Venture Atlanta 2011: Early Stage Pitches in the Real Shark Tank
Over the course of this year I’ve seen early stage presentation venues ranging from Launch in San Francisco, Startup Riot in Atlanta, Demo Day here in Austin, and many recurring angel forums in between in Austin and Atlanta. It’s good to see now that Venture Atlanta has added an early stage segment to its agenda. This fall institution, held in the Georgia Aquarium, is one around which all the local sponsor dollars have coalesced, and it draws investors from across the country. It’s got that good old-fashioned Georgia boosterism, as you can easily see on the Twitter stream #VA2011. (Caution, there’s a Fairfax County, VA ballot initiative that seems to be using the same hash tag.) But, that’s the style that secured the 1996 Olympics and has paid great dividends for the city over many decades.
VA historically has been the showcase for the later stage firms that could have been said to be warming up their IPO roadshows, and the investor mix was a good match for that. Adding startups to the stage should attract investors who play at that level and should add some pizzazz to the overall event. I’m not quite sure if it will rise (or sink perhaps) to the level of Launch where a notable on-stage jurist interrupted one presenter with: “Stop there, I’ll write you a f**king check.”
I was unable to attend due to showing a product myself at the Texas Wireless Summit, but my son Jesse (@jessebdyer), the CEO of NightRaft, graciously volunteered to attend and file a first-hand dispatch for TechDrawl. Here are his observations as a VA first-timer:
It’s 955 miles from Atlanta to Austin but the tech scenes in each city are a world apart. T-Shirts vs Suits really sums it up. The laid back, imaginative, vibrant and fun atmosphere of Capital Factory Demo Day showed the Austin tech scene at its best. The high-brow, high-tech, more regimented and community celebratory atmosphere at Venture Atlanta is a spot-on reflection of Atlanta’s tech scene. You’re in a bigger city, more formal, and one working hard to rebound from an economy overly dependent on real estate and banking.
Atlanta deals remain purely B2B focused and stocked full of really bright Georgia Tech talent. (Editor’s biased note: that last clause is a redundancy!) The heavy fingerprint from ISS still touches the start-up scene in Atlanta with data security the big theme of the day. CodeGuard, which had an excellent demo cartoon, won the audience choice prize for its innovative time machine web security product. If you want to compete for funding against deals like that in Atlanta you’d better have a SaaS model, some real customers in your pocket, and maybe even a few patents to show for your work. All the presenting startup companies can be found here.
There was one company that works in social media, Soket, which is a SaaS based web and social relationship manager for small business. Out of the 20 companies here only two uttered the words Foursquare, Twitter, or Facebook! Abundant Closet, which allows women shoppers to take their wardrobe everywhere was one of three B2C / B2B hybrids.
One app development company, RappidApp, made an appearance; it is a new entrant in the “design your own app from home in your pajamas” space. It’s Savannah-based team has a lot of personality that came across very well on stage.
TripLingo presented a cool travel language app, but otherwise mobile is not on the radar here in the ATL, quite the opposite of the ATX.
Software solutions carried the day. There is no shortage of great companies based here solving some interesting & unique niche problems: expense account dining, internal idea sourcing, apartment water metering, smart grid data analysis, & legal document discovery to name a few. They most jaw dropping technology on display was the augmented reality instructional tool presented by Merlin Mobility – a product of Georgia Tech’s world-renowned lab in that specialty. With adequate funding Merlin will definitely be a company to watch.
The Atlanta angels sounded pretty positive today. In an interactive text poll of the audience 32% of the angel investors present said they planned on investing between $100k – $500k over the next 12 months in Atlanta companies. Let’s hope that adds up to a big aggregate number. There is no shortage of solid B2B offerings in Atlanta but “early stage” in this town is bit further down the path than places like San Francisco, and to some extent even Austin and NYC. Bootstrapping by already seasoned entrepreneurs is definitely the norm. The big B2C ideas are not at home here, but solid B2B ideas definitely are.