Company and Product Launch Events

Startup companies with finished products need publicity, media and blogger coverage, and analysts and reviewers to take note of what they are doing. They also often need investor interest. Since investors often flock to the same hot deals, it can be good to have a large number of investors exposed to your deal at the same time.

Some launch events give startups a chance to reach all these audiences at the same time.

DEMO is a semi-annual event that has featured pitches from some of the remarkable technology companies of our time. Investors and the media pay a lot of attention to the companies that get selected to present at DEMO. At every DEMO, conference organizer Chris Shipley chooses a number of DEMOgods that are worthy of special attention.

Yesterday and today, about 70 hot companies have been introducing their products at DEMOfall 2006, including Pluggd, a Seattle startup with a podcast search engine that I am very interested in, whose video presentation you can watch here.

At Demo, your presentation will be recorded and stored in the Demo Video Archives permanently. So there will be a long tail of publicity and potential interest in your company.

I wish I were at DEMO, but at least I get to watch videos on all the companies that I’m interested in.

Besides DEMO, what other launch events are possible for high tech startups?

Someone ought to do a directory or Wiki of launch events, if one doesn’t exist already. I know of a few.

FundingUniverse.com offers speedpitching events in several states. They aren’t so much a public launch event, but they are a great way to reach local angel investors.

Where can you find a way to reach a group of early stage VCs all at once, rather than making the trek to Sandhill Road in the heart of Silicon Valley or hanging out at Buck’s Woodside Restaurant, where more venture deals have been done than anywhere else on earth?

The VC Forum brings a number of Silicon Valley venture firms to cities around the country to meet local entrepreneurs and look at potential deals. One Provo Labs company is actually presenting on September 28th at VC Forum in Salt Lake City.

Another option is the Silcon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs. I received an email yesterday from Jennifer, who represents SVASE, and she asked me to publicize one of their upcoming events. So here it is:

SVASE is hosting an event called Launch: Silicon Valley (www.launchsiliconvalley.org) occurring on November 8, 2006 at the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View, CA. The event will bring together the Top 30 best and brightest A and B round startups and will provide these start ups with a chance to showcase their products in front of an audience of leading Silicon Valley VCs looking for their next investment, and companies seeking to leverage business models and technologies as customers, strategic partnerships and potentially acquirers.

As an advocate for entrepreneurs I was hoping you could spread the word about this great opportunity that many of your readers might appreciate. If so here

FundingUtah Speedpitching Event Feb. 2nd

If you are an angel investor and want a fun experience, join me and a couple dozen other angel investors for FundingUtah.com’s first Salt Lake City entrepreneur speedpitching event Thursday, February 2nd.

The staff at FundingUtah.com have selected 10 promising entrepreneurs for the event. They have been coached on how to deliver informative and energetic pitches. It promises to be an exciting day.

Last November the first ever FundingUtah speedpitching event attracted journalists, photographers, and even KSL news, which broadcast a 2 minute report of the event on the evening news. Check it out. This is fun stuff.

Visit the FundingUtah web site for more information or call them at 801-805-4847.

Last September I blogged when FundingUniverse had 421 investors nationwide signed up, now it’s up to 797 angel investors and 5702 entrepreneurs.

I think that speedpitching events are being planned for other states. If you want to see one in your area let me know. I’m a board member and investor in FundingUniverse.com and am excited to see the company generating interest all over the country.

Official Provo Labs Announcement

Provo Labs is now funded.

Our small incubator team intends to launch between 12-20 internet startup companies in the next 2-3 years. We have an office at Canyon Park now (in Orem) but as per our name, we’ll be moving to Provo early next year.

Our m/o is to generate great ideas, build working prototypes (or live web sites) quickly and by using the best internet marketing techniques, bring enough visitors to each web site that we can prove each concept.

If a business idea passes the initial market test, then we will provide enough seed capital to build a team and fund a go-to-market strategy. Our goal is to reach positive cash flow from Provo Labs initial investment.

But some startups will need more than just seed capital. If necessary, we’ll use FundingUniverse.com to help us find angel capital, or in some cases we might seek venture capital.

We love Provo and believe this is the right place to do internet business incubation. The talent pool is excellent. The language pool may be the best in the U.S. (because of BYU and the Mormon missionary system which sends thousands of young men and young women to live in more than 160 countries for two years.)

Some of my Silicon Valley friends who are struggling to find developers (since Google is hiring all the best people) have congratulated me for launching in Provo. They believe it will be a real advantage.

In the coming months we’ll be looking for part and full time developers, internet marketers, content experts, sales people and interns and lots and lots of contractors.

Our current investments include Infobase Media, which markets audio products, and FundingUniverse.com, which matches angel investors with entrepreneurs.

