Erik Mitisek is new CEO of CTA

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If you came to the Colorado Capital Conference last October you may have seen Governor Hickenlooper’s keynote address. Hick’s good friend Steve Foster gave the introduction. At the time, Steve Foster was the CEO of the Colorado Technology Association. Steve Foster stepped down earlier this year to take over as head of GTRI. Now, after a short executive search, Erik Mitisek has been named the new head of CTA.

Mitisek has been associated with the startup world in Colorado for a long time for such a young man. Most recently, he’s been a driving force for grass-roots operations such as Startup Colorado, Denver Startup Week, and BuiltIn Denver.

This news of Mikisek as the head of CTA should put your mind at ease for a bunch of reasons. First of all, the CTA is the largest and most influential technology association in the state. Aside from networking and business-connecting activities, CTA works to guide public policies that affect technology businesses in Colorado. Since technology moves so quickly, it’s very hard for legislators to keep up with all the new opportunities on the horizon. Laws can hold back startups and larger businesses without meaning to. CTA opens the line of communication so that our state legislature paves the way for technology instead of standing in the way.

One of the biggest issues that faces Colorado is that of attracting companies to Colorado and retaining them once they grow. CTA supports the policies and initiatives that draw national attention to our state as a place where businesses thrive. By educating home-grown STEM talent in Colorado, we foster the ecosystem of growing technology companies. CTA is also highly supportive of initiatives that improve access to capital which is something we think about all day here at Rockies Venture Club.

Mitisek is a highly capable leader who genuinely cares about businesses in Colorado. He has an impressive resume including two stints as CEO (Next Great Place, and Claremont Information Systems) and was recently named one of Colorado’s 25 Most Influential Young Professionals by ColoradoBiz Magazine. Don’t even bother being impressed yet because this is only the beginning.

On Mitisek’s watch, CTA will become fundamentally integrated into the fabric of Denver. He will do exactly what he does best–connect grass-roots everyman needs with the administrative efforts of the state government and non-government community leaders. He will help focus the funding power of local foundations who state in their missions a desire to support economic development.

Most of all, Erik Mitisek will remind us that technology is not just for the proverbial software engineer. We all carry a powerful computer in our pockets everyday. We all need to understand how technology can help our businesses market products better. We all need digital security and data storage for our personal information, photos, address book, and recipes. We are all technologists. There’s no more denying it.

Write your well-wishes to Eric Mitisek (or the tasks you want him to handle first) in the comments and I’ll pass them on to him.

More coverage here:

 

Article by Nicole Gravagna, Director of Operations for the Rockies Venture Club.

 

 

Bringing big problems to Denver

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An original guest post by Jay Holman, Principal of Venture to Market

101010Denver

Update: Get information about 10.10.10 on 101010denver.com

10.10.10 will Bring Big Problems to Denver

Entrepreneurs have a unique ability to see opportunity in the problems others face, and they are irresistibly drawn in by the desire to create, and sell, solutions to those problems. This is the guiding principle behind the upcoming 10.10.10 event in Denver, which will bring 10 would-be CEO’s to town for 10 days to brainstorm solutions to 10 big problems. The goal is not just to see if participants can come up with feasible solutions to the problems, but to go beyond that by turning one or more of those solutions into successful startups led by members of the group.

The brainchild of Denver entrepreneur and Vokl founder Tom Higley, the 10.10.10 is an experiment to see whether the creative genius that leads to startup success can be reproduced in a laboratory environment. Along the way, the event will highlight the positive business climate and culture of the Denver area, which was already given a boost recently when the SBE Council named Colorado one of the 10 most entrepreneur-friendly states.

The 10.10.10 is not a business plan competition; instead, it is about collaborative business plan creation. When CEO level entrepreneurs apply to participate, they will identify a problem they’d like to discuss with the other participants. They won’t suggest a solution in their applications; those suggestions will come during of a 10-day working session in Denver during which all 10 participants work on all 10 problems. If a feasible path to a solution emerges for one or more of the problems, it will be developed into a business plan.

The focus will be on big problems, as bigger problems lead to bigger opportunities. Since a primary goal for this exercise is to start one or more profitable businesses, applicants will need to provide proof that large companies or groups of consumers are willing to pay for a solution to the problem the applicant describes. That means charity projects are out (sorry Jimmy Carter, but if all goes well the participants will be in touch after their exits).

So, will it work? Like any experiment, or any startup for that matter, 10.10.10 has its risks. 10 days is not a long time to come up with a solution to a major problem, and participants won’t have much of an opportunity to gather additional information to flush out the details of their proposed solutions. Lots of problems seem easy to solve until you look at the details; hence the ubiquitous pivot.

However, there is something to be said for taking a step back, putting your head together with a group of smart people with access to capital, and looking for good opportunities that others have missed (I refuse to use the term “low hanging fruit”). How many times have you asked yourself, “why didn’t I think of that?” after you see someone strike it rich for rebranding off-the-shelf paint as liquid paper or repurposing a small box as a humane mouse-trap? There are so many solvable problems out there that I think a group of successful entrepreneurs with resources should be embarrassed if they don’t knock a few off and make a bundle in the process. Just don’t forget Jimmy on your way home from the bank.

