Connecting Parallel Startup Universes

Denver Startup Week was huge for the Denver entrepreneurial scene! It was vibrant with a ton of activities and wide participation from the Denver area. Also in Denver during the same week was the Rocky Mountain Life Science Investor and Partnering Conference, put on by the Colorado BioScience Association. For a bio nerd and startup junkie like myself, it was a very rewarding week. I enjoyed both events, I’m thankful to have been able to IMG_2471participate, and I’d go back next time they come around. CNBC even covered both here and here. My perspective is on the intersection of the events – or more accurately, the lack thereof.

I’m beginning to obsess over this idea. How do we connect the parallel universes of Colorado startup industries? Life Science/Biotech isn’t the only silo, but outside of tech it’s the only one I’m immersed in. Brad Feld talks about the issue in his book Startup Communities, and specifically highlights an unsuccessful interaction with a Boulder biotech group. I won’t say that any person or any group is to blame for the current split – only that we’re here now, and it needs to get better.

Denver Startup Week has been successful twice in two years, and grew significantly from 2012 to 2013. It was not quite, as their signs suggested, a “celebration of everything entrepreneurial in Denver” but it’s getting there, and I only expect the event to grow and become better. It is led by inclusive entrepreneurs, so there is significant community support.

IMG_2473The Colorado BioScience Association’s conference also stands on multiple years of success. Launched in 2009 as a biennial (every 2 years) conference, it brings startups from 5 states: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Montana. The 1-day event featured 30 big investors from Colorado, both coasts, and in between: VC’s, public company venture arms, and Angel investors. 30 startups also presented, pitching for everything from angel rounds to getting ready for an IPO. InnovatioNews has a great review of the day here.

Within their own communities, both events were huge. However, almost everyone I talked to at DSW about the biotech conference had no idea it was going on, and many at CBSA’s only found out DSW was going on from the signs on 16th St, since Basecamp was only 4 blocks away. It was close enough that I walked over from the Ritz during a networking break.

There are bright spots in the gap, however. Rockies Venture Club leadership, volunteers, and a few of their top Angels were all over both events. The fact that RVC was founded in 1985 and serves a variety of industries probably helps in that area. There are other people building connections and bridges between the parallel universes, and we need to encourage and cultivate that. This year DSW added a manufacturing track, and I have every reason to believe they’ll keep growing the events. Denver did have a broader focus than Boulder Startup Week, in comparison. BSW was also a great event this year, albeit primarily focused on software and internet. I attended and loved it, and I’ll proudly wear the BSW t-shirt with the 1’s and 0’s logo, even though I can’t write a single line of code.

The noble idea that brings entrepreneurs, creators, artists, and (good) investors together is the belief that we can always make things better by creating value. Startup communities grow organically and tend to be messy, and that breeds collaboration and innovation. I have no doubt this chasm will be bridged; entrepreneurs will lead the way, and the process will add value to anyone involved. The Boulder and Denver startup communities were once pretty segregated, and we’ve seen incredible progress there. Connecting the parallel universes within the Denver/Boulder area is a positive sum game and must be seen that way. It will not be an easy or quick process, but it is worth the effort.

Tim is a regular contributor to the Rockies Venture Club blog and a Master’s of Engineering Management student at CU-Boulder. He holds a bachelor’s in cognitive neuroscience from the University of Denver, and has worked for startups since he left his corporate life as a licensed investment advisor.

Twitter: @taharveyconsult

 

 

P2Bi Raises Series A, Helps Small Businesses Via Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding has been a growing force in the financial industry, disrupting sectors each time it reaches a new one. p2biMicroloan platforms like Kiva and peer-to-peer lending such as Prosper have proven to be a quickly growing alternative in debt, and have increased access and choice for those looking for financing. Companies such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter have given rise to donation and pre-sale based funding for a wide range of people and businesses, and with the implementation of the JOBS act, equity can be sold over similar platforms as well. New technologies that connect people in meaningful ways have a way of changing the world, and P2Bi plans to be a part of that.

 

One area of financing that has not been disrupted by crowdfunding (yet) is the business receivables market. The idea of a business selling its invoices (accounts receivable) to a 3rd party to raise cash isn’t a new idea, and was even established in the Code of Hammurabi nearly 4,000 years ago. However, this $136 billion industry (in the US alone) has been quiet with relatively little innovation. Transparency has been an issue in the factoring industry in the past, and since it usually involves business-to-business transactions, it isn’t found in a public light very often.

