other cities, which are already being planned to coincide with the ramping of the company’s manufacturing capabilities.

Which company would you have more confidence in as an investor? The second company is already doing all of the things the first company was only talking about: it has identified retail partners and early adopters, it has located the market where its offering has the lowest cost to consumers (thanks to the rebates), and it is focusing on a small geography where it can maximize the impact of every dollar spent on sales and marketing by taking advantage of network effects. It has a well-defined expansion plan linked to its manufacturing capabilities, so that it can grow at a fast but manageable pace. As a potential investor, even if you don’t agree with the plan, you know the company is thinking strategically and you have a starting point for suggesting changes.

Putting together a go-to-market strategy is easy, and every entrepreneur has one. Often it relies on the development of a product so great that it essentially sells itself: all the startup has to do is build it and let people know they can finally buy it. By the time entrepreneurs in this mode start thinking about the details of their go-to-market strategy, competitors may have already established themselves in the most attractive market segments and with the most valuable partners. This will make every future sale more difficult, because the startup is forced to pursue customers and partners less interested in its products. Additionally, if a pivot is necessary, entrepreneurs more focused on the technology than the market may not realize it until they have wasted major time and money. The final drawback of this approach is that savvy investors recognize its limitations, and that could make raising money difficult.

In an environment where the vast majority of startups fail, entrepreneurs with such a poorly defined go-to-market strategy are taking on a significant and unnecessary risk. How do you know when your strategy is detailed and focused enough? Ideally, you should be able to list the top 15-20 potential customers (for business to business startups) or the top 3-5 channel partners (for consumer focused startups) based on the features that distinguish your offering from the competition. You should be able to make a compelling argument about why these customers are more promising than those in other market segments, and you should be able to describe how you’re going to sell to them and how you will move beyond those initial customers to the broader market.

It takes time to figure out these details, so it is important to start early. It is much easier and faster to change an existing plan based on new information than to develop a plan from scratch at the last minute. With so many ways to fail, it would be a shame to let one so predictable kill your company.

Jay Holman is Principal of Venture to Market LLC, a Boulder based consultancy providing go to market services for new ventures in the cleantech industry.

1,000,000 New Reasons to Take Advantage of NREL’s Free Assistance for Cleantech Entrepreneurs

Visualization Lab, ESIFSince 2010 the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has offered up to 40 hours of free assistance to U.S. based small businesses with fewer than 500 employees through its NREL Commercialization Assistance Program (NCAP). The Program is designed to “help emerging companies overcome technical barriers to commercializing clean energy technology”, and it does so by providing limited free access to NREL’s facilities and the technical expertise of its scientists. With the imminent opening of NREL’s new Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), the scope of capabilities available to participants in NCAP and NREL’s other industry partnership programs is about to take a giant leap forward.

At its most basic level, ESIF is a collection of 15 laboratories covering everything from power systems integration, to electrical and thermal storage, to smart power, to materials characterization, to manufacturing, and more. You really have to see ESIF in person to fully appreciate the scale of the facility, and during my recent tour I was struck by the huge amount of space available for equipment testing and systems analysis. The only facility in the U.S. equipped with megawatt-scale (1,000,000 watts) test capabilities, the space is designed for large scale equipment and big experiments. The labs are interconnected with two AC and DC ring buses that allow experiments to expand beyond the walls of a single laboratory, and the facility has a SCADA system in place to monitor and control it all. Petascale computing at the on-site high performance computing data center and powerful data visualization tools round out the facility’s capabilities. The image above shows NREL Senior Scientists Ross Larson and Travis Kemper examining a 3D molecular model of PTMA film for battery applications in ESIF’s Insight Collaboration Laboratory.

The best news is, these laboratories are not just for NREL’s scientists: NREL actively encourages partnerships with industry that provide access to the lab’s facilities and technical experts. If you are a cleantech entrepreneur and haven’t yet familiarized yourself with NREL’s capabilities and industry partnership programs, it’s time to do so. Colorado based startups would be particularly remiss if they didn’t explore NCAP, the free commercialization assistance program mentioned above. The idea is pretty simple: if you have a technical or market related challenge in an area where NREL has some expertise, and you have a project that requires 40 or less NREL labor-hours to complete, you may be able to get support for the project for free.