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.

101010 Denver 101010Denver

 

 

 

Fundraising: Friends, failure, and excellence

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Fundraising in all its forms is about three things: having a reputation for excellence, developing true friends, and accepting failure.

Getting people to give you money is one of the hardest things on the planet. Ask anyone to give you clothing, food, time, a couch to sleep on, or their car for the day and you will likely be more successful than if you ask for money. Don’t be mistaken, it’s not about the value of the money. Frankly, time is our most precious resource. Yet, people seem very willing to offer their time. The scarcity of the resource doesn’t seem to matter.

Cash money has a universally defined value. One US dollar equals 0.76 Euro, 54.56 Rupees, and 6.38 Kronor. Across the planet, we can all agree how much our currency is worth in relation to other currency.

Applying cash value to the value of goods can get a little tricky. A watch is not always $50. You can pick one up for $14.99 at Target. Or you can get a real deal–save $43,355 on a blinged out Rolex on sale for $439,995.

Reputation for Excellence

What’s the value in the Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II Ice timepiece versus the Merona round face watch with changeable strap? I’m going to venture a guess that it isn’t the sense of peace you feel when you walk onto a crowded subway wearing it.

It also isn’t really about the way the watch looks. I have an expensive watch that was given to me as a gift. It was a hand-me-down from someone who can afford the luxury of an expensive watch, two actually, since I gained ownership of this one when they bought a new fancier version. I’m not known for my lavish income and I’m guessing that people have no idea that it’s expensive. To that point, the Rolex serves to reinforce a person’s brand, not create it. A poor man wearing a Rolex looks like a poor man with a knockoff. However, for the right man, the Rolex Oyster will serve to reinforce the idea that he is doing very well indeed.

This brings me to my first point about fundraising. Rolex has developed a reputation for excellence. The value of a  Rolex is higher than that of Merona which has a reputation for affordability. Those who shop for Rolex don’t question whether the particular watch is worth the price tag (of course it isn’t). They are paying for an item that will support their personal brand.

Whenever you are fundraising, you have to have the reputation for excellence so that the person giving you money will feel as though you are supporting their personal (or business) brand.

Make True Friends

Sometimes you will get very lucky and a random person holding cash will knock on your door to tell you that they want to give you the money. Ok, you’re right. That never happens.

You must create a relationship with a person (or institution) before you can ever hope to get money out of them. Apply this in your head, right now across all the situations where people exchange money.

  • Customers want to know the business and product will be around for a while and that they can depend on it.
  • Donors want to be (or feel) involved with the mission and activities of the organization.
  • Investors want their money back in 5-7 years, and they want to have a successful portfolio to chat about at cocktail parties.

Think about it on a personal level. How often do you buy a brand you’ve never seen or heard of before? How many charity causes have you given money to? Let me guess, someone you knew was running a race or otherwise raising money for the charity and you gave to support Breast Cancer research, but deep in your heart, you gave because you wanted to see your friend happy.

Investors give money to the people they like. They have to qualify their investments by calculating whether the investment has the possibility of making them a lot of money. But it’s not the future trips to Tahiti that make them sign the check. It’s the knowledge that they get to be involved in the company as it grows, if only to drop knowing comments about the company’s burgeoning success to their friends.

You can get a lot closer to your fundraising goals by developing real relationships with the people who can help you access capital. I’m not talking about the, “let’s do lunch” schmoozing stuff here. I’m talking about remembering birthdays, being genuinely curious about how someone’s child did in their big soccer game, and really enjoying the person for reasons that have nothing to do with money.

Learn to accept failure

Failure is almost as complicated as money. When you fail, you feel way more miserable than the failure should actually feel. A failed marriage can bring an otherwise successful person to disability and depression for a year or more before they buck up and move on. Getting fired, losing a big account, having a stock portfolio crash, all these things make people feel worse than the failure actually requires. In short, we are very bad at getting over it.

When you ask someone for money and they say no, you might feel terrible. You stuck your neck out and got rejected. You might even feel like cutting ties with them. They clearly aren’t supportive. Right? To be clear, a no is not a rejection. It’s not a failure, it’s an open ended sentence…. It’s a relationship that you need to build before you can get to the possibility of a yes.

I guarantee if you try to raise money for anything, you will hear more nos than yeses. Accepting that as a part of the process will make fundraising much easier.

 

 

 

Swift Tram Wants to Get You High

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Guest Post by Jay Holman, Principal of Venture to Market LLC

Recently declared the third most investable startup at the 2013 Angel Capital Summit, Boulder based Swift Tram wants to revolutionize public transportation by taking it high above the streets. The company envisions riders zipping along in suspended coaches 20 feet off the ground, gliding unimpeded over traffic jams, accidents, and icy roads to reach their destinations quickly and predictably. And, perhaps best of all, Swift Tram expects construction of its routes to cost less and take less time than adding light rail or bus lanes to existing travel routes.

