It's an open pitch session for early stage startups hosted by IDEA Fund Partners every other month in the American Underground classroom just down the hall from the VC firm's office. Lister Delgado, Partner at IDEA Fund, also told me that after seeing Charlotte-based startups show up for several sessions in Durham -- at 8 a.m. no less -- the firm now hosts quarterly sessions in the Queen City, too.
I first attended IDEA Pitch in July 2012 and saw three startup founders each give two-minute pitches and answer 15 minutes worth of questions.
At the time, Local-Ventures was still a concept I was refining; the company wouldn't exist for months and fundraising was not on the to do list in the near future. Even at that stage, though, it was worth spending an hour observing to see how the investors analyzed startups and pitches.
I attended again this Wednesday and saw three more founders talk about their companies.
All technology startups can apply to pitch (assuming you can write 200 characters about your company) and the investors are primarily focused on being helpful, making it somewhat of a practice session.
I use the word "practice" in relative terms. Partners from IDEA Fund are there, so I wouldn't recommend the show-up-and-wing-it approach. Save that for your mom or your kids. They'll think you're great either way. If they don't, your startup has problems that I won't get into here.
It's practice in the most productive sense of the word because while your audience is investors and there's the potential for it to go beyond being practice, the investors focus on helping you improve your pitch -- and your company.
This means that in addition to feedback on pitch style (e.g. IDEA Fund Partner John Cambier told one founder that he needs to show more passion), you'll also get feedback on your strategy and business model.
For example, this Wednesday, Delgado told a founder that he should likely narrow the initial problem and market he's addressing. He asked two other founders why dominant players in a similar market couldn't simply develop what their startups provide. While the founders had answers, they also walked away thinking about how they can better communicate these answers -- or what they can change about their startups to allow for better answers.
All IDEA Pitches are also open to observing entrepreneurs, so you can attend one before pitching. At this Wednesday's session, among the observers was myself and Tom Kurke, former COO of Geomagic, who offered feedback to each founder that pitched.
If you're currently fundraising, IDEA Pitch is a no-brainer, as it offers easy access to investors who are there to hear about your company. If you're not yet fundraising but are headed in that direction, these sessions are a great way to make sure your pitch and company are on the right track.