According to Niccolo Aieta with NREL’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center, about 40% of companies interested in an NCAP project actually undertake one. The other companies typically find that their challenges aren’t a great match for NREL’s capabilities, or they have an issue that is too large or complex to be resolved in 40 labor-hours. However, don’t rule out a project until you’ve spoken to Dr. Aieta about the details, even if you don’t see relevant capabilities on NREL’s website (which I’ve found a bit challenging to navigate). Also keep in mind that projects are limited by the amount of time NREL employees can spend working on them, not by equipment or lab time. So if you need to leave a piece of equipment in place to test for a few weeks, then want some quick help evaluating the results, you won’t be excluded automatically due to the long test time.
If NCAP doesn’t work for you, and you are able to pay for support, NREL also works with companies through technology services agreements (TSA) and cooperative research and development agreements (CRADA). These are flexible arrangements that are customized on a project by project basis, so the best approach is simply to contact NREL and start a discussion. One nice feature about these programs is that partners pay NREL’s costs with no markup, which helps keep out of pocket expenses in line.

Besides the obvious benefits of working with a local world-class laboratory, there are additional reasons to engage with NREL that may not be apparent at first glance. Venture investors are still skittish about cleantech, thanks to the industry’s capital intensive nature and the long, risky time to market for cleantech innovations (note the recent rebranding of the Cleantech Fellows Institute to the Energy Fellows Institute). Increased emphasis is being placed on the value that large, well-established energy equipment firms can bring as strategic investors in cleantech startups. Clearly, the more visibility a startup can get with these companies the better, and NREL’s laboratories are great places to rub elbows with their technical staffs. ESIF in particular, with its unique capabilities related to megawatt-scale equipment and grid-scale integration, will be a magnet for large energy equipment companies and should present great opportunities for small local companies to engage with them.

Yes, the cleantech industry is difficult, but that only increases the value of the deep technical and market expertise that entrepreneurs can find in Colorado. Investors and entrepreneurs alike should take notice as the state’s cleantech resources experience a major expansion when ESIF comes online.

Jay Holman is Principal of Venture to Market LLC, a Boulder based consultancy providing go to market services for new ventures in the cleantech industry.

Technology Talent Shortage: Is the solution education, immigration or recruiting women?

Technology Talent Shortage:  Is the solution education, immigration or recruiting women?

tech picAttend any tech event in Colorado and you’re sure to walk away with the impression that there is a huge tech talent shortage here.  Even though the startup scene here is collaborative and cordial, things can get competitive when companies are looking to recruit talent.

In a time of high unemployment, how do we explain this shortage of tech talent?  One thing we know is that the shortage is not limited to Colorado – I am hearing of shortages all around the country.

Some people think that the issue is that we are not turning out enough educated people to fill these positions, yet according to research by the Economic Policy Institute, “For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), only one is hired into a STEM job.”   At issue may be not that we are not turning out enough graduates, but that they aren’t graduating with the skills that they need to succeed in the job market.  In fact, the Economic Policy Institute reports that only about a third of the IT workforce has an IT-related college degree, 36 percent of IT workers do not hold a college degree at all and only 24 percent of IT workers have a four-year computer science or math degree, so maybe college education isn’t the answer.

Are programs like Galvanize G-School that focus on quickly educating people in real-world application development taking over and producing more cost effective workers?  The G-School guarantees a $60,000 job within three months of graduation or they’ll give your tuition back.  That’s a pretty confident offer – especially since the tuition is $20,000.  That’s a lot to give back in a refund, but it’s about a tenth of the cost of pursuing a full time private college education these days, and the job prospects are better, so I predict we’ll be seeing more programs like this in the future.

Is there really a shortage of skilled labor, or is it an economic issue? 