With such an attractive set of benefits, observers could be excused for wondering why no one has gone down this road before. In fact, they have: a suspended coach system (also called a suspended monorail) built in Wuppertal, Germany in 1901 is still running today. More recently, Siemens completed one in 2003, and Aerobus is supposedly building one in Weihai, China, but its current status is unclear. However, despite these examples and a number of others not listed, suspended coaches have played a very minor role in public transportation to date.

What makes Swift Tram different? According to Founder and CEO Carl Lawrence, it’s the cumulative effect of many recent technological advancements all incorporated into a new, modern design. Swift Tram has filed two provisional patents covering advancements intended to, among other things, improve the speed, efficiency and reliability of suspended coach systems while reducing operating costs. Understanding the company’s innovations first requires a general explanation of their new approach to an old method of transportation.

The Swift Tram system consists of coaches suspended beneath large tubular guideways that are supported by regularly spaced towers (see image above). Drive bogies travel through the inside of the hollow guideways and connect to the passenger carrying coaches beneath them through a channel that cuts through the bottom of the guideways (see image below). The bogies are the true heart of the system: they contain motors powered by electricity delivered through the guideways, and house the intelligence that enables the fully automated system.

The bogies will be designed to carry the coaches at average speeds of 45 to 75 mph, and will be fully automated, so no driver will be required in the coaches. The ability to operate without drivers is key to the operational efficiencies Swift Tram is counting on to make its approach economical. Not only does it allow the company to save the labor costs associated with drivers, but it significantly reduces the overhead associated with running smaller, more frequent coaches. By running coaches more frequently Swift Tram would reduce wait times for passengers, leading to happier passengers and, ideally, increased ridership.

Efficiency gains in the bogies would come from incremental improvements over historical designs, such as the use of regenerative braking and smaller, more efficient motors. At the system level, smaller motors would enable smaller bogies and smaller guideways, cutting construction and material costs. Swift Tram plans to pursue additional system level efficiencies by designing smart bogies that can coordinate their activities to minimize power draw system wide. In addition to using less electricity than traditional suspended coach drive mechanisms, they also would reduce the size of the electric grid required to support the system, again cutting construction and material costs.

By incorporating these and other design improvements drawn from recent developments in the smart grid, electric vehicle, and related industries, Swift Tram hopes to pull together a system that overcomes the challenges that have slowed widespread adoption of suspended coaches to date.

Currently, Swift Tram is focused on establishing the partnerships it will need to realize its vision. The company plans to manufacture the drive bogies, outfit the coaches, and develop the software for the control centers in-house, while manufacturing and construction of other system components will be outsourced. An in-house prototype of the bogie is under development, and Swift is raising a $1M seed round to support the engineering design of the total system. The company anticipates raising a couple of additional rounds to support prototyping, testing, and manufacturing before it sees initial revenue in 2016.

If Swift Tram is successful in helping public transportation rise above the fray, the ramifications could be significant. Metropolitan areas all over the world suffer from severe traffic congestion, and a cost effective solution that reduces travel time without adding to the ground-level footprint of transportation infrastructure has a lot of appeal. The array of approaches to suspended coaches that have come and gone without catching on provide a testament to the challenges Swift Tram faces, but if the company overcomes them it should find lots of riders who have been waiting for a better transportation option. Waiting in traffic jams, waiting for trains that aren’t scheduled to arrive for another 30 minutes, and waiting for buses that should have arrived 10 minutes ago.

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.

 

How do I begin meeting angels?

We hear from a lot of companies who request our staff time to have coffee. It’s a common getting-to-know-you routine here in Denver as in many other towns. We used to be able to do this regularly, but as our investment numbers reached $15M in 2012, and the word got out that companies can get funded through RVC, we simply don’t have time to drink that much coffee!

Included in RVC’s mission is an important bit about helping entrepreneurs attain their goal of meeting angels. Sorry, we cannot simply send you a list of angels email addresses. Apply to pitch!

[pullquote align=”right” textalign=”|right” width=”30%”]We are a non-profit, and we really are here to help. Please check out our resources first, then come to us with your remaining questions. [/pullquote]

On a daily basis both Peter and I get between 1 and 8 emails from companies who want to get involved or get noticed by investors. I’m not even counting Linked-in messages. I don’t know how Peter feels, but I get a pang of guilt every time I have to tell an entrepreneur that I can’t spend an hour at a coffee shop telling them how RVC works. I wish I could!

What a grand luxury it would be to walk each company through the RVC process. We’d have to raise our event prices to exorbitant rates to get that kind of people-power. We are lucky to get more deal-flow than some of the local venture capital offices and it’s hard to directly meet with each person who wants information.

We are a non-profit, and we really are here to help. Please check out our resources first, then come to us with your remaining questions.

