On Oct. 23rd, The Company Lab’s (CO.LAB) organized and hosted an incredible Virtual Pitch Event in partnership with VU Venture Partners during Startup Week Chattanooga. The virtual pitch was part of the CO.LAB Capital Network initiative to connect local entrepreneurs with a national network of investors, lending institutions, and grantmaking organizations.
VU Venture Partners (VU) is a multi-stage venture capital investment fund based in San Francisco, led by two top-performing general partners, Andrew Zalasin and J. Skyler Fernandes. VU invest in various industries, primarily sourcing deals in consumer, enterprise, finance tech, frontier technology, and health care. Investments range depending on the deal, but start as low as $20k, supporting exciting seed stage companies. VU Venture Partners also operates Venture University, a trade school for venture capital, private equity, and angel investing.
Ten startups based in the southeast were selected for the Virtual Pitch Event. The participating company industries ranged from biotech to freight tech. The capital access team at CO.LAB evaluated the applicants based on market size, competitive advantage, capital efficiency, and a clear go-to-market strategy.
Prior to the pitch, each company was offered resources, including a pitch deck template, typical investor questions, and pitch advice. Select founders opted into business evaluations where CO.LAB provided direction on how to better attract a venture investment. On the day of the event, CO.LAB’s capital access team held mock pitch interviews to prepare the founders for the venture meeting. Every company pitched with at least one dedicated member of the VU investment team, and had roughly 30 minutes to pitch.
The feedback from the investment team at VU and the founders who participated in the event has been highly positive. One founder said, “The pitch call went well. I’m excited to stay involved through your future events.” Another echoed that sentiment, saying, “I really enjoyed the pitch call. It was less of a pitch. We went completely off-script and dove straight into questions – which was refreshing for me. I prefer that rapid-fire to the scripted presentation.”
As one of the top accelerators in the southeast, CO.LAB is focused on creating a selfless ecosystem for entrepreneurs. Our Capital Access team connect entrepreneurs in the southeast to capital, opportunities, knowledge, and support across the globe. CO.LAB and organizations like VU Ventures will bring more capital access opportunities to the region in 2020. Aakash Juan, principal at VU Venture Partners, has expressed interest in hosting a pitch event with CO.LAB every quarter.
On the heels of a successful virtual pitch event we share a few reasons why organizations like CO.LAB creates intentional platforms for founders and investors to connect.
• High growth and venture-backed companies are historically overlooked in the Southeast.
Being part of a low-targeted region fosters an environment for all founders to support each other in the entrepreneurial process. Being an underrepresented minority in an under-targeted region comes with even more hurdles. The venture capital funds in the U.S. typically target California and New York. The reason funds have little reach into markets like those in the southeast is directly associated with the opportunity costs. Hosting a virtual pitch event is one effort to decrease the barriers for founders in the southeast to get connected with funds on the coasts.
• Leveraging virtual pitch events increases opportunities for venture capital funds and startup founders to connect.
Factoring in all the time and money it would take for either party to travel practically eliminates the possibility of face-to-face interaction. With the virtual pitch event, founders are able to dedicate the time to pitch venture capital funds without having to halt business operations. CO.LAB and Chattanooga-based businesses have the benefit of the gigabit internet infrastructure, but participating companies were not limited to Chattanooga. Founders from surrounding cities, like Knoxville, TN and Birmingham, AL, participated in the event as well. The high caliber company involvement is thanks to CO.LAB’s ecosystem supporters, such as Tom Ballard and his Teknovation blog, Jim Biggs with the Knoxville Entrepreneurship Center, and John Bruck with The University of Tennessee ACEI Business Accelerator.
•The lack of proximity to venture capital funds forces founders in the Southeast to bootstrap for longer and achieve profitability sooner.
However, Silicon Valley venture funds are increasingly interested in companies based in this region. Some funding institutions consider this region to be an untapped market due to the seeming spread of high growth startups. One notable institution that recognized this is Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Fund with a follow-on investment into Chattanooga-based FreightWaves.
The CO.LAB Capital Network is exploring innovative funding options for businesses, such as revenue-based financing. If you are a funding institution or an entrepreneur interested in becoming involved with the CO.LAB Capital Network, please reach out to CO.LAB’s Venture Associate, Taylor Bozarth: firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author
Taylor Bozarth is a Venture Associate at The Company Lab, CO.LAB, in Chattanooga, TN. Taylor is an alumnus of VU Venture Partners Venture Investing & Scout Program. Prior to entering venture capital, Taylor co-founded a residential real estate investment company. He is mission-driven to provide opportunities, capital, knowledge, and a support system to startup founders in the Southeast.