Another way of looking at the issue may be that there are plenty of skilled people in the US, but that there are better opportunities outside of IT that may be more attractive.  When U.S. talent is not actively entering the tech job market, the international market jumps in to fill the gap. Here are some interesting statistics (also from the Economic Policy Institute):

1)      The annual number of computer science graduates doubled between 1998 and 2004, and is currently over 50 percent higher than its 1998 level, so we’re turning out lots of grads.

2)      Immigration policies that facilitate large flows of guestworkers will supply labor at wages that are too low to induce significant increases in supply from the domestic workforce.

3)      Immigrant worker visas have more than doubled since 1998.

4)      52.7% of STEM graduates who do not pursue technology careers cite pay, promotion and working conditions as their reasons for pursuing work in other areas.

5)      Computer programmer salaries have remained relatively flat in real terms between 1994 and 2010.

These statistics would lead one to believe that immigrant workers are taking all the IT jobs, but on-the-ground experience doesn’t seem to support this, at least in Colorado where we’re seeing high demand and relatively high wages for developers.  The statistics suggest that all or most sufficiently trained U.S. workers are getting work in tech if they want it and that international labor is filling the gaps while also holding down wages in a Thomas Friedman-like flattening of wages globally for similar work.

What about women in tech?

Here’s the big secret in growing the tech labor force – hire women.

Well – if you can get them, it’s great for business.  Tech companies with women have been shown to use 40 percent less capital and be more likely to survive the transition from startup to established company. (From Cindy Padnos, Illuminate Ventures: “High Performance Entrepreneurs: Women in High-Tech,” 2010.)  Nationally, the Department of Labor estimates that our economy will add 1.4 million technology-related jobs to the workforce by 2020; however, at current graduation rates, we’ll produce only enough qualified candidates to fill a third of these jobs. In Colorado, there will be about 4 tech jobs for every 1 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in computing.  Recruiting more women to IT programs can at least double the amount of available talent.

Here are some interesting numbers from the bureau of Labor Statistics. (Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, 2012; Dow Jones VentureSource, 2012)

  • 26% of U.S. technology jobs are held by women
  • 20% of U.S. software developers are women
  • 11% of executives at U.S. venture-backed startups are women

Conclusions – if you’ve got a tech labor shortage, then you need to address all three areas.  Educate your workforce to be able to do the jobs we need to get done regardless of whether it’s a four year or master’s degree or a six month program.   Continue to recruit international labor to fill job gaps.  Think about how many foreign students who earn masters and PhD degrees that we’re sending back home and consider where to prioritize immigration policy.  Educate, recruit, hire and retain a diverse workforce with gender equality to improve performance and meet talent needs.

To learn more about technology investing, staffing and education in Colorado and around the country, consider attending Rocky Venture Club’s “Investing in Tech Companies” event coming up next Tuesday, July 9th in Denver. Register for Investing In Tech Companies event

 

Are all startups “tech companies”?

tech picSometimes it seems as though all startups are tech companies.  When they are in early stages, we talk about “technology risk”, even if that means figuring out how to outsource your supply chain and get your product manufactured overseas by someone else.  It’s not really “technology”, especially if the item is something that is being sewn or otherwise assembled by hand.  We talk about technology risk in the sense that every company has to figure out how to make and deliver whatever product or service it sells. 

In the original Greek root “techne” is about making stuff.  It refers to craft or art, so it makes sense that every company has to make something, even if what it makes is Intellectual Property or a service that can’t necessarily be held in your hand.

Another reason people seem to think that every company is a tech company these days is that you pretty much can’t start a company without using a lot of technology to do it.  Regardless of whether you have programmers setting up an e-commerce site or creating a SaaS application, you’re likely to be using technology in setting up and running your company.  Those companies that don’t use technology probably won’t have the ability to scale and grow big in the way that Angel and VC investors are going to demand.  Since Rockies Venture Club only deals with companies that can scale and provide a significant return to our investors, we don’t see a lot of non-tech companies.