We post information on this website guiding you along. Read Peter’s 12 Ps of preparedness, find out why we charge pitching companies for their tickets at conferences, read the ongoing Investor Pitch Deck Series, or what happens after you pitch to investors at RVC. If you still have questions, feel free to send me an email nicole@rockiesventureclub.org so I can point you in the right direction.

There are four ways that entrepreneurs can get positive RVC attention:

  1. Read up on our process. (see links above) Requesting our undivided staff time to tell us about your company isn’t really fair until you’ve done your own homework on us so you know if we can help you.
  2. Take the self-assessment so you know what your company’s strengths and weaknesses are. BE HONEST. No company is perfect. Find your opportunities for improvement.
  3. If you are ready to raise money, apply to pitch. There is no way around this. We need your company’s information in a standard format so we can use it in investor meetings. If you don’t fill out the application, we will be looking at a blank form when your name comes up on the agenda.
  4. Come to events!  We have events all the time – between classes, pitch meetings, and mastermind meetings, there are a lot of ways to show us your face. Besides, you should probably get to know the community if you expect to ask for money.

 

 

Investor Pitch Deck Series #4 – The Summary Slide

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Dear reader,

This is the fourth of many blogposts in a series that I’m calling the Investor Pitch Deck Series. I am creating a post about each investor pitch slide, why it is important, the common errors, and how to communicate that you have what it takes to achieve your goals for this company. This is the fourth in the series and it’s about your final pitch deck slide. The Final slide, Fourth post, and it’s March. Get it?

Posts in this series

(note, this is NOT a suggested order for sides in your deck)

 


The mantra for this series is, “Above all, make sense.”


 

The Summary Slide

This is the slide you put last in your deck. Your final slide. The MOST important real-estate of your whole deck because it’s the first thing that your audience will see after you have completed your amazing pitch. Your audience just spent 5, 10, maybe even 20 minutes watching your mannerisms, hearing your voice, feeling your message, probably all for the first time. They are in a bit of a daze. Even if they zoned out during your pitch, when you beseech the audience for feedback, they tend to tune back in. With the single word, “questions?” lost audience members snap back to life.

Heads snap up, hearts feel guilty because they missed the last three slides. They might whisper to each other, “How much is he raising?” “Any patents?” “Did they say they were local?”

Your job is to answer those questions and keep them engaged during Q&A. I’ve seen two great ways to do this.

  1. You can create a summary slide with all the highlights of your deal including the ask, your patents, contact info, team info, major partnerships, or whatever makes your deal amazing.
  2. Or you can play a slideshow of your deal highlights that will play on behind you as you answer questions.

TrekPak, for their pitch at the Angel Capital Summit 2013, compiled their customer satisfaction into a beautiful slideshow. Each slide was a tweet from a real customer paired with a high resolution photo (provided by the customer) of the TrekPak hardware storage product in use. This simple slideshow acted as a 20-foot tall poignant declaration of success. The audience instantly understood that the company is selling their product. Customers are using the product and are happy enough to take pictures and tweet about it. That’s traction, my friends.

Cringe Factors

Cringe Factor #1 –  Your slide just says “Questions?”

Why this makes us cringe: This is a huge waste of a slide. You have a chance to grab the audience by the horns and engage with them in some valuable Q&A and you are trying to inspire them with the word “Questions?”. Yawn!

How to do it right: Inspire, engage, at the very least – inform. Choose something that you didn’t have time to convey in the pitch proper and really hit the audience over the head with it graphically. TrekPak knew that the two founders look young and it was important to convey their company’s traction. Another company might choose to focus on the powerful partnerships they’ve made, or to reiterate the strength of the team, or the pizazz of the marketing strategy.

Cringe Factor #2 – You’ve put only your contact information on your slide.

Why this makes us cringe: It’s better than the word “Questions”, but not much. Use your real estate!

How to do it right: If you want to keep it simple, create a static slide broken into 4 or 6 squares. Put the highlight information about your deal on that slide. Imagine the audience members lifting their phones in synchrony to take a picture of your final slide. This is the slide they can refer back to when they talk about your deal with other investors or their spouse later in the day. Your highlights are different than those of the company pitching before you so I can’t tell you exactly what goes on this slide. Intellectual property protection, sales to date, FDA approval, team years or experience, a photo of your product, the ask, other details about your deal, potential 5 yr ROI (be careful), your Fortune 500 mentor, time to break even. Spend an hour with your team to determine which are the most exciting parts of your company.

Cringe Factor #3 – You dash off the stage when no one attacks you with questions

Why this makes us cringe: You are missing whole minutes of opportunity to connect with the very people who can give you the resources your company desperately needs.

How to do it right: It’s the rare audience member that is squirming in their seat to ask a question. Audience members are listening, dozing off, complacent, and protected by the anonymity of being an audience member. They might be curious, but it takes a little time to form a question and raise a hand. Give them a minute. Count to ten in your head slowly. If they still haven’t come up with something, then have a question ready. Say, “I bet you are all wondering about our marketing plan. Here’s why we think it’s a strong plan.” I don’t care how blank their faces are. Keep sharing details about your company and your deal. Know your time limit for Q&A before you get on the stage – then use it all.

