Dispatch from Atlanta

Venture Atlanta 2016

November 17, 2016: Last week was the semiannual Georgia Tech Research Corporation board meeting, and I took advantage of that occasion to spend a couple of extra days in Atlanta catching up a bit with the startup scene there. All the news from GT was good; research is on a great trajectory. And, the complement of 17 or so corporate innovation centers surrounding the ATDC is a unique advantage for startups. Those household-name corporations are hiring students, investing in or buying products from the startups, and generally defining the big problems that create big opportunities for entrepreneurs. It’s a virtuous cycle aided by close proximity and shared vision.

Of particular note, GT leadership has made a priority of stimulating more access to capital in Atlanta. Lots of GT alums and friends are investors and community leaders and have long worked toward this goal, but having the clout of the university officially behind this will make a difference. It will be interesting to see the effects of this over the next year.

The week prior to this was an annual milepost of Atlanta’s startup prowess in the form of the Venture Atlanta event November 2-3. Its schedule contained a loot of beef, and I don’t mean that in the Texas sense. VA is a good blend of high-powered content and well curated pitches. Acuity, which provides bookkeeping and CFO services, coached up the presenters and posted a great summary of them. Look at the funds being sought, and you’ll see that there are some serious ideas in this mix. And, the talks, panels, exhibits, and social events made this a must-attend destination for active investors from around the country.

My ace field reporter and son Jesse of Funding University attended VA on TechDrawl’s behalf and reports the following: “The consensus from the folks I talked to was that the presentations were very professional and far more polished then in previous years. All the local startups had some local funding, which was nice to see.  There were several repeat presenters displaying their progress since the year before. The areas of focus were B2B, e.g. Internet security, marketing automation, healthcare IT, and Fintech – all right down the middle of the fairway for Atlanta. The College Football Hall of Fame was a nice change of venue. Less stuffy then the Georgia Aquarium...but no beluga whale watching if your mind wandered.”

Separately, I talked with one of the presenters, to whom I wanted to introduce a potential deal, and he claimed VA was the “place to be.” He’s closing a strong round and is feeling good about the boost he got by being on stage there. Sometimes in venture gatherings structured like this the presenters are more decorations for investors to network with each other, but this one seemed to be ringing the cash registers, so to speak.

I’ve judged thousands of pitch sessions with formats ranging from 90 seconds to 30 minutes. The 6-minute pitches at VA are in my opinion about the right length to get the key message across (“Make your wallet fatter.”) (I should put that on a ball cap!) and to allow a variety of startups and investors to find mutual interests in a busy two days.

If you are raising money for your startup, you have countless venues in which to pitch your deal. You can get pitch fatigue, and you’ll quickly find that some have real investors looking for deals and others are loaded with tire kickers and service providers. (No offense meant to service providers, but you first need the cash to be able to afford them.)  Some events require an entry fee or expensive travel. You certainly should do some diligence before accepting invitations that come your way. Look at the audience, the judges, your peer presenters, and the track record from past years. It’s pretty easy to see if you belong in a group and whether it has a chance of accomplishing something tangible or will just be a waste of your precious resources. I don’t know all the companies at VA by any means, but as I examine that list I’d be eager to be included if I had one of those “middle of the fairway” deals with a local lead investor. It’s not where I would go pitch a pure consumer play or a deeply technical life sciences project, for example. There are other venues for those. The organizers seem to have a done a great job in what I referred to above as proper “curation” of the programming and the presenters.

My takeaway from all this is to see if I can get the GTRC board meeting synchronized with VA next year so I can attend both in person. A Yellow Jacket home game on an adjacent weekend would make it a trifecta.

<photo by Jesse Dyer>