great lakes venture fair will showcase ohio tech startups
In an effort to bring investors face to face with the state's hottest investment opportunities, the Ohio Capital Fund
, Ohio Venture Association
are teaming up to present the first Great Lakes Venture Fair
(GLVF) at the Cleveland Marriott from October 17th-18th.
"It's really important for Ohio to showcase the progress we’re making in the technology start-up environment," says Carolyn Pione Micheli, the Fair's Marketing Committee co-chair and CincyTech's Communications Director.
Event chairman Chris Sklarin, who is also a Cleveland-based investment manager with the prominent venture capital firm Edison Ventures
, sees the Fair as an opportunity for entrepreneurs to "shop" for different sources of capital.
"This is an area that is 'under ventured,'" says Sklarin of Ohio. "There are fewer investors chasing deals here than there are on the coasts. We have good, hardworking entrepreneurs. Because there are fewer dollars chasing them, the prices investors get will be better. That's just natural supply and demand."
Some startups, explains Sklarin, are looking for seed funding to grow their ideas, while others are more established and looking for larger investments to catapult them to the next level. The same goes for potential investors. They're interested in specific markets and stages of development. Some may invest strictly in the life sciences while others focus solely on manufacturing. The magic, he says, is in the marriage: matching the right investor with the right project at the right time.
"We’re all about making companies that make money," says Sklarin, citing Ohio's reputation for entrepreneur success. "That is a very important point to investors."
"The state has committed $1.6 billion to growing tech-based start-ups and the jobs of the future," adds Pione Micheli of the initial 10-year period of Ohio Third Frontier
. The amount is $2.3 billion through 2015. "That's starting to pay off."
With nearly 100 event registrants on the books at press time, Sklarin predicts attendance to range between two and three hundred. "We're well on our way."
Organizers are also trying to attract attendees with the help of a unique event partner. The GLVF will kick off at the conclusion of the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds (NASVF
) annual conference, which will also be held at the downtown Cleveland Marriot from October 15th-17th, just prior to the Fair. The NASVF conference attracts seed and early stage venture capitalists from coast to coast. This year, they're all coming to see what Ohio has to offer.
"Right now, Ohio is one of those states that's looked at as being very innovative," says NASVF Senior Vice President Richard Miller of why the state was selected.
Miller adds that his organization's members will have a unique opportunity to extend their week by attending the Great Lakes Venture Fair, where they will meet what Pione Micheli calls "the best of Ohio startups from around the state."
"There aren't many places where you're going to have this type of synergy between organizations," says Miller, whose members include venture capitalists who represent private and public entities, foundations and universities.
"I think there are whole segments who will go to one event or the other, but there will be some crossover of people who will want to go to both events," Sklarin adds, touting the networking opportunities that the 19th annual NASVF event offers.
That said, the Great Lakes Venture Fair is not really the cub event it appears to be. It's actually the next generation of the Ohio Early Stage Summit, which Paul Cohn of the Ohio Capital Fund
helmed for seven years. The "rebranding" to Great Lakes Venture Fair, says Pione Micheli, adds freshness and regional appeal.
"We're just really building on the momentum of the Early Stage Summit," adds Sklarin. The newfangled Fair will feature companies in early, middle and advance stage development, which is an expansion on past Summits. The inclusion of a more mature market also mirrors Ohio's recent tech startup growth.
Although the agenda is developing, the cornerstones are in place. Jeff Weedman will deliver the keynote speech. Earlier this year, Weedman took a two-year leave from Proctor & Gamble to ignite the Cintrifuse
project in Cincinnati, which is a corporate venturing initiative that aims to bolster start-ups and help with a leg up to the next level.
"He's going to talk about how corporate folks have gotten behind Cintrifuse and what they're doing in Cincinnati. It's a great example of an Ohio initiative that's new and fresh," says Sklarin, adding that Cintrifuse just signed on its first company.
Fresh-faced start-ups will be the main thrust of day two at the Fair, with an array of presentations. Eighteen companies will present for about eight minutes each during the morning session in hopes of attracting funds. More than 60 candidates applied for the 18 slots. Organizers have yet to finalize the line-up.
"The likely ones will have already raised some seed or angel funding," says Sklarin of the chosen presenters, who are typically seeking funding from one to five million dollars. "They will likely have customers. They might be driving revenue."
Those sessions will look like drawn out soirées compared to the afternoon's main event. The "Elevator Pitch Olympics" will pit presenters against each other in a fast-paced version of what can only be described as venture capital speed dating.
Presenters will pitch to a panel of investors for about as long as it takes to ride an elevator from the lobby to the 50th
floor. The panel will then score their efforts. Although the prize has yet to be determined, Pione Micheli is certain the competition will "add some energy and a sense of fun" to the Fair.
Sklarin touts the rapid-fire pitches as an accurate depiction of a day in the life of a venture capitalist. "You get bombarded by investment ideas all day long," he says.
Other event highlights will include panel discussions focused on corporate venturing, receptions and various breakout group discussions.
"It will be a very exciting program," says Sklarin.