Some people have argued that no companies are really tech companies any more.  Everyone uses technology to create and deliver their product or service, so it’s no longer informative to distinguish some companies as tech companies and others as non-tech.  The real company behind the technology may be providing banking or financial services, wayfinding on your iPhone, tracking your workouts and fitness levels, providing entertainment through games or graphics and so on.  Even though your company may be a SaaS (software as a service) tech company, ultimately it’s probably providing a non-tech service to someone.

A lot of the companies we look at are healthcare tech companies.  These companies are either dealing in healthcare IT where they are providing some kind of information or communications system to make healthcare delivery more efficient, or they have some new technology to deliver drugs, dispose of toxic waste, or other healthcare related operations.  Are these “tech companies” in the same way that IBM is?  Probably not, yet we still call them tech companies.

Ok, so are ALL venture class startup companies tech companies or are NONE of them tech companies?  When it comes down to venture capital and how decisions are made, the fact that a company is a tech company or not really doesn’t matter.  VCs have expertise in highly specific areas, so if you have an IT data storage company (tech company) that will be of interest to certain types of investors whereas if you have an e-commerce company, that may appeal to others.  Within the realm of “tech companies” e-commerce used to be big prior to 2001 and now it constitutes just about 4% of VC investment.  SaaS and other tech fields have eclipsed this number and comprise the bulk of VC investment these days.  So my conclusion is that it doesn’t much matter any more whether you have a”tech” company or not, it matters what you do and who is interested in investing in that.

To learn more about technology investing, staffing and education in Colorado and around the country, consider attending Rocky Venture Club’s “Investing in Tech Companies” event coming up next Tuesday, July 9th in Denver.  Register for Investing In Tech Companies eventhttp://rockiesventureclub.wildapricot.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1349467&eventId=698722&EventViewMode=EventDetails

The Guppy Tank: A Way To Swim Around VC Funding

Guppy Tank LogoPicture this: Your company has a proven business model, consistent recurring revenue, and an obvious path to growth. You’re making money, but need a cash infusion to get to the next level. You aren’t poised to grow the 10-30X VC’s or angel investors might be looking for, and while you have money coming in you don’t have the balance sheet for a bank loan. What do you do?

Guppy Tank, coming to Galvanize in Denver on September 12th, might have an answer. Born from the idea of TV’s Shark Tank, Guppy Tank is a 1-day alternative lending/investing event to help companies that have revenue but need cash. I was able to talk with Founder and CEO Darrin Ginsberg on the phone, and then catch up with COO Jon Engleking after he was on the Venture Banking panel hosted by Rockies Venture Club that evening.

Alternative lending has a few advantages over more traditional methods of acquiring funds. While venture capital may be the sexy way to raise money, only around 1% of companies ever do, since most are outside of the growth potential VC’s are looking for. Even for the businesses in their target range, we’ve seen the Series A crunch, which can fall around the time that companies have proven their model but aren’t profitable yet. Angel investors as a group fund a wider range of businesses, but they’re looking for similar things as VCs. Bank loans mean the entrepreneur gets to keep their equity and upside potential, but they typically loan against either hard assets, or profitability with a strong balance sheet  – neither of which are common in a startup. While alternative lending may involve higher interest rates than a bank, it can fill a gap in the funding landscape for promising companies that are making money but couldn’t get loans otherwise.

The Guppy Tank team has seen success with this concept before. Their first company in the space, Super G Funding, provides debt financing for credit card processing companies (ISO’s), again lending against residual revenue streams. After getting that up and running, BizCash was next, operating on a similar model of revenue backed installment loans, and serving a wider variety of businesses than Super G Funding. 

Guppy Tank is a combination of the ideas from their other companies and the show Shark Tank. Although the events aren’t televised, they are similar in format, hosting 7-10 entrepreneurs to pitch throughout one day. Denver will actually be their first event open for the public to watch. There are a few differences from the show – Guppy Tank will make decisions as a group, so you won’t see them fighting against Mark Cuban for deals. Instead of having a set panel of investors, Guppy Tank invites local angels to participate in events for each city they host events. Although they’re primarily oriented toward lending $25,000-$500,000 per event, The Guppy Tank is also open to making minority equity investments. They’ve hosted events in both Newport Beach and Los Angeles, CA and now have plans to expand to the rest of the country.

