Valid Evaluation Seeks to Improve Feedback for Entrepreneurs

4/1/14Follow @MichaelXBD

Adam Rentschler has a problem with business plan competitions.

While the events can help entrepreneurs raise money and their profile, teams that don’t make the final stage might not get a lot in return—other than a form letter thanking them for entering and wishing them well, that is.

Rentschler would like to change that, and that’s part of the purpose of Valid Evaluation, his Denver-based startup.

Valid Evaluation, or Valid Eval for short, makes software judges can use to run business plan competitions. It also can be used to help agencies give out grants or loans. Clients include economic development organizations and federal agencies that give grants to entrepreneurs.

Valid Eval’s software manages a user’s workflow and helps compile rankings, which Rentschler believes will bring a degree of rigor and structure that most competitions lack.

“If you find yourself in a position where you are giving away dollars or making investments in startup companies, it’s incumbent upon you to make sure the outcomes of those contests are valid,” he said.

But what Rentschler is most enthusiastic about is the ability to give entrepreneurs detailed information about how they performed.

In most competitions, entrants don’t get much feedback, Rentschler said, especially if they don’t reach the final round when judges grade live pitches. But even then, Rentschler said the experience goes so quickly that it’s hard to process what advice is being given. Plus, the exchange with judges can feel adversarial, as an entrepreneur is trying to defend his or her company and win the competition.

Valid Eval’s reports take the pressure out of the process. After being judged, companies get a report card. It’s in the form of a rubric that tells them what judges think about issues like their market analysis, product, and business model.

Valid Eval recently was put to the test by the Arizona Commerce Authority, which used it to manage the judging for the Arizona Innovation Challenge, a competitive grant program. The authority said it has about 250 applicants for each competition cycle.

The authority endorsed Valid Eval as a tool that boosted efficiency and helped judges make better decisions. Startups that participated said the feedback they got from one cycle helped them improve and win grants the next time.

One of Rentschler’s goals is to see Valid Eval used for events closer to home, and not just for pitch competitions, but whenever a company makes a presentation.

“The next step for us is to prove this out at the scale of our entire community. I’m trying to curry support in the Front Range of Colorado to do exactly that,” he said.

In his eyes, that would create a healthier environment for entrepreneurs.

“If we could deploy this at the scale of our entire community, that would mean those who are novices are going to progress, and those who are journeymen entrepreneurs are going to progress,” Rentschler said. “This would be the scaffolding of that progression.”

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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