P2Bi (Peer-to-Business Investor) is working to change this. As the first crowdfunded business receivables market, they have opened up a new and transparent path to finance growing companies, and have been connecting investors with small businesses since early 2012. This is an increasingly important gap to fill – according to a Pepperdine report, nearly 2/3 of small businesses in the US were recently unable to secure bank loans, where many had the ability and desire to repay loans but not the credit for a traditional bank to provide funding to them. With P2Bi, business owners are able to find competitively priced loans, and accredited investors can buy into portfolios of asset-backed business receivables, which are likely to generate a higher interest rate than cash instruments that are currently returning closer to 0 than even 1%. P2Bi works with a wide variety of small businesses, with the exception of transportation and construction.

P2Bi recently raised a Series A investment round, including investors from the Rockies Venture Club and John Spiers (who recently exited NexGen), among others. This follows their August 2012 seed round, and will be used to help the business scale. Among other activities, they will be hiring for multiple positions (LINK) and relocating from Louisville, CO to Denver. “We’re really excited about moving to Denver. It makes the most sense with the density of businesses and the finance industry in Denver,” said Krista Morgan, co-founder and CMO. P2Bi will also benefit from local investors and connections in the community. “Peter Adams (of RVC) was really instrumental in getting investors there and convincing them to come on board, Krista said.

Congratulations to P2Bi on closing their Series A, and best wishes helping small businesses grow while creating value in Colorado!

Tim Harvey is a Master’s of Engineering Management student at CU-Boulder and a regular contributor to the Rockies Venture Club. He has started a few businesses (nothing big yet) and most recently worked as a Fortune 500 marketing consultant with a neuroscience-based startup. Prior to that he was an investment advisor for individuals and corporations, holding FINRA Series 7 and 66 licenses.

5 Elevator Answers You Need to Have While Fundraising

It is awkward to ask people for money. Whether an entrepreneur or fundraising for charity– most people are not used to asking for cash from other people. They’re obviously not the same, though – investing in an entrepreneur (hopefully) produces a financial return. If you’re talking to an angel or VC and you feel like you’re just asking for charity, you need to get your head right. Your frame of mind determines much of your life and other people’s response to it, so feeling confident while raising money is obviously important.

If you feel like you’re asking for charity from investors because you’re not sure about your business, stop. Save everyone’s time and money and change something before you ask for money.

If you feel awkward fundraising but believe in your business, you have some room to work with. When raising money, your mindset should be closer to “This money will allow me to better grow my company and my investors will benefit”, than “I need this money so I don’t go out of business.” Both statements may be true, but focus on the positive. I’m not saying your business should only be chasing money – I believe the goal should be to create value for your customers, and if this is done well profit will follow.

Whether you’re nervous or not, here are five questions you need to be comfortable with. Think of them as “elevator answers” where you can get the main point across in 15-30 seconds, with the ability to expand on them as necessary.

1) How much is your company worth?

Simple question, not-so-simple answer for a startup.

There are a number of different ways to value your company, and the Angel Capital Association has a great post on methods here. The important thing is to use a few, because they take into account different factors and can demonstrate your ability to think from multiple perspectives. Be able to explain why you used the methods you did, as well as underlying risks, assumptions, and caveats in your models. It’s not as important to come up with the “correct” valuation (not a multiple choice test here) as your approach in finding it. You don’t really define your company’s value anyway; value here is determined by what investors are willing to pay for equity. Also keep in mind that valuation is not necessarily the most important thing on the term sheet, and that a high one means more growth necessary to generate the same return.

On a very basic note, know the valuation inherent in your ask. If you ask for $1 million for 20% equity, you’re valuing your business at $5 million pre/$6 million post. If you’ve taken the “college business plan” route so far and came to your valuation by “here’s what I think I need and how much equity I feel like giving up” go back to the drawing board.

2) What are you going to do with the money?

Be specific, and ready to explain each aspect of your plan. Whether it’s to fulfill a huge backlog of orders of widgets you’ve already been selling at a high margin (great!) or you need to hire programmers or a sales team, know the specific reasons and why they’re important.

3) Can you make this work with less?

Genentech is a great example – in 1976 they originally wanted about $3 million from Kleiner Perkins, and were persuaded to prove the concept first. A $250,000 investment helped accomplish this, with much less upfront risk for the entrepreneur and investors. Genentech had a $300 million IPO in 1980, and was fully acquired by Roche in 2009 for $46.8 billion.