“Denver has good vibes,” Jon said at the RVC event. Maybe that’s why they chose Denver as the first event outside of California, ahead of Chicago and New York. They have chosen Denver for investments in the past, as Darrin is an investor in INCOM Direct, SupportLocal, and Zen Planner. Since SupportLocal offices out of Galvanize, they had already had a good experience, and were excited to host the event there.

Applications are due no later than September 8th 2013, but space is limited so make sure to get applications in early. Since the event open to the public, (and just before Denver Startup Week) if you just want to watch, come by Galvanize on September 12th!

 

Article by Tim Harvey, Regular Contributor to the Rockies Venture Club Blog

 

 

A big problem launched a new company

cancer center

Entrepreneurs John Slump and Jared Garfield have gotten it right. They founded their company for the right reasons and are holding fast to those principles. Many medical device companies have technologies that come out of the lab and go in search of a problem. Not these two. They identified a large clinical need and built their company to solve it. As the company evolved through a tough economy, changing investor environment, and development challenges, they maintained the focus of their efforts. Corvida Medical is dedicated to enabling the safer, more efficient, and user-friendly preparation, delivery, and disposal of hazardous pharmaceuticals. As John and Jared told me, “We are passionately committed to making cancer care safe for healthcare workers”.

Like many entrepreneurial stories, this one starts out with a personal ordeal and the persistence to do something about it. John’s sister who lives in Denver was diagnosed with melanoma, and he saw first- hand how dangerous the administering of chemotherapy drugs was to hospital staff. And like many entrepreneurs, John and Jared were not encouraged to create the company necessary to address this clinical need. They wrote their first business plan as students at the University of Iowa, receiving a B+ and “not viable”.  Undaunted, they pressed on with business plan competitions from around Iowa and then nationally. John told me, “The one thing you have to understand about us is that the best way to get us to do something is to tell us we can’t do it”. They researched the clinical need further, they talked to clinicians and hospital staff, they dug into the market opportunity, and they refined their business plan, which culminated in several awards totaling $100,000.

Here is where they realized they might have something. But it’s a huge step from there to start a company. Around that time, they held a focus group at a clinical pharmacology conference with the leading cancer treatment clinicians in attendance. The feedback was so positive and so unequivocal they took the plunge. They knew if they got the clinical need right, then the solution would follow. To get started, they secured funding from friends and family, the state of Iowa, and angel investors.  That is no small accomplishment for two students with no experience but what is really unique is that they submitted a grant to the National Cancer Institute (NCI, http://www.cancer.gov/) under the SBIR program (http://sbir.cancer.gov/funding/omnibus) only about a year after starting the company. NCI doesn’t care about what the business opportunity is, it cares about solving real clinical problems and sees small business as a way to develop innovative solutions to those problems.  They contracted an experienced grant writer, a pharmacologist to be their Principal Investigator, and built a scientific advisory board to assist them in preparing the application, but like most start-ups the majority of the work fell on them. “One of the most pivot events for us was being awarded the NCI grant. It validated the clinical need, and as the title of the grant indicates, it validated we had an innovative device to improve the safe administration of chemotherapy”. Two years later, Corvida Medical was awarded the Phase 2 grant.

With the Phase 1 grant and subsequent additional Series A funding, the two entrepreneurs built a team, further developed the device, and engaged many of the leading cancer centers in the US to test their device.  Since then they have brought onboard Kent Smith in 2012, a very experienced medical device executive as President & CEO, they have been granted 5 patents, and they are working on their FDA 510k submittal. But they continue to focus their efforts on getting the device optimized in the clinic. Asked what they are looking forward to in the near future, they said looking forward to the Phase 3 bridge award to complete their clinical studies.  Like I said, they got it right, and it looks like they continue to get it right.

