Monday, September 20, 2010

Spotters for Starter Uppers: Helping CEO's Make the Pitch

      On one of the last sweltering days of summer in New York, a group of 21 eager entrepreneurs gathered for an all day boot camp on how to position their fledgling companies to attract investors. For nearly four hours in the morning, they listened intently to impressive panels of experts, talking on "The Key Elements of a Venture Presentation" followed by "Presenting Financials and The Business Models." Among the panelists were representatives from such companies as Covington & Burling, AOL Ventures, Golden Seeds, Cava Capital, Microsoft, Intel Capital, Grant Thornton and NBC Universal.
     This boot camp, ALL THINGS MEDIA, focused on women entrepreneurs in all sectors of the media, is the 21st annual ritual for Springboard Enterprises, a nonprofit group whose mission is to educate, coach, and showcase women-led high growth companies seeking equity capital for expansion. Each forum targets a specific business sector; past ones have highlighted life science and technology companies.      Executive director Amy Millman describes their training program as "the best sounding board and support organization for women entrepreneurs who need a network of trusted resources to scale their companies."
And the results speak to the value of these forums. Out of the 4,000 businesses Springboard has screened in the past decade, it has selected and presented 426 of them to venture capitalists, 83% of which have received funding for a total of $5 billion in equity, grants and strategic investments. To date, seven of its companies have gone public and about a quarter of them have merged or been acquired. To date, 80% of the companies continue to operate; on average each company has 30 employees and reports $12 mil in annual revenues.
      The 21 entrepreneurs from all over the US at the New York boot camp were the happy survivors of screening sessions earlier this summer. Each year Springboard spends about two months putting together its screening committees, another two months recruiting women-led businesses, one month for initial screening leading to the intensive boot camp for the selected enterprises which is followed by more coaching, culminating in a fall event for potential investors.
     After a brief, organic lunch, the boot campers, with a renewed sense of mission, were ready to strut their stuff. With a rousing send off on tips to make their presentations pop, by pitch specialist Sam Horn of Sam Horn Keynotes, the women were allowed only two minutes to introduce their companies to the assembled audience. Their presentations underwent immediate scrutiny by two business veterans: Kay Koplovitz, Chairman of the Board for Springboard Enterprises and founder of USA Network, the first woman network president in television history, and Lauren Flanagan, co founder of Phenomenelle Angels Fund, and a CEO of SCIO Corp, a strategic advisory firm for tech-based businesses. Their responses, along with some from the audience, focused on both delivery and content: "Don't talk so quietly; you're a firehose!" "Give us a sense of how big your market is?" "What happened to your management team?" to which the entrepreneur sheepishly admitted, "I forgot them."
     How did the entrepreneurs react? Laurie Cohn, whose company ChatThreads is an analytics company that helps brands measure consumer reaction, says she learned to do a better job of connecting with her audience. "My elevator pitch," she says, "changed from a vague statement that ChatThreads tracks how, when and where consumers encounter brand touchpoints on a day-to-day basis, and how these encounters impact purchase behavior to a friendlier 'think about your favorite soda, coffee or hummus'--more customer oriented."
      Kelly Fitzsimmons, CEO of HarQen, a web telephony company that captures, organizes and distributes original voice through a voice management platform, has already successfully raised venture capital but she came for further training because "every raise is different, as is every audience; I need to talk in more depth about our competition and how we distinguish ourselves." Her resolution this time is "to become more engaged with my classmates to extend my network and my horizons."
     Another entrepreneur, Paula Jagemann, CEO of Something With, an e-commerce catalog that offers patients of breast cancer and other diseases, a one stop shopping online store to purchase necessary products recommended by doctors for use during and post treatment, says that the experience reminded her of the value of spotters. For professional gymnasts spotters are always there whenever they mount, dismount or execute a difficult move. "Springboard," she observes, "is the spotter for new entrepreneurs or for those like me who are returning to the entrepreneurship world and need advice and support."
     What's next for the trainees? Each company will be matched with 3-5 coaches who over the next several weeks will assist them in developing and refining their investor presentations to ten minutes. Each company posts slides and pertinent documents on a secure online site so that coaches can easily comment and suggest revisions. Final performance for their polished pitches? On October 20th the 21 newly trained recruits reunite in New York at the Paley Center for the Media, at a venture capital forum which will showcase these investment--ready, high-growth media companies, led by women, before an audience of about 75 potential investors--angels, VCs, and business development executives from the major media companies including CBS, NBC, Disney, Google and Comcast.
     Will the next YouTube please step forward!

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