I searched the world wide internets and could not find a single example of an information-rich final slide. Having one seems like a BIG way you can stand out from all the other pitches at your next entrepreneur pitch event. Use the real estate!

I made this silly joke final slide to illustrate my point. My fake team is awesome, David Ducovney, Alicia Silverstone, Bill Clinton, and Bill Gates. What could do wrong? Haliburton has promised to acquire us in a few years and in the mean time, investors get free trips to Oahu for board meetings. Investors, you better make sure your stock contains voting rights so you need to be in those meetings!

 

 Article by Nicole Gravagna, PhD, Director of Operations for the Rockies Venture Club as part of a series on the elements of an investor pitch deck. The next in the series is The Problem Slide.

CO? Forestry: Investing in carbon reduction and sustainable forests

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Guest Post by James Lester, Managing Consultant with Cleantech Finance

When investors, policy makers, and the media discuss the best ways of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that cause climate change, most attention is paid to increasing renewable energy and reducing the usage of fossil fuels. A key driver of climate change that is often overlooked is tropical deforestation, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of global GHG emissions. These native forests act as global carbon sinks (they absorb carbon emitted by energy production), but rapid deforestation in tropical regions due to unsustainable timber harvesting, farming and livestock practices in developing countries have devastated natural forests, reducing the ability of the planet to absorb emitted GHGs.

CO? Forestry Corp, a Colorado-based developer of sustainable forestry and carbon offset projects, is addressing this critical area, a relatively low-cost target sector for emissions reduction. CO? Forestry is deploying investment capital to design, plant, and manage Brazilian eucalyptus timber assets, and develop marketable and verifiable carbon offsets for sale to strategic partners. Its founder, Reed Pritchard, has over 25 years of experience in commercial real estate and renewable energy project development. The company has purchased high quality, Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) carbon credits developed in the Peruvian Amazon and recently announced a partnership with Ride the Rockies, a hugely popular annual bike tour through the Colorado mountains. Ride the Rockies will use the carbon credits from CO? Forestry to offset its carbon footprint and highlight the tour’s sustainability efforts.

CO? Forestry is currently engaged in efforts to develop its own sustainable forestry projects that take advantage of the dramatic transformation occurring in the charcoal supply market. Approximately 55% of charcoal production in Brazil comes from logging native forests for the Brazilian steel industry with a value of over $500 million annually. Charcoal is one of the main sources of energy used in the production of pig iron for steel in Brazil. The vast majority of the current charcoal production is from unsustainable and often illegal harvest of native forests, leading to severe environmental degradation and deforestation. While there have been efforts to reduce unsustainable practices, institutional barriers have prevented wide adoption of sustainable forest plantations for charcoal. CO? Forestry’s business plan is poised to overcome these barriers.

CO? Forestry’s projects will help to replace native forest destruction with a renewable, more environmental friendly source of charcoal for iron ore reduction. In the Brazilian charcoal market, eucalyptus hardwood timber receives premium pricing and produces a better, faster, more consistent charcoal product than native forest timber and is less expensive than the alternative, imported coking coal. The company sees the additional income provided by the new area of carbon credits and carbon finance as having a significant impact on the barriers to sustainable development. CO? Forestry describes its sustainable forestry project in greater detail on its website.

CO? Forestry is proposing the development of a three-phase 24,000 acres plantation project with total development costs of approximately $45 million and 14 year project life. The company is currently seeking around $800,000 from investors to cover the upfront development costs and operating losses of the initial pilot project over the next 36 months. The income produced from the sale of both timber and carbon credits developed by CO? Forestry will create a long term, lower risk, stable investment return for CO? Forestry’s strategic partners, as well as other investors such as pension funds, college endowments and private individuals. According to Pritchard, an investment in CO? Forestry should appeal to the longer term investor looking for solid, stable, lower risk returns in the area of 20% IRR’s (unleveraged).

Brazil is one of the fastest growing markets worldwide with a rapidly expanding middle class demanding the building blocks (lumber and steel) of a developing economy.  A sustainable, local, and reliable, supply of carbon neutral charcoal provides a competitive cost advantage and hedge for the Brazilian steel industry. The resulting CO? Forestry carbon credits will be sold into the $576 million (2011) global voluntary carbon market. It should be noted that the potential growth of the market for carbon credits may soon expand as  international bodies along with the U.S. are currently discussing various policies to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (also known as REDD).

Pritchard began the company because he sees a tremendous opportunity for himself and potential investors to realize significant investment returns as well as create a profitable, positive and significant change to the current trajectory of the planet’s carbon balance. If you are interested in learning more about the potential opportunity that sustainable forestry and carbon credits can provide, please contact Pritchard at rdpritchard@co2-forestry.com.