You can learn more about Corvida Medical (www.corvidamedical.com) by contacting John Slump, at john.slump@corvidamedical.com, or Kent Smith at kent.smith@corvidamedical.com

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bob Luzzi is an experienced medical device R&D executive and entrepreneur. He currently is working on his own early stage venture, and consults for medical device companies in new product and intellectual property development.

Banking strategies for startups

Article by Bryant Burciaga, Guest Blogger

Essential tips for budding entrepreneurs seeking funding

Despite banks inability to enter into a Series A round of venture funding, banks can offer the essential “make or break” capital needed during the Series B or C rounds for many early stage companies. The Banking Strategies for Startups event that the Rockies Venture Club hosted on June 11th featured an array of banking professionals’ give insight into how entrepreneurs should strategize when forming a relationship with a bank.

The panel format event featured Charlie Kelly of Silicon Valley BankKen Fugate of Square 1 Bank, Adam Glick of Vectra Bank, and John Engleking of The Guppy Tank.

The four panelists offered an interesting diversity in banking backgrounds. Both Silicon Valley Bank and Square 1 Bank are considered Venture Banks, while Vectra Bank is a more traditional commercial bank, and Guppy Tank isan alternative lender that provides equity investments and loans for select entrepreneurs.

Ultimately the goal of obtaining financing starts by finding what type of bank serves your startup best. As such, the questions were posed: How does your bank serve entrepreneurs? And how are venture banks different from commercial banks? “Square 1 Bank serves entrepreneurs better than traditional banks because our bank is focused solely on offering services to entrepreneurs and venture capitalist that may not qualify for lines of credit or SBA loans,” said Fugate, founder and Senior Vice-President of Square 1. “While investors can also help, one day they want to invest in cloud service technology, another day something completely different, we have the ability to raise money when angel investors and VC’s can’t,” he added.

Adam Glick, now Vice President of Vectra Bank Colorado, used to work for Silicon Valley Bank and made sure to counter by mentioning that despite venture banks having the ability to make loans for receivables and equipment, they still oftentimes command an interest rate on top of stock purchase warrants securing their risk. “We can offer SBA loans with a variety of packages that offer benefits like extended repayment terms on the loan covenant, plus a traditional interest rate and we sometimes will ask for personal guarantees,” Glick said, noting that it might serve entrepreneurs better to have this type of structure in their financing instead of yet another source digging into small companies ownership of shares.

Jon Engleking of Guppy Tank offered a third alternative. “We are not government regulated, we are private, we have higher interest rates, and our average loan size is $100,000,” he said, “But we offer ‘Shark Tank’-like program where you can obtain money when you don’t qualify for all other sources of capital, so you go to the other guys first then come to us,” he added. With this selected by application only program, Guppy Tank receives on average 55 deals a month, taking in 15-20.

Finally, the panel discussion led to dialogue on how to form a relationship with a banker. Adam Glick gave the advice of knowing several bankers—well in advance of asking for funding—to ensure that at least one will be willing to work closely with you when the time comes. “I want to learn the most I can about a person, to properly have a strong relationship,” he said.

As final words of advice, Charlie Kelly vocalized having cash and receivables on a good standing to ensure no problems arise and to keep things running smoothly, and as a tip to always keep in mind the ability to give out more shares to investors, “When investors want more shares it benefits the founder so that ownership percentage isn’t diluted.” Ken Fugate’s final words of wisdom where stating that Square 1, “Doesn’t want to be the largest equity holder,” and supplemented that by adding “ please ensure that you can at the very least pay interest payments.”

Ultimately the final verdict of the night was that entrepreneurs should closely examine their options and figure out what direction will be most beneficial for their company growth.

For those seeking more information on debt structures and convertible debt come meet Jennifer Rosenthal and Carlos Cruz-Abrams, Business Attorneys at KKO law at the RVC Academy: Convertible Debt event on Thursday, June 20th from 5-7pm.

5 Reasons Your Pitch Stinks (When Your Startup Doesn't)

before and afterYour pitch is often the first impression your company will make with an investor. The company can be amazing and if your pitch is still rough, your company looks rough too.

