The VC Will See You Now at the “World’s Largest Office Hours”
The three laws of getting a meeting with a VC: 1) If you don’t know somebody who can provide a referral, don’t even try. 2) Start about four months in advance. 3) Once the meeting is on the books, assume that it will be rescheduled at least twice, and probably again on the day of the meeting.
Venture capital partners, in short, are busy people. Every entrepreneur with a business plan wants to meet with them—and that’s to say nothing of all the meetings they have to attend at their existing portfolio companies. So their calendars are always full, and always shifting.
To their credit, VCs know they have a reputation for being inaccessible—especially to entrepreneurs located outside traditional venture hubs like Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York. That’s why the National Venture Capital Association has decided to try something new at its annual meeting, which will take place here in San Francisco on May 14 and 15.
During what the association calls “the world’s largest office hours,” venture partners from 60 member firms will spend two and a half hours meeting with entrepreneurs who hail from 20 U.S. states and three foreign countries. All told, the association selected 160 pre-venture-funded companies for the sessions, and each of them is guaranteed to have meetings with at least two firms.
It’s all scheduled to take place from 3:00 to 5:30 pm next Tuesday in the ballroom of the Westin San Francisco Market Street [corrected 5/6/13: the event is not "tomorrow" as this sentence originally stated]. That’s the headquarters for the NVCA meeting, which has been rebranded this year under the name VentureScape.
“The NVCA meeting is the largest congregation of VCs anywhere, but it has always been a closed, inside-baseball event,” says Venky Ganesan, a Menlo Ventures partner who was the lead organizer for the office hours session. “We changed to ‘VentureScape’ to focus on doing something different, and one very important constituency that we didn’t have before was the entrepreneurs. They are the reason we all exist. They are the folks who create the jobs and make innovation happen.”
Ganesan says credit for the office hours idea goes to Emily Mendell, NVCA’s vice president of communications. More than 200 companies applied to attend the sessions; those selected from outside the Bay Area are being flown in at no charge, courtesy of American Airlines.
“This gives people at least two, and in most cases three to four, opportunities to be in front of the right people and present their stories,” Ganesan says. “A lot of entrepreneurs will never have had that opportunity, either because they didn’t know the right person or they are in the wrong geography.”
All of the selected companies have raised at least some angel money, crowdfunding support, or friends-and-family funding, but none of them have yet raised a venture round. The idea isn’t necessarily to send the entrepreneurs home with term sheet. Rather, Ganesan says, it’s to give them a chance to sharpen their pitches and get feedback from veteran investors.
As it selected companies for the event, the association put a special emphasis on those led by women or members of minority groups; those from regions that have historically been underserved by the venture community, including the Midwest and the South; and those from sectors that venture firms often overlook, like hardware, cleantech, and medical devices. “There have been a set of folks who have not been able to get access to VCs, and we said, ‘Let’s expand that,’” Ganesan says.
I talked to entrepreneurs at two of the startups selected to take part in the office hours. The first, Emeryville, CA-based Revolights, is working on a radical new kind of wheel-mounted bicycle light that makes nighttime cyclists more visible from the side, as well as the front and back.
As a hardware shop, it’s the kind of company that would probably have a hard time lining up VC meetings through the traditional route—which is why it has raised most of its money to date through Kickstarter. In two separate campaigns, the five-employee company has collected more than $250,000 from donors.
But Revolights founders Kent Frankovich and Adam Pettler feel it’s time to graduate to the big leagues. “Bootstrapping in our industry is actually pretty risky,” says Frankovich. “If we have to wait to raise the revenue we need to take it to the next step, we are inviting competition.”
Frankovich and Pettler think the biggest benefit of going to VentureScape will be getting some free advice. But some investor interest wouldn’t be unwelcome. “We want to hear what we’re doing right and … Next Page »