James Lester is a Managing Consultant at Cleantech Finance, which is an analytics group that reports on the intersection of finance, cleantech, and policy. James is an experienced author and has contributed to industry journals such as the Pew Center on Global Climate Change which is now called the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

Student Entrepreneurs at ACS Semi-Finals

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The Angel Capital Summit 2013 Semi-finals were closed to the public. Instead, we invited some energetic student entrepreneurs to view the pitches. We know it’s hard for students to break out of their rigid schedules and ivory towers so the few who actually showed up that day are total stars. Eric Nydegger from the School of Mines attended to our semi-finals with Dr. Joy Godesiabois who understands the importance of connecting industry and academia.

Impressed with some of the questions that Eric had for the pitching companies, I caught up with him between pitches and asked him a question of my own.

“Eric, will you write about your experience here today for our online readership?”

Below is his take on the busy day:

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”] Investors will consider investing in a founder who is excited about the business[/pullquote]

As with any college experience it is necessary to get outside of the structured institution and peruse different venues for the application of education in the business environment. Recently the undergraduate and graduate students at the Colorado School of Mines in the economics and business department were provided this opportunity through an invitation to attend the Angel Capital Summit 2013 Semi-Finals to gain insight into the process of the entrepreneur pitch to angel investors.

By personally experiencing the Semi-Finals and watching the angel investor coaches and judges in action, I was able to see first-hand the mannerisms, presenting strategy, and the basics of the pitch required to gain the interest of investors effectively and succinctly.

After each pitch, judges inquired about details. From the business’ Twitter handle to the summary slide, I was quickly able to see what investors would be looking for within the first crucial seconds of the five-minute pitch and throughout the entire presentation. As efficient methods of communication of the business were addressed, the varying entrepreneurs and coaches were conducted through a quick presentation and then a Q&A session to address questions, but to also allow for the knowledgeable judges to provide guidance and recommendations for the entrepreneurs on their presentations.

Some of the presentation tips included using timeline slides when effective, addressing the exit strategy, clarifying the product and the industry in the first crucial moments of the presentation, addressing current partnerships and networks that are currently developed and advantageous to the business, and most importantly highlighting the competitive advantages.

Other guidelines for the presentation strategy included using pictures to keep interest without distracting, create “the hook” within the first 30 seconds, and present with power and enthusiasm for the business. Investors will consider investing in a founder who is excited about the business with a poor product before investing with an individual that has a great product but a poor, unenthusiastic attitude.

The atmosphere of the practice pitch session gave me an understanding of the pressure of the presentations and the composure required by the entrepreneurs in order to effectively communicate their business and product.  As a practice session and a final elimination session before presenting to the multitude of investors the following week, the setting brought on a challenge to the entrepreneurs presenting, recognizing the significance of the experience. By simply observing the professional poise of some and the shaking and bending of notecards by others, the preparation and the experience of the speakers quickly became apparent to all those observing.

Throughout the enlightening experience and in preparation for our own class presentations of our business plans it was most certainly an informative and educational experience to supplement the classroom experience. The familiarity to the situation will certainly prepare those that attended not only the pitch session but the conference as well with a new awareness and vision for the young entrepreneurs into the innovative business environment.

Part of the Rockies Venture Club mission is to help build the pipeline of great entrepreneurs in Colorado. We are excited to report that 6% of our Angel Capital Summit Attendees were students. The audience contained student representatives from the School of Mines, Regis, and CU Boulder.

 

An E-Commerce Revolution with Infinite Possibilities

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As a mom with little time outside of childcare, I want shopping to be as painless and efficient as possible.  I don’t dare waste time in malls.

I would like to buy a Kettler Kiddi-o Air Tire Tricycle. It is sold by a multitude of websites including eBay, Amazon, Walmart.com, and so forth. After searching two hours for the best price and comparing shipping costs and coupon codes, eBay won the sale with a price of $89.99. Now I really don’t want to spend that much, but that was the best price I could find.

Brian Grega and Anthony Sanchez, veterans of sales and marketing, are coming to my rescue. Shortly after Christmas 2011, they began to discuss how they have spent their careers figuring out buyers, trying to be better guessers of who will buy what when.

Here’s the conversation that changed everything:

Sanchez, “I wish there was a way to know when someone wants to buy something so we don’t have to spend so much time and money marketing to them.”

Grega, “Why can’t we have that?”

Within the few minutes of that interaction, these guys had started the ball rolling on what would shatter the existing models of today’s online marketplace and start an e-commerce revolution with infinite possibilities in today’s environment and technology.

What started in that brief exchange between Sanchez and Grega, quickly took form as the only C2B (consumer to business) online shopping model in e-commerce, Infinite Buyer. They created a site where the buyer arrives with a specific product in mind and makes an offer for it to registered sellers. Venders, in turn, respond with an acceptance, counter, or refusal of the customer’s price. In this simple exchange, Infinite Buyer has revolutionized the online market in a radical shift of power to the buyer.  Both the buyer and seller save time and money in an unprecedented way with this model.

