Capital Connects 2018 [contest]

in business •  9 months ago

This 15-year old business pitch competition is probably the oldest one in the Triad.  According to WRAL's TechWire.

Capital Connects provides education opportunities for investors and connections to entrepreneurs seeking capital for their company. Firms presenting at this signature event have raised over $9.5 million from local investors. Entrepreneurs “compete” for a $10K award package by presenting an eight-minute pitch to regional investors and community leaders—2017 saw 10 semi-finalists present to over 75 investors in attendance.

I'm not sure why "compete" is in quotes there.

 [image link to WRAL]

I went to an event the day before (in the same building!) where educational nonprofits were trying to hash out recommendations to the legislature.  That was an informal and pointed discussion about current failures and what to do about them -- a welcome departure from glowing newsletter reports.  I'm sure our local economic development people have those same conversations, in private, but this was a public event, a signature event, and so it was much more managed and careful to present positive views.  There was a lunch panel on the "state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem" which, like most of economics, can be summed up with one word: MORE.  

I take issue with the idea that bigger and faster is always better.  Counter examples can be found in Bo Burlingame's book Small Giants, which I reviewed here.  Also, it's well known in system dynamics that speeding leads to bleeding:

positive reinforcing feedback loops create a dynamic of rapid exponential growth or decay that often leads to collapse when some maximum level is reached.

Of course, if you're a speculator, collapse may be exactly what you're looking for (link may be NSFW).

Varys: I did what I did for the good of the realm.  
Baelish: The realm. Do you know what the realm is? It's the thousand blades of Aegon's enemies- a story we agree to tell each other over and over, until we forget that it's a lie.  
Varys: But what do we have left, once we abandon the lie? Chaos? A gaping pit waiting to swallow us all.  
Baelish: Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail, and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, given a chance to climb, they refuse. They cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.

Before we proceed further, let me say that there were absolutely no stabbings or poisonings at this event, that I'm aware of.

First Launch Capital Fund, LLC is a new local seed fund. 

Adam Duggins of this new fund agreed with the lunch panel that series A financing is there locally but earlier stuff is not – $25k or less, which would often be called the Friends, Family, and Fools round.   Luann Flanders-Stec opened with an odd statement: 

“We are serious about this fund … We are really excited about the uniqueness of this fund. We are a nonprofit that is interested in economic development.”   

In a Littlefinger context, in a room full of investors, maybe one needs to say things like that, but it still rang oddly in my ear.  Have we reached that point in America, where no-one believes in doing things for the good of the realm?  I don't like to think so.

Where Ohio used tax incentives, and Chattanooga used private funding from Coca-Cola with matching funds from the state, the NC legislature has dropped its previous tax incentives, and this project is one part of the local attempt to make up for that. The unique part of this fund is the fact that people can donate to it. In other words, they're hoping part of the investment will come from foundations and other groups who are less mercenary than the average angel investor. The goal is to leverage their $2.5M into $50 in “follow-on” investing. Minimum of $15k investment, from accredited investors only, though $1-5k donations can come from anybody. There will be a “conflicts committee” to make sure there's no chicanery.   This ties in with the Greensboro Chamber's GROW Campaign goals for 2018-22 

  • $10M new minority business revenue 
  • $2.5M raised for new ventures 
  • 200 new companies created   

Of course, at these kinds of events you have to introduce the person who's going to introduce the speaker.  Every speaker takes the opportunity for a quick advertisement of their own company's products or services (or in the case of the keynote speaker, an extended advertisement).

The meat of the event is the pitch competition. 

Companies define their problem, their solution, their market, and their needs for financing. It's a very rigid format. The field was larger this year, with 13 companies, divided into two groups based on their current maturity.   

Let's play a game. Read my descriptions of their pitches and respond in the comments.  Choose the winners and get a prize!   

2-minute Early-Stage “Pitches”   

Arxchitect scans drug catalogs to make recommendations for hospitals when they run out of a specific drug, which happens multiple times a day. Hospitals pay $24k per year for access, and now they're expanding to compounding pharmacies.   They won a different contest last spring.