When you are in front of VCs or angel investors you know it can make or break your fundraising efforts. Combining two of the most challenging things someone can take on (entrepreneurship and public speaking) your presentation can be anywhere between enlightening and embarrassing for both you and everyone in the audience. Here are some ways I see people screw up the pitch of otherwise good startups. This isn’t an exhaustive list, just the most exhausting things I see on a regular basis. 

I’m only talking about the pitch itself here; assuming that you have a company with a real product, a solid team, and traction in the market. You know what you’re asking for, your valuation is reasonable and defensible, and you don’t look like an idiot. Perhaps you even have over a million dollars in revenue and strategic partnerships in place – even those companies can mess it up. Whatever the case, you’ll probably have a short 5 -15 minutes on stage, and only a few slides (at most) to make a first impression.

Don’t blow it! Be mindful of what the audience is here for, and you have a much better shot at closing your round. 

Here are 5 ways to screw up your pitch: 

  1. Too narrow of a talk. Frame the problem you’re solving and why it’s important, and go from there. Hold off on the technical aspects – while they may be easy for you to talk about, it’s not so easy for someone who hasn’t heard of your startup to understand. Most of the time, scientific or detailed answers are best left to the Q&A, or (even better) one on one with the prospective investor after the pitch. Get out of you own head, and make sure you put your idea in context of the problem you’re solving and the ecosystem in which it operates.
  2. Forgetting what investors do. Keep in mind that they are investors, so they want to hear about the investment. Unfortunately, that sense in that isn’t as common as it should be. Know what investors want to accomplish, and learn from CEO’s who have raised and exited successfully before. Understand your valuation and think about the exit, because that’s how investors get paid, and many entrepreneurs forget that. Talking about the cool idea you have without any numbers to back it up might work with an unexperienced angel or a rich uncle, but it won’t work with people who know what they’re doing. 
  3. Acting like you’re in business class.  Avoid industry-specific jargon and MBA-speak. Your audience is smart, but it’s your job to make sure they can understand you. They may have already heard 20 pitches that day, with the same acronym in 3 different contexts, and once you lose their attention it’s very tough to get it back. Also, trying to appear impressive with something other than actual accomplishments may give the audience a signal that you’re not coachable, which is a big red flag. Investors also won’t care about your 50-page business plan like a marketing professor would – be concise (in large font) in your deck and save the business plan for due diligence.
  4. Not practicing enough. It’s okay to feel nervous about the pitch. It is not okay to ignore what makes you nervous. The single best thing you can do to reduce fear is by practicing what you’re going to say, many times over. Practice on your own, in the mirror, and in front of real people. I joined Toastmasters when my career led me to frequent public speaking, and it’s the best thing I could’ve done to improve my presentations. Public speaking wasn’t brand new to me (I had probably spoken to over 1,000 people in public at that point) but the difference I saw was dramatic. I’m still not an expert, but it was a steep and useful learning curve. Not all CEOs will have the time to join a public speaking group, but you at least need to dedicate ample time to practice.
  5. No feedback. Learn all that you can from your practice. Record yourself on video and watch it – it’s probably humbling. Feedback from other people is extremely valuable as well. Toastmasters does a great job of this (on the technical speaking points) and it’s one of the most best parts of the program. Rarely in life are we given honest, realistic feedback (even if it stings) so soak it up when you can. Ask knowledgeable people in the industry like angels or other CEOs to watch and critique both your business and the presentation. If you’re able to get a pitch coach to work with you through the process, be thankful and take advantage of it.

Overall, make an effort to be more aware of what your investors are looking for, and how you communicate most effectively on stage. If you’ve gotten to the point where everything else in your business is solid enough that the only thing holding it back is the pitch, consider yourself lucky. This isn’t an easy process, so learn as much as you can. Then go out, get more feedback and practice, and keep polishing!

 

Article by Tim Harvey, regular contributor for Rockies Venture Club blog.