Infinite Buyer entered a market saturated with successful online stores like Amazon and eBay. How it can contend with such formidable forces? It doesn’t have to. These big guys serve the general, uneducated shoppers at the wide mouth of a shopping funnel whereas Infinite Buyer captures the decided buyer at the narrow end of that same funnel.

Grega likes to say, “The little red book of selling will tell you that people do not like to be sold, but they love to buy.” This statement is the best testament for Infinite Buyer’s goal – create a place where buyers have the power to guide the market and sellers enjoy the profits without as much of the usual expense of earning them. Imagine that you wake in the morning with a purchase in mind and can simply enter the item on Infinite Buyer with an offer to sellers within your budget. Then you go about your day fulfilling other responsibilities and return later to find which sellers have accepted your price. Finally, you can complete the transaction quickly, wasting almost no time shopping.
Sanchez puts it this way, “There’s no more waiting for the right seller offer to pass in front of you, no more waiting for a summer sale. Everyday everything is on sale at the exact price you want.”

While the control currently lies mostly with Infinite Buyer’s consumers, sellers still reap many benefits. Without the expense of sales and marketing teams, they get feedback as to what buyers want and what they are willing to pay. And while the beginnings of Infinite Buyer focus on the consumer, the future holds many exciting possibilities for sellers. Grega and Sanchez envision capturing more and more of the funnel described earlier, moving up a bit, if you will. For example, the site will eventually allow sellers to post items for offer. When buyers use Infinite Buyer to pursue specific items, they can also submit an offer on other items sellers have displayed.

Grega, CEO of Infinite Buyer, spent the majority of his 30-year career at high tech Silicon Valley start-ups. He’s an expert at market development, sales operations, marketing, and industry pioneering activities. Sanchez, CMO of Infinite Buyer, is a former Fortune 500 Marketing Executive with 25 years of experience in marketing strategy, digital marketing, branding, website development, and entrepreneurial pursuits. He was one of Silicon Valley’s first web marketing professionals at Oracle. So you’ve got two of California’s Silicon Valley business gurus forging the way with an exciting new company in Colorado’s “Silicon Summit.”

Besides Grega and Sanchez, Infinite Buyer’s team includes experienced advisors on the Board of Directors and field experts on the Board of Advisors, such as Skip McGrath, eBay’s only endorsed Online Sales Coach. There are also technical experts and highly skilled architects in product development.

The niche Infinite Buyer has filled in the marketplace and its leadership combined to earn the company a finalist pitching spot in Denver’s Angel Capital Summit, hosted this week by Rockies Venture Club. Infinite Buyer will join many other Colorado start-ups in a quest for funding.

Grega and Sanchez see funding as a vehicle for supporting Infinite Buyer’s viral growth potential. Once monies are received, they will exercise their marketing expertise and put many features into place that will guarantee a rapid increase in the user community, platform development, and the creation of a mobile app. Additionally, funding will focus on creating loyal customers by utilizing data acquired through transactions for augmenting features and options. Grega and Sanchez envision tens of millions of buyers within 3-5 years and tens of thousands of sellers by then. The funding amount they seek now ($400K) is relatively low considering their playing field, but they say it is enough to carry them through the impending viral growth period that will, in turn, lead to enough revenue for independence.

As with any start-up, there are issues to address. Infinite Buyer faces an imminent viral growth period, one that will surely entail the need for a lot of customer support. Once a transaction is complete, there are shipping and handling, quality assurance, and other processes to ensure. Also, there are worries that buyers won’t be loyal if they aren’t experiencing successful transactions, and current sellers, in turn, expressed concern about buyers being bottom feeders. Sellers also want anonymity for brand quality assurance.

Grega and Sanchez, in their business wisdom, have addressed these issues up front. Part of the funding they seek will go to developing customer support needs and toward analyzing data to provide buyers with guidance for successful purchases. Furthermore, current data already shows that buyers are offering reasonable amounts consistently and sellers are satisfied with revenues from the site. Infinite Buyer also rates buyers based on offer and purchasing records, so sellers can have more confidence in transactions. Also, sellers’ names are not publicized, only buyers know the source of an item.

Because of its radical C2B nature, Infinite Buyer stands alone. There is a huge $250 billion e-commerce market in the US, projected to expand to $330 billion in the next five years, so it there is plenty of space for Infinite Buyer to fit without posing a nuisance. Besides, the big guys have no incentive to switch their successful models nor risk established relationships to compete in an untested market.

Interestingly, therein lies the true challenge to Infinite Buyer. Grega and Sanchez recognize their obligation to shareholders is to build this niche in the market so well that when Infinite Buyer becomes large enough to constitute a nuisance to the titans, it will have enough revenue and customers to be acquired rather than squashed.

Back to me. I’ve cancelled my purchase from eBay for the Kettler Kiddi-o Air Tire Tricycle. I’m going to offer $50 for it on Infinite Buyer. Then I’m going to bed because I don’t have to spend any more time on it. I’m sure a seller will be waiting for me in the morning…

 

Stacy Gregg is an educator, runner, reader, and mom to two energetic pre-schoolers. She joined the Rockies Venture Club at the end of 2012 to support the communications side of the organization.