Know all the finances. You should already have your current and projected numbers down pat, including revenue, EBITDA, margins, etc., as well as your hopes for an exit. Also, know as much as you can about your industry’s numbers and how other valuations were determined, such as with a financial multiplier or number of users. While many entrepreneurs like to think they’re the only startup in their space, even risk-prone investors like angels or VC’s get wary of moving into virgin territory. It’s useful to have industry comparisons, but be able to distinguish yourself and why you are more likely to succeed.

4) What does it cost to acquire a customer?

This is an important and often-overlooked metric but is increasing in popularity. What does it take to produce your product and get customers to pay you for it? Once you have a customer, do they stick around? Sticky customers lead to scalability.

5) What will this investment cost me?

Last, but perhaps the most important question: ask yourself – what will this investment cost me? For the investor, this is a straightforward answer: usually a check, or a check and time on a board. (On top of due diligence – your potential investors have to pay for that, too)

For the entrepreneur, it is not so easy to answer. Raising money is not making money, and it means you have more to build to generate the same return on value. As a startup ecosystem we have a tendency to celebrate dilution, but more funding is not always better. If you get a high valuation early and need more money before the company’s value has grown, you’ll be facing a painful “down round”, where the share price is lower on a subsequent round. Last quarter, (Q2 2013) 22% of the VC deals in Silicon were down rounds, while 14% were flat rounds – the un-sexy side of high valuations.

 

In the wisdom of Notorious B.I.G. – “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

Having excess cash in your pocket can lead to an unnecessary burn rate and not validating customer traction. Even successful entrepreneurs can fall into the over-funding trap, especially after exiting their first company with a windfall. If fundraising, diluting founder’s equity to the point where it impacts your motivation is dangerous as well.

Raise money only if you need to. If you do, start the process 6-12 months before you actually need it, and make sure you’re on top of your game.

 

Tim Harvey is a Master’s of Engineering Management student at CU-Boulder and a regular contributor to the Rockies Venture Club. He has started a few businesses (nothing big yet) and most recently worked as a Fortune 500 marketing consultant with a neuroscience-based startup. Prior to that he was an investment advisor for individuals and corporations, holding FINRA Series 7 and 66 licenses.

Venture Capital for Health Care companies doubles in 2013.

Health care companies are receiving a lot of attention from VCs this year and the trend appears to be increasing.  In the first two quarters of 2013 there were 272 deals completed in health care compared with 163 for the totality of 2012.

These trends in VC investment are a good harbinger for angel investors in health care who often rely on VCs to take on the next Series A round of funding.  When VCs are funding lots of health care deals it reduces risk for angels and provides additional opportunities for growth.

A lot of the growth is in areas that will be presented in RVC’s upcoming “Investing in Health Care” event  (Monday, September 9th 5:00-7:30pm) will be in the hot industry sectors including wearable devices, patient engagement, patient-to-physician, provider to provider and other technologies.  RVC is also presenting non-IT based companies including a new approach to curing breast cancer and is currently in due diligence on a break-through cardiac product that reduces some heart surgeries by as much as 80%.

health care IT vc fundingAn interesting trend in this growth is that consumer focused investments are growing at an even faster rate with consumer-focused technologies representing 112 deals for a total of $416 million – about double from last year while practice-focused technologies represented  56 deals totaling $202 million for the quarter.

Health Information Management companies received the most VC funding at $212 million while mobile health came in at $158 million.

According to a report on Q2 Venture Capital activity in health care funding by Mercom Capital Group llc, Consumer-focused companies specializing in apps, wearable devices & sensors, remote monitoring, patient engagement, rating/shopping, and social health networks for physician-to-physician, physician-to-patient and patient-to-patient were all involved in multiple funding deals this quarter, whereas medical imaging, data analytics and EHR/EMR companies were among the practice-focused technologies that received most of the attention this quarter.”

To see some of Colorado’s most promising angel-stage companies present for investment and to hear about some of the leading trends in health care, be sure to put Rockies Venture Club’s “Investing in Health Care” event on your calendar.  Click here for more information and to register.Register for Investing In Tech Companies event

 

Angels Love Health Care

0326_health-care-investing_400x400Angel investors put their money into all kinds of early stage companies with the goal of helping entrepreneurs and getting great financial returns.  There are misconceptions out there that angels shy away from health care investments, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

Health care investments can carry the traditional market and execution risks that any company has, but they can also have extraordinary regulatory risk if FDA approval for a product is required.  The FDA process can take years and millions of dollars to complete.

