Here's Jay's first Friday post detailing the connections he's making and help he's providing throughout the Triangle startup community. To get on Jay's calendar, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I re-engaged with the local entrepreneurial community in the past year or so, one of the things I came to realize is the breadth and diversity of innovation in this region (That's a plus).
However, I also observed our spread-out-ness is a hindrance not a help. Each micro-entrepreneurial ecosystem knows something (and some people) in its little corner of the RTP world, but often does not know what's happening just a few miles down I-40. CED supports the entire region and makes connections locally, and more and more, nationally. I thought it might be helpful to share some of our activities on a weekly basis so you can gain a little bigger picture of what's going on region-wide. Please let me know what you think.
Last Thursday night (April 3) in the classroom of the Underground at American Tobacco, Deepak Gopalakrishna of the Startup Grind Durham conducted a great, in-depth interview with Don Rainey of Grotech Ventures.
First of all, I was incredibly disappointed I didn't see more entrepreneurs in consumer software who have gained some market traction and might be getting ready getting ready to raise first-level institutional rounds. Sure, it was opening night of the Durham Bulls, but Grotech is a good regional (Washington D.C. headquartered) VC firm and Don is an expert in consumer tech and wants to invest in companies in RTP! (Grotech already has at least one portfolio company here and Don is looking at two more local deals).
If you don't get out and meet the investors, you have no right to complain about the lack of capital. Period. One interesting thought: Don wonders if there may be a linkage between the e-mail marketing companies we have now (e.g. Bronto, Windsor Circle, etc.) and the original e-mail marketing companies that helped grow our area years ago (DaVinci Systems and Accipiter). If so, would that make Chris Evans the father of e-mail marketing? Sort of like Fairchild Semiconductor and the rest of Silicon Valley? Let me know your thoughts.
Monday night (and again on Thursday night)—Saw one of the NC IDEA grant winners from last year pitch to two of the local angel groups. It's great to see a technical founder who demonstrates the ability to evolve her pitch and presentation-savvy over time. It demonstrates the coach-ability early stage investors look for. Second thing that makes me bullish on this company is that the team is open to modifying the go-to-market plan (not a full-fledged pivot) based on real live customers in different markets asking for a solution. Market awareness and flexibility— two more signs this is an investment-ready business.
Tuesday AM—CED brought together 8 CEOs of local life science companies to share the benchmark study it commissioned from UNC entrepreneurship professor Randy Myer about nine months ago. The study is too dense to go into much detail here, but suffice to say this region is doing better than other regions, but not as good as it could in terms of angel investing, venture capital and exits. The study also points out the different tactics other markets have used to overcome whatever barriers they faced. We had a great dialogue and started to hone in on some specific solutions to the more persistent problems CED could address.
One of the reasons I maintain my hope for the region is that, while each acknowledged current market challenges, these business leaders (Rich West of Advanced Liquid Logic, Peyton Anderson of Affinergy (and formerly SciQuest), Tim Willis of Tear Science, George Szewczk of BioKier, Steve Butts of Aerial BioPharma, Hugh Crenshaw of Physcient, Perry Genova of Oncoscope, Tony Voiers of Novocor) all said they are committed to the area and will work to address those challenges.
Tuesday mid-day—Met with Courtney Tellefsen and Kevin O'Connell of the Produce Box We first started working with this company about nine months ago and I love this company and its business model! Courtney and Kevin are great people, fully committed to building a great business and have demonstrated an amazing ability to adapt and learn as they grow. They're about to open their next local market and will likely surpass major milestones in paying customers and revenue. And they're profitable. all without any outside funding (yet). If you like fresh vegetables delivered to your doorstep, all from local NC growers, you need to sign up and watch the company grow (pun intended).
Wednesday night—Finally, after several weather-related delays in January and March, CED gathered 60+ early stage and angel investors to share the results of the Randy Myer benchmark study. It was a lively discussion of the issues and some possible solutions for the best way for the community (CED and others) to address some of its persistent funding gaps. Great to see the collaboration and cooperation being offered by this important link in the ecosystem.
Thursday AM—Spent the morning at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. Five local life sciences companies went through their investor pitches and received invaluable feedback. One persistent problem I see with many technology innovators, especially first-time entrepreneurs who haven't raised capital, is they don't tell a complete and compelling story (often spending too much time focused on the technology).
They try to 'follow the template' to address market size, use of funds, financials and exit strategy. While it is very important that an investor pitch cover the basic topics (problem innovation is addresses, unique attributes of the innovation, market size, competitive landscape, use-of-funds, financial model, etc.), just following the template is not enough to intrigue an investor. Chris Heivly wrote a great short article for Inc. on the subject. It will take time to prepare, to revise and to perfect—take advantage of your advisors and support network to get it right. Practice, practice and practice some more.
But whatever you do, remember people buy from people they like. Be warm, be human and above all, be yourself.
Back to the road.