If you are part of a startup science or technology company, you’ll want to know about two events designed to reward creative entrepreneurs. And you’ll want to sharpen your “elevator speech” skills, because you’ll need to be concise.
The first is Launch Day, a Durham event designed to match entrepreneurs with mentors and peers who can help your company grow. The second Launch Day (the first was held in May) will take place on October 5 at the American Tobacco Campus.
Entrepreneurs can register for the opportunity to make a six-minute presentation about their company, and members of the public and the business community will vote on the most promising candidate. The winner will receive a package of resources that is still being finalized, says Launch Day organizer Scott Kelly; it could include sales and marketing assistance, a brainstorming lunch with a venture capital firm, legal advice, or hosting solutions.
The companies presenting at Launch Day should already exist and have a product that is launched or close to launching, with revenues of up to $1 million. Technology companies are ideal for this program, says Kelly, because of their scalability—ability to achieve high growth in a way that traditional companies (apparel, food service) cannot. High-growth, early stage companies in fields like gaming, IT, software as a service, and medical technology are good candidates for Launch Day, he says.
The presentations should focus on what the company needs over the next six to twelve months “to achieve hockey stick projections,” Kelly says. “That could be beta testers, a contact at Costco, office space, legal help.” Even those who don’t win the competition may find the help they need from established business people who will attend, listen, vote and network.
One thing the presenters are unlikely to get is funding. Even though KeySource Bank (where Kelly works) and 8 Rivers Capital are sponsors of Launch Day, it is not intended to match entrepreneurs with venture capital. “This is more of a bootstrap event,” says Kelly. “A pitch for community help.”
What many entrepreneurs need more than capital, Kelly says, is sales assistance, which he hopes to make part of the prize package. “The problem with startups is they fail because they don’t sell enough,” he says. “It’s a difficult transition from being a product company to being a sales engine. The person who started the company is not necessarily a sales person.”
Six minutes may not seem like very much time for a presentation, but it’s expansive compared to the Start Something Twitter pitch contest sponsored by CED. This contest is ongoing and closes on September 30. Using either Twitter or the comments section of CED’s blog, new or established entrepreneurs can make a pitch of no more than 140 characters. A judge’s panel will select five finalists, and the winner will be announced at CED’s housewarming party on October 28. That party also celebrates the organization’s move to American Tobacco Campus in Durham.
Like Launch Day, CED’s Start Something contest rewards its winner with a bundle of prizes including professional consultation and a Lenovo notebook computer.
Is it a coincidence that both of these competitions have an American Tobacco flavor? Within a few weeks, I hope to explore downtown Durham’s growing identity as an incubator for high-tech startups.