Our newly funded projects incude Worldhistory.com, where we intend to build the largest database of historical events, Blastyx, a Web 2.0-ish online promotion/marketing company, and a new mobile e-commerce technology company that we are doing with Alan Hall.

We are also exploring various other ideas including genealogy and family, online education, mapping, vertical search engines, social networking and blogging, politics, and international opportunities.

We also have a budget to acquire a number of web properties that have unrealized potential, where our team can significantly increase the traffic and revenue.

Our core competencies include content and search, online community building, and metrics-driven internet marketing.

If you want to experience the pace and intensity of Silicon Valley (yes, we are as passionate as Google about changing the world) while enjoying the Utah lifestyle, then please drop me an email or send a resume to Amy Rhoads at amyrhoadsATgmail.com.

We’ll invite you to some Geek Dinners or some entrepreneur Brainstorm Lunches, where we can get to know you better and see if there’s a place for your on our team.

Small Business Loans

Many entrepreneurs don’t know this, but Provo City has a revolving loan fund that typically makes $10,000 to $100,000 loans to companies that are having trouble getting financing. The Provo web site seems to be down right now, but here is a link to a short description of the Provo BDC.

I am serving on the BDC committee. We meet every month or two to consider companies that qualify for these small loans. Roger Andrus works for Provo City and helps companies prepare for their presentations to us.

I wonder how many cities in the country have small business development funds that most entrepreneurs don’t know about.

Does anyone know of an online directory of business development loan funds?

The Vision of Grow Utah Ventures

I’m sitting inside the old greyhound bus station on Ogden’s infamous 25th street.

But it isn’t a bus station anymore. Utah visionary Alan Hall and his team at Grow Utah Ventures have purchased the old bus depot. They are renovating it and today are christening it the “E Station.”

E, of course, stands for entrepreneur.

Alan Hall’s vision is for Grow Utah Ventures to be the most influential private sector force for economic development in the state of Utah, with a focus on Northern Utah.

In the next five years Grow Utah Ventures plans to launch 100 new companies, invest $15 million in entrepreneurs, and create over 2,000 good paying jobs.

The E Station will be a launch center for new companies, providing low cost office space, mentoring from GUV Advisors, and sales and marketing assistance.

GUV companies will also have access to expansion capital because GUV is closely allied with many angel investor groups in Utah, including groups in Salt Lake, Weber, Davis, Cache and Washington Counties.

The E Station ribbon cutting starts in 10 minutes.

It is conveniently located a block away from MarketStar, a global sales and marketing outsourcing company which helped its clients sell more than $8 billion in products last year.

I love Alan’s vision. I believe the economic impact from funding 100 companies and mentoring hundreds of entrepreneurs will be vast. It will be part of his lasting legacy.

At a time when people worldwide are complaining about slow government response to every external event and disaster, I love watching private entrepreneurship and philanthropy having such a major impact on the world.

From Larry and Sergey’s incalculable effect on the worldwide diffusion of knowledge, to Clara Barton’s Red Cross, which provides relief to millions, to Habitat for Humanity’s vision of providing homes to the needy, and on and on. These things come from individual initiative, not government fiat.

Remember JFK’s powerful words: Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

Think of the kind of world we would create together if all of us tried to answer that question.

Thanks, Alan, for answering it with this wonderful Grow Utah Ventures initiative!

Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.

Josh Coates: Disruptive Entrepreneur Speaks

If you are in Utah Thursday, you have to pay $10 to hear Silicon Valley transplant Josh Coates speak about how to start a company
and raise money. He is an incredible technologist with a disruptive
business model and he knows how to raise capital. He likes to challenge
the way the Utah angel and VC community fund startups. Josh likes the
Silicon Valley way. The event will be at Los Hermanos in Lindon at 3:30
pm. Don’t miss this.

Don’t Miss Tomorrow’s UVEF Meeting

In May I blogged about Junto and a Salt Lake Tribune article about this super-innovative new business model for creating teams of entrepreneurs. Tomorrow’s UVEF luncheon (Provo Marriott at 12:00 pm) will feature Greg Warnock, the visionary behind Junto, and several of the Junto winners (there have been 15 so far who have received $50,000 in startup funding.) I totally love this concept and can’t wait to hear more about it. Here’s a link to the UVEF July newsletter which announced the program.

Powering Businesses with Float

I never had much interest in banking or insurance until reading The
Warren Buffett Way last year and realizing how Buffett made his fortune
by investing the “float” from his insurance companies. Now I think
about this concept all the time and wonder how it might be applied to
my internet companies.

From the 2004 Berkshire Hathaway Annual report:

“… Berkshire has access to two
low-cost, non-perilous sources of leverage that allow us to safely own
far more assets than our equity capital alone would permit: deferred
taxes and “float”, the funds of others that our insurance business
holds because it receives premiums before needing to pay out losses.
Both of these funding sources have grown rapidly and now total about
$55 billion.