Most health care investments that Rockies Venture Club Angels look at don’t have FDA risk, or if they do, the process is minimal and takes only two years or less from the date of the investment. All FDA approvals are not the same and as a group we’re learning about the kind of FDA processes that we can accept as a part of an angel risk profile and those that are better left to large Venture Capital funds who have both the money to get through the process and the time to wait it out.

Angels typically like investments that can exit within five years or less.  There are a lot of Health Care companies that fit this profile.  One trend we’ve seen is that companies can exit earlier now since they are no longer required to build a sales channel as part of their proof of concept.  Once they can show that their innovation works and that people will buy it or that FDA Phase 1 trials are successful, they are ready for exit.

Smart founders will have a target list of acquisition targets identified before they even raise their first angel round.  By the time their concept is validated, they should already have relationships established with the major acquirers in their industry and be ready to negotiate a deal.

To see four examples of companies that can have profitable exits with 10x investor return in five or fewer years, check out the pitch presenters at this year’s “Investing in Health Care” event put on by Rockies Venture Club.

  • RXAssurance, Bob Goodman, provides a platform for patients and providers to keep each other informed about whether medications are being taken and that they are effectively treating the patient.
  • Six One Solutions, Ginny Orndorf, an innovative targeted method for blocking breast cancer.
  • LeoTech, Steve Adams, a wearable system to detect and report hydration in patients, athletes or others for whom hydration is important (ie. Everyone)
  • ExchangeMeds, Anand Shukla, rovides better ways for pharmacies to manage their inventories by sharing with others across a network.

To learn more about these companies and trends in investing in health care, you may want to consider attending the RVC “Investing in Health Care” event, Monday September 9 5:00-7:30 in Golden.  For more information, or to register for the event, please Click Here.

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

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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.

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

 

 

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. 

 

 

Colorado Angels Have Unfair Advantage Investing in Cleantech

Colorado has a lot to offer cleantech entrepreneurs, from targeted grants, to easy access to NREL’s technology commercialization resources, to cleantech focused entrepreneurial programs at top research universities, to name just a few. There is no more supportive place in the country to launch a cleantech company, which gives local angels a distinct advantage when investing in this growing, and complex, industry. Colorado knows about investing in cleantech.

The only way the community could do more to support cleantech would be to scour the country for experienced, successful entrepreneurs, bring them to Colorado and immerse them in the local cleantech ecosystem, then provide guidance from industry experts as they develop business ideas around one of the numerous innovations emerging from local government labs and universities. Enter the Cleantech Fellows Institute, a Colorado Cleantech Industry Association (CCIA) program established to do exactly that.

The Institute kicked off in 2012, with a class of 5 Fellows who had considerable entrepreneurial experience outside the cleantech industry. The Fellows knew how to start a business, but they didn’t know cleantech, so they spent 175 curriculum hours listening to 160 speakers, and took almost 30 cleantech related tours, to come up to speed. Each Fellow undertook a capstone project centered on a new cleantech business idea, and in the Institute’s inaugural year this exercise led to the creation of two seed-stage companies and one non-profit.

Under the direction of Executive Director Steve Berens, the Institute is now accepting applications for its second class of Fellows. This year the program is undergoing some changes based on lessons learned from the first class, including an expanded international component. The program will include a week during which delegates from around the world descend on Colorado to participate in the Institute’s activities and make connections between the cleantech communities in Colorado and their home countries.

Clearly, Colorado is putting a lot of effort into stacking the odds in favor of the Fellows and the cleantech companies they hope will emerge from the Institute. The VC community has taken notice, as evidenced by the 19 venture capital partners the program has brought on board to date. However, there is room for additional engagement from Colorado based angels, who have an advantage in their ability to participate throughout the process since the Institute is based in their own backyard. Interested angels can send an email to mailto:info@cleantechfellows.comto learn more and sign up for regular email updates.

Even with all of the support Fellows will receive through the Institute, cleantech remains one of the most challenging industries in which to start a new venture. The Cleantech Fellows Institute provides access to critical knowledge and a great support network, which will reduce risks in my opinion but it certainly doesn’t come close to eliminating them. The real determinant of the program’s ability to spawn successful cleantech startups is underway right now: the Fellows application process. The quality of the Fellows accepted into the program will have the greatest influence on how successful it is, and the ability of local angels to get to know the Fellows over the course of the program is an opportunity that should not be missed.

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.