FundingPost has been introducing investors and entrepreneurs for a long time. And it met with great success, driving over $100 million in deals. Joe Rubin first articulated his vision for a combined online and in-person forum to bring investors and entrepreneurs together nearly 20 years ago.
At that time, entrepreneurs were typically only introduced to investors through back-door channels. Clandestine meetings then followed. So, bringing both parties out into the open, in the presence of their respective competitors, was both an innovative and ballsy move.
Fast forward to today and they are still successfully introducing investors and entrepreneurs. Their format holds up remarkably well in the current era of high-scrutiny and always-on. Each year, throughout the year, they attract countless investors, entrepreneurs – and even columnists like me – to a multitude of sessions nationwide. Their events are popular and sell out because they showcase what entrepreneurs want to learn and facilitate making connections.
The home of brotherly love
Last week, FundingPost hosted two Venture Capital (VC) Events. The first event was in Philadelphia. Two days later, the second was held in Washington, D.C. Each event attracted over 100 attendees. The session began just as the sunset in a brilliant flash of color over Phili.
One of the first things that you notice is the attention to detail and the quality of the VC Panel assembled. Introducing investors and entrepreneurs is only one aspect of what they offer. The format is a “Lion’s Den” where the experts impart critical advice to startups. Would-be entrepreneurs in the audience also benefit from the public coaching session.
Each panelist is a highly successful investor with his or her own (cheers to the lone lioness, Katherine O’Neill) portfolio and supportive programming. Collectively, their assets are impressive. But, most notable is their experience, wisdom, and guidance, which are all shared openly with the crowd. All the panelists were accessible and free with their recommendations encouraging introductions between investors and entrepreneurs.
Members of the Philadelphia VC Panel
- David Sorin, Partner McCarter & English (MODERATOR)
- Katherine O’Neill, Founder, JumpStart NJ Angel Network
- Steve McGovern, Senior Associate Eos Venture Partners
- Alex Katz, Founder WIN Venture Partners
- Carter Caldwell, Program Director, Penn Medicine Co-Investment Fund
- Harvey Homan, JumpStart NJ Angel Network
- Marc Kramer, Founder, Private Investors Forum
Entrepreneurs were carefully selected and the pitching line-up was tightly curated. Those who were invited to be a part of the pitching line-up came prepared to dazzle the investors with a finely honed 1-min pitch. Sixty seconds flies by. That is not a lot of time to tell your story, who you are, what you sell (or propose to sell), how you’re different and what you’re asking for. Consequently, you have to be prepared for critical feedback. This aspect of FundingPost’s forum richly complements the main function of the group which is introducing investors and entrepreneurs.
Here, no startups were openly scolded or shredded for being ill-prepared. I witnessed this at another forum a few days ago. In contrast, the FundingPost VC Panel in Philadelphia was professional and respectful. Yet they were also transparent and unapologetic for articulating what they wanted to see. Everyone understands that this kind of advice is difficult to get and enormously valuable. Hence, the format works as entrepreneurs want to learn what to do as much as they want to learn what not to do.
What entrepreneurs want to know
So what did we learn? Here are their Top 5 Pearls of Wisdom for Entrepreneurs.
- Be prepared. Entrepreneurs have 1 minute and one minute only to say what they need to say. Use your time wisely. Plan, plan and rehearse. Then rehearse some more. Being ready and not going overtime demonstrates respect.
- “Always be raising” is a statement that gets thrown around a lot. The VC Panel confirmed that pursuing money before you need it is one of the smartest things that an entrepreneur can do.
- People matter. Given the readership here, it’s probably safe to say that most of us are afflicted with shiny, bright object syndrome and that we’re instantly attracted to cool new technology. Investors like slick tech, too but they invest in the owners. They’re savvy enough to do a critical assessment of the founding team to determine if the leadership can make it happen. Or not. Besides, investors want relationships with their entrepreneurs.
- Chase smart money. By definition, every investor has money. But they may not have what you really need. Specifically, you need an investor who will be your trusted advisor, open doors for you and nudge your sales forward so that you can get your business off to a healthy start. Carter Caldwell said it best, “Surround yourself with good connectors.”
- Show me your … Advisory Board. This was, perhaps, the surprise addition to the list. The VC Panel lamented the general lack of advisors. Startups need external input and members of an Advisory Board can make all the difference in keeping a newco on track. To my knowledge, only one company in the line-up, CYBRI, had representation from an advisor. Pavan Jagtiani was there, on-hand, poised and ready to guide as well as to assist.
Some other notable bits
A few other noteworthy nuggets were also captured. Apparently, Xtech is trending in the vernacular. Nowadays, it’s customary to frame your pitch within the category it represents. For decades, we’ve had BioTech. Not long after that, FinTech emerged. Today, we have HealthTech, AdTech, AgroTech, EdTech, FemTech, InvesTech, and the list goes on.
Entrepreneurs want to know what’s opening doors. Take note! Blockchain, AdTech, therapeutics, and programs for autism, agro, dating apps and EdTech are no longer getting the warm welcome that they once had. Investors are now routinely passing.
Not unsurprisingly, interest has been redirected to data privacy, A.I., cybersecurity, immuno-oncology, and other “hot” sectors. Additionally, investors’ patience is wearing thin when it comes to ridiculous financial forecasts. Here, the responses were terse but crystal clear. “No, you cannot leapfrog to 100,000 customers in 3 months via social media. And no, you will not be generating $50M in revenues by Year 3.” Offering a realistic forecast will gain you credibility and some much-needed ear-time so that the experts can weigh in on how to boost your sales through their connections, channels and past experiences.
I listened intently to 30 pitches that night. The vast majority were well done and only a couple struggled with the rigid timing. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be showcasing several of these entrepreneurs in columns dedicated to their individual efforts and technology. Stay tuned!
Until then, I strongly encourage you to have a look at upcoming events by FundingPost.
- Boston, MA Oct 22nd, VC-Entrepreneur forum. Register link pending soon, find it here.
- Los Angeles, CA Nov 6th Startup Day. Register here.
Thank-you to Stephen Silver, Director at Funding Post and founder of Angel Round Capital Fund for providing the photos.