The Lion’s Den Entertains, But Will It Engage New Investors?

I laughed. I cried. I sat on the edge of my seat as two investors with divergent views of capitalism battled for the favor of an aspiring entrepreneur with a great idea. There was popcorn.

The initial running of Tom Douglas’ The Lion’s Den, an effort to broaden the pool of wealthy Seattleites investing in and aiding startup companies, succeeded as entertainment.

It remains to be seen whether it will accomplish its broader goal. Showing people a good time—and that business can be fun—is certainly a great start. But successful angel investing obviously takes much more than listening to an entrepreneur’s pitch over a glass of wine.

Luckily for both entrepreneurs seeking capital and aspiring investors, the Seattle area arguably has more entry points than ever before, ranging from the accessible entertainment of The Lion’s Den to the in-depth education of Seattle Angel Conference, in addition to dozens of more established accelerators, education programs, events, workspaces, and other resources.

Douglas, the lion in his den.

Douglas, the lion in his den.

The organizers of The Lion’s Den—modeled on ABC’s “Shark Tank”—delivered on their promise of a raucous good time. The event had sex appeal, big laughs with the leonine chef and entrepreneur Douglas holding court in his joint, and some incredibly moving moments, including a presentation from Robyn Rosenberger, founder of  TinySuperheroes, which delivers hand-made superhero capes to sick kids. (She deservedly received several pledges of support and cape purchases from the audience, myself included).

The drama peaked just before intermission when Sara Johnson, having charmed and impressed the six judges (“lions”) with her dream for food-truck juicing business Grass & Root Juice Co., was presented with two options. The first was to take a $48,000 investment for 30 percent of her company—the amount she was initially seeking—from lion Craig Schafer, Douglas’ landlord and proprietor of the Hotel Andra, joined by Seattle land use lawyer Jack McCullough, sitting in the audience behind him. Or she could take the advice of lion Michael “Luni” Libes, who runs Fledge, an accelerator for “conscious” companies, and was suggesting she try crowdfunding first. “We can do an Indiegogo campaign and raise more money than he just offered you,” Libes said.

These offers emerged after the lions, Douglas, and members of the audience—having sampled small cups of Grass & Roots’ bright orange (delicious) and vibrant green (spicy) concoctions—gave Johnson an enthusiastic reception and several suggestions for thinking bigger: Could Grass & Root offer fresh juices as a service to other companies? (Johnson began by selling juice to her Redfin coworkers.) Had she thought about distributing juices to other food carts, bars, restaurants, and grocery stores? In her wildest dreams, how big could this be in five to seven years?

Chris DeVore, a partner at early-stage venture fund Founders’ Co-op and managing director of Techstars Seattle, cited the example of restaurateur Josh Henderson, who began with the Skillet Street Food truck, then opened three diners, and now has Westward, one of Seattle’s hottest new restaurants.

“My worry is, who’s giving you business advice? I think you’re selling yourself short,” DeVore told Johnson.

The pre-money valuation of her company was … Next Page »

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Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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