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Entrepreneurs and VC Forums
Brad Bertoch Brad Bertoch
Executive Director
Wayne Brown Institute

Salt Lake City, UT

Andy Warhol said that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame, but it's the fortunate entrepreneur who gets10 minutes in front of an audience of investors at a venture capital forum. They come seeking funding, but many find something more valuable - a relevant network to help nurture and grow their companies.

The Wayne Brown Institute (WBI) has held over 45 venture capital forums across the U.S in the past 22 years. By almost any measure WBI forums are very successful. More than 60% of the presenting companies have received funding within 12 months of the forums and have gone on to raise more than $1.4 billion in private equity. Also, many companies seen early at WBI forums have gone on to become publicly traded. These include NPS Pharmaceuticals, Altiris, Gennaissance Pharmaceutical, Hoku Scientific and Sonic Innovations.

WBI forum successes come from designing them to maximize building of relevant networks. Entrepreneurs who have gone through the WBI forum process become savvy in what to look for in a great VC forum. For example, they start by looking at some basics:

  • how long the forum has been going on
  • track record in companies funded
  • community and national supporters of the forum
  • extent of VC community involvement

If the forum meets these criteria, then they begin looking for forums with the key components that can lead to funding and help build a relevant network. They especially look for the 40-40-20 mix of participants: about 40% financial resource providers, including angels and VCs and about 40% corporate sponsors who provide access and introductions to sources of capital. They look for remaining 20% to be selected presenting companies with high quality deals to present, adding to the credibility of their own company. Good companies can lead to interesting synergies and productive partnerships, customers and introductions to new sources of financing.

The savvy entrepreneur also looks for venture capital forums that provide opportunities to:

  • develop relationships with key persons, including mentors and members of the investment community, for 60 days or more during the selection process
  • network one-on-one and build relationships during forum lunches, dinners and receptions
  • give a presentation and demonstrate their credibility

They also plan beyond the 24-hour span of the venture capital forum to devote time needed to develop their relevant network. The 10 minutes in front of VCs is their first step in demonstrating value and finding opportunities to further expand their network. Then, out of the spotlight, they follow up with their newly developed network of contacts, asking for and listening to feedback, and getting referrals and making new contacts.

What forum formats work well? For startup to B-round companies, it's the cavalcade of 10-minute on stage presentations and networking around the program. For C-and D-round companies, the 15-minute pitch followed by a 15 minute Q & A and meeting in small groups is better. And in both settings, time is the most valuable commodity. The secret of getting more face time with VCs is to build the relevant networks that can help maintain contacts and company credibility after the forum.

Savvy entrepreneurs give forums a high rating if there's a process evident in its design. Processes, not just events, are more valuable to companies in the startup through B-round stages. It's the process that helps build the relevant network, add value and lead to funding success. From this base the company has a greater chance of success in the market.

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