“Better yet, this funding to date has often been cost-free. Deferred
tax liabilities bear no interest. And as long as we can break even in
our insurance underwriting the cost of the float developed from that
operation is zero. Neither item, of course, is equity; these are real
liabilities. But they are liabilities without covenants or dates
attached to them. In effect, they give us the benefit of debt — an ability to have more assets working for us — but saddle us with none of its drawbacks.”

I have a friend who ranks in the top 5 on major search engines for
insurance related terms. I figure that if I ever establish an online
insurance company, that he’ll be my partner in generating major traffic
to my site. The big question I need to answer before going down this
path is: what regulations govern how insurance funds — the float –
can be invested? I know government regulations would likely not permit
any high-risk investments. But how did Buffett do what he did? I
suppose he bought companies with high book value, so the investments
seemed safe because the companies owned physical assets. I don’t know.
I’m sure you can’t fund high-risk startups with insurance float.

Another options might be industrial banks, which exist in six states,
including Utah. Again, regulations would not permit a high-risk use of
these funds. But I recently read a great article (Wired magazine I
think) about a taxi company that set up an Industrial Bank in Utah
(instead of borrowing money from other banks) and in a couple of years
it was able to greatly increase its net profits because it was able to
finance its own growth.

I’ll keep noodling on this concept. All start up companies need some
cash. And I’m thinking there ought to be a way to fund them using
float, without violating government regulations. (I wonder if
regulations permit say 5% of float to be invested in high risk
investments, as long as the portfolio overall is 95% safe???)

Any ideas from all the brilliant readers out there?

FundingUniverse.com Gaining Traction

FundingUtah.com got its 100th
angel investor yesterday. More than $75 million in funds are now
available from Utah angels who want to invest in Utah companies. And
370 entrepreneurs have registered, posting 92 business plans so far. New plans are posted every week.

The Utah Angels, Utah’s oldest
organized angel investing group, voted recently to use FundingUtah.com
as its source of deals. We have added functionality to allow their
members to make private comments on business plans. We also enable them
to choose which plans they want to have pitched at their monthly
meetings.

FundingArizona.com is
started to gain some traction, and this week we launched nearly 40 new
sites. A few entrepreneurs from different states are starting to
discover our individual state sites.

I went to Phoenix Wednesday for an MIT Enterprise Forum broadcast which
focused on angel investing in the U.S. James Geshwiler, the director of
the Angel Capital Association
and founder of CommonAngels was on the panel, along with other very
astute angel investors and academicians who cover venture and angel
investing.

One panelist indicated that more than 90% of angels invest within a
half day’s drive of where they live. This is the primary reason we have
taken a state by state approach for our angel matching service.

I think we are still having a hard time convincing people that 1) this
service is free for both angel investors and entrepreneurs and 2) that
online matching services can actually generate deal flow. One panelist
at the event Wednesday said online matching services don’t work.
Apparently the University of New Hampshire tried some kind of matching
service years ago, and later it was turned over the MIT Enterprise
Forum, and then it was abandoned because it “didn’t work.”

To me that is like saying the PDAs aren’t viable because the Newton
didn’t succeed, or that Tablet Computing is a bad idea because Go
failed.

Maybe the timing wasn’t right, or maybe the implementation was flawed.
Based on our FundingUtah.com success this year, we are convinced that
our matching service will succeed. In each state site, we need to
convince angels and entrepreneurs to sign up. And then, like eBay, when
there are enough buyers and sellers and a company dedicated to
improving the experience for both, magical things will happen.

Please spread the word in your state. You don’t want Utah to get all the increase in angel investment deal flow do you?

FundingArizona.com Launched

Okay, so our new web site for Arizona has only 1 registered investor
with $50,000 of available capital so far. That’s not going to change
the world. But guess what is going to happen in the next few months? I
think the number of registered investors and entrepreneurs on FundingArizona
will grow steadily. Arizona has more than twice the population of Utah
and it is also growing rapidly. Eventually, there should be more
investors and more business plans on FundingArizona.com than there are
on FundingUtah.com.

Our FundingUtah.com Alexa chart
is looking better all the time. More importantly, with 92 investors and
$72.8 million in available capital (much of it for early stage
companies), and with at least one angel group using FundingUtah.com as
their source of new deals, this web site has already surpassed our
expectations.

I started a Google Adwords campaign today for FundingArizona.com
and sent out my first email invitation to an investor. Our team will
start contacting angel groups, business schools, and entrepreneurs as
well. If you know investors or entrepreneurs in Arizona, please tell them about our free matching service.