The talent for dreaming up the next big thing doesn’t always come with the talent for selling the idea.
The Roaring Fork Business Resource Center partnered last week with the Rockies Venture Club to help Western Slope entrepreneurs with the tough proposition of condensing their vision down to a five- or 10-minute pitch.
Seven local and regional groups spent the morning at the Aspen Glen Club with Peter Adams, venture club executive director and co-author of “Venture Capital for Dummies.” In the afternoon, while the innovators touched up their presentations, Adams worked with potential investors looking to recognize a good deal.
In the evening, the entrepreneurs and the investors met for the event’s grand finale — a strictly enforced 10-minute pitch and Q&A session for each of group of innovators. The audience was provided with “venture bucks” so the pitchers could get instant feedback. Adams instructed the crowd to conduct their due diligence before investing real money.
“If you write a check at a pitch event, you’re an idiot,” he said.
The venture club runs its pitch academy monthly on the Front Range, but this was the first time the Roaring Fork Business Resource Center has brought the club west. An impressive group came out for the event, illustrating the tremendous creative power of the area.
Don Smith won the top prize for his pitch, garnering $680,000 in venture bucks. His company has a patent on a technique for adding algae to cattle feed, boosting healthy omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids to a level usually only found in fish, and roughly 10 times that of grass-fed beef.
Smith said that if the ratio is right, the cattle gain weight at the same rate and cost only about 23 cents more a pound. He also pointed out that his system doesn’t undermine the existing supply chain, it just gives producers a new method for producing healthy food.
Smith believes the company would sell for $300 million in a few years, and said $800,000 would buy 8 percent of the company now.
GREEN POWER FINANCE SOLUTIONS
Although he was the last to present, Geoff Greenfield pulled in $540,000 in venture bucks, putting him in second place. His company is working on software designed to cut down on transaction costs in power purchase agreements — a funding system whereby an institution agrees to buy energy from an installation on its own facility.
Historically, small projects suffer from the non-scalable overhead of putting together such an arrangement, but Green Power uses online tools to spread the cost over many third-party-owned systems.
Greenfield sees a large field of unfinanced projects to be tapped, and intends to charge a small transaction fee. After six years and $1.7 million in capital, he believes the company will be valued at $23 million.
Heather Henry pulled $290,000 in venture bucks for her company’s online plant search and management software. The subscription-based service is being developed in conjunction with professors, researchers, botanic gardens and other professionals, but will also take advantage of networking to involve the community.
The idea is to start out with information on Western plants, gearing information toward professionals trying to decide what to plant and how to care for it. In the long run, the goal is to expand nationwide and draw amateurs to a $19 annual home subscription, which Henry believes will make them “the Amazon.com of the plant industry.”
She said $500,000 would help launch phase 1, with projected return of $3.3 million over five years.
For Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJD), Cinde Waller believes there’s no better product than TempOrthotics’ braces, which support the jaw ergonomically during sleep. The patented design has also found application with obstructive sleep apnea, and has replaced a continuous positive air pressure, or CPAP, machine for a few apnea patients.
The company now makes most of its sales online to individuals. It hopes to get $3 million to expand the management team, boost marketing and search engine optimization and obtain some foreign patents. Owners expect the company to be worth $33 million by year five.
The promotional product and engraving fields are highly competitive, but according to Heather Bryan, no one does both like Jupiter Sports. With a minimum promotional product purchase, Jupiter provides a free, printer-sized diamond drag engraver, allowing all products to be customized on site. Bryan subscribes to the “razor-blade theory” that once someone owns a razor, the person must keep buying the blades.
Right now, Jupiter does business mainly with golf courses, as well as a handful of hotels, stadiums and their ilk. In order to expand into new markets like schools and ski resorts, the company needs $200,000.
THE OTHER SPACE
Although the Pay it Forward Community Café and Hostel failed to nab the Gordon Cooper Library space, Alexander Hobbs and his associates are not giving up. They’re looking for $2 million to buy a building in downtown Carbondale and another $1 million to keep it running for the first year.
Hobbs admits an institution with no set prices is a hard sell, but hopes its potential benefits — narrowing the divide between rich and poor, making nutritious food available to those who can’t afford it and boosting local partnerships and sustainability — will encourage people to accept a more modest return on investment of two to three times.
He’s also willing to settle for a smaller building, but observes that you don’t go fishing hoping to catch a small fish.
Paul Kulas has tremendous experience in telecommunications. He invented caller ID spoofing, and his skip tracing software is on the first page of Google search. His latest venture, BellesLink, simplifies the process of looking for overdue debtors. Instead of hiring a collection agency, smaller organizations can make calls and emails through any computer with an Internet connection and a headset. Everything is recorded and stored in one place for easy record-keeping and increased efficiency.
Kulas is looking for an 8 percent straight loan to fund new positions, infrastructure and marketing. With the company’s year-over-year growth, it shouldn’t be a hard sell.