See Vokl pitch at Angel Capital Summit 2013

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By Tim Harvey,  guest writer for the Rockies Venture Club

Your smartphone is as dumb as a banana when it comes to interaction with local merchants,” says Tom Higley from his co-working space in Denver, Colorado. As CEO of Vokl, he’s ready to change that.

Smartphones are more prevalent than ever, with over 1 billion users worldwide, expected to double in the next few years. Including tablets, the worldwide market for mobile purchases is around $25 billion, and eMarketer says this will jump to $87 billion by 2016. Despite this, many local merchants rely on technology as advanced as the tried-and-true sidewalk sandwich board to attract customers in the area. It’s hard to blame them – these signs are fast, cheap, get attention, and many small business owners don’t know of a better way. They often have a hard time creating professional content online, and when they aren’t able to provide value to their customers this way, they’re missing out. The incredible market opportunity presented by mobile technology poses risks as well – especially to small and medium size companies and local merchants. The businesses that are either not aware of, or not able to capitalize on these global trends are likely to be left in the dust – while the ones that see it coming and can use it to build meaningful content and connections with their customers stand to win big.

Tom Higley has a vision for how these smaller businesses can participate. As a successful serial entrepreneur and 6-year mentor for TechStars, this isn’t the first time he’s planned to change the tech landscape. Vokl is the 6th company where he’s either been a founder or CEO, and throughout his career has raised about $35 million to return over $1 billion to investors. Working closely throughout his career with entrepreneurs like Brad Feld and Raj Bhargava, he has a unique perspective on what growing businesses need and where opportunities are within the marketplace.

Tom’s answer to this problem is an easy-to-use app for businesses to create mobile content their customers appreciate. “The consumer is the center of the value-creation universe,” he says. He believes that giving local businesses the ability to produce and deliver value to their customers will drive consumer engagement, and envisions a world where both the consumer and business could expect mobile interaction with each other. Right now, neither side expects this – and that’s what Tom plans to change.

The first stage of Tom’s plan was to create the Vokl Business app, which has been available on iOS since October 2012. This allows local merchants to easily create and share content through Vokl as well as social media, similar to how Instagram works. It has pre-built templates, and also makes it easy to do things like add text to images, for a caption or a call to action. The next step is for Vokl to release the consumer version of the app, which they expect to do within the next month or so. This will drive communication beyond content creation and consumption – users will be able to see posts businesses they follow in their feed, and they can also interact with the merchant. The last and potentially most valuable phase for Vokl will be leveraging location based content. Geo-tag technology will continue to grow, and although companies like Foursquare have been popular, they really aren’t really geared toward merchants, especially in the minds of users. It’s especially hard for businesses to create content or direct who gets it. “Eventually every place will tell a story, and what is important to me may be different than what is important to you,” Tom says. That’s why it’s so important for a business to be able to tailor their messages quickly and easily. Although the location based technology will be the most challenging piece to develop, he has experience in this area from serving as CEO of Denver-based Local Matters.

Vokl plans to fill a niche in the market that they don’t see anyone else providing. Many business owners haven’t seen much value from directory services, even when they are online. Most small businesses are on Facebook, but they are becoming increasingly annoyed with it. Often, they created a page because it was free and relatively easy to get ‘likes’, but with the implementation of EdgeRank they aren’t able to reach all of their user base they build organically without paying for sponsored posts. Whether or not they see this as a bait & switch from Facebook, many find it frustrating and hard to control.

While Tom was obviously excited about developing the technology, he also has great respect for the rest of his team. He is known for for spotting talent – he hired Niel Robertson (Founder/CEO of Trada) in his early 20‘s at Service Metrics, and they went on to sell the company to Exodus Communications for $280 million in 1999. For Vokl, Tom brought on software and engineering wiz Vasily Vasinov as CTO, after finding him at the top of the CU-Boulder computer science program. Tom also had good things to say about the rest of his team – another developer and what he calls “the best UI designers in Colorado.” He talks of how his team’s experience complements each other, similar to how Steve Jobs likened his recruiting model to what made The Beatles great.

Tom is pitching at the Rockies Venture Club Rockies Venture Club Angel Capital Summit, March 19-20, 2013. The two-day conference is Colorado’s largest angel capital event, and begins with a live interview with TechStars founder David Cohen. In addition to other startup pitches, RVC will feature seminars from local experts, and a keynote speech from Jon Nordmark, co-founder/former CEO of eBags and current CEO of usingmiles.com. After last year’s Angel Capital Summit, RVC investors led $15 million of investment in 24 companies that pitched throughout the year, so this year is sure to have a positive effect on the Colorado entrepreneurial community. The event will be held at DU’s Sturm Hall and more information can be found here.

Tim Harvey is a guest writer for the Rockies Venture Club. His mixed experience with Finance and Neuroscience allows him to fit right in. If you run into him, ask him about his ‘Semester at sea’.