Cultivate is a competitor for HootSuite, using templates to set up social media campaigns. They have 170 customers and did $50k in revenue last year.   The term is such a buzzword in marketing that I couldn't find their webpage with a quick search, and since it wasn't listed in the Capital Connects program, it isn't included here.

Logistimatics is doing GPS tracking cars, in-home medical equipment, etc. They sold $46k in trackers last month.  I've been acquainted with their presenter, Brendan Younger, for several years now. He used to teach electronics at the Forge downtown, and he came to Governor's School last summer to give a tutorial on computer vision. 

Micmagbyme makes customized upholstered furniture (still one of the larger industries in the area despite the rise of of the all-powerful IKEA), with a VR showroom, and delivers it to your house for you to assemble (“easy and fun!”), with a 100-day 100% satisfaction guarantee.   

Neighborz puts visual menus online to streamline take-out ordering. They won an NCIdea grant last fall. They want $600k to expand.   

Uro-1 Medical makes instruments for urological procedures, specifically BOTOX injections for overactive bladder in women and prostate biopsies. The founder himself went through a bad biopsy experience, and put his long experience of designing surgical instruments to work.     

As you can tell, 2 minutes is not a lot of time to talk (or to type, for those of us taking notes).

8-minute Growth-Stage “Presentations”   29 applicants, narrowed to 7 contestants   

FlureeDB is building an ACID-compliant blockchain database (I had no idea what ACID compliance was, and it didn't come up during the talk, but it was in the brochure, so I looked it up). 300 users in beta status, including big ones. 100 coolest cloud vendors on CRN. Time travel queries on the full edit history. Projecting a $140B market by 2025. Friends & Family agreement open to accredited investors only.   

Purillume, Inc. makes a patented white light lamp, hoping to engineer natural light levels (apparently one of the main complaints about hotels on TripAdvisor). After several years at another NC LED company, Cree, Neeraj Lal started his own company, with a patented lamp, customizable in brightness and color. He loaded the wrong slide deck and had to pause for a second, but he recovered well. I liked the fact that they're starting with boutique hotels, allowing them to differentiate themselves.   

Docsmore. I personally find it hard to believe that employees spend 40% of their time looking for paper documents. I would want to see that study. The single use case, on the other hand, a Montessori school, was quite convincing – first enrollment, then permission slips, and then their yearbook. They are currently focusing on private schools and non-profits, though I know that our public school district, with 73,000 students, still uses paper for lots of things (signing up to take the bus, for instance). $5M in revenue with conservative estimates. They're integrating their tech with FlureeDB. They want $1.1M.   

Fooseye. It's a social network platform for all things food trucks. 5 years ago founder Ray Chow sold his b&m restaurant and bought a food truck. They have a database of 59k food trucks, hoping to eliminate “drive park & pray.” What's the best place to park the truck on a particular day? What's the best truck for my event? So they geolocate the trucks, with layers of intermediary software on top (sharing a business model with Logistimatics). They currently have 800 customers in 22 states, generating $39k per month.   

Freeman Capital.  True active wealth management is not available to portfolios smaller than $250k. They re-sell hedge-fund AIs. Small investors can now get access to Foreign Exchange (though no cryptocurrencies as of yet), options, and futures markets. They built three customer profiles based on income and risk aversion and have been targeting non-investors, with a conversion rate of 10%.   

Caarmo.  Geolocation and analytics on fleets, predicting when and where they will break down, to encourage proactive maintenance in small fleets, who generally wait for the breakdown to occur and then react to it.  They simply take the engine diagnostics and use a wireless chip to put them up on the web, where the mechanic becomes a fleet manager like FedEx and the big boys have.  They work with the mechanics, not the fleets, which increases stickiness. "We don't really need money, but I'd like to go faster."  

PermitZone. Best line of the entire day: “Getting a construction permit is a pain in the ass.” Skipping the process, however, opens up liability not just for the contractor, but for the employer. This reminds me a lot of the city's open data portal, the most active section of which, I've been told, is the building permits. After 22 months of negotiation, they have acquired the domain name permits.com   

Vote below in the comments.  I'll reveal the winners later today.

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