Chamber Hopes Pitches Could Boost Silicon Valley-Madison VC Deals

7/2/14Follow @XconomyWI

When Brian Jensen walked into the room filled with Silicon Valley venture capitalists, the co-founder and CEO of Madison, WI-based startup Fishidy thought there might be some eye-rolling. After all, “here’s some Wisconsin guy coming into Silicon Valley talking about fishing and his fishing app,” Jensen said.

Instead, the entrepreneur felt like the VCs came away impressed with his company, which built a mapping tool and social network for anglers.

“They appreciated seeing a company like mine because it’s not a typical deal they see,” Jensen said.

He’s one of several Madison entrepreneurs who traveled to the San Francisco Bay Area last week to meet with investors from the buzzing epicenter of the tech industry. They came away with some encouraging words, introductions to possible business partners, and greater hopes of building a pipeline for investments between Silicon Valley and the Midwest.

The Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce organized the trip, which put Madison-area startups Catalyze, EatStreet, Fishidy, MdotLabs, and Propeller Health across the table from representatives of several Silicon Valley VC firms, including August Capital, Emergence Capital Partners, Foundation Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Mohr Davidow Ventures, and Streamlined Ventures.

The chamber handpicked four of the startups, while Fishidy landed its spot by winning a pitch competition at the chamber’s business expo. The five companies represent a cross-section of Madison’s startup community, from mobile apps to healthtech to adtech.

None of the startups have reeled in investments based on the trip, but chamber president Zach Brandon is happy with the response from the VCs, whom he said were complimentary of the young companies.

“We feel great about all of it,” he said. “We effectively told the story of the region. We created interest. We provided value to the companies that we took.”

All five startups have previously raised money from institutional investors, including recent rounds by EatStreet and Fishidy. But Propeller Health was the only one that had raised significant dollars from California investors, so Brandon saw the trip as a chance to get Madison startups outside their primarily Midwest investment bubble.

“I suspect that the majority of the companies we took … over time, would’ve been able to get these one-off meetings themselves,” Brandon said. “But what we were able to do by aggregating them all together is tell the collective story of, ‘This isn’t just an anomaly.’ If an investor talks to a company and says, ‘oh, you’re from Wisconsin,’ it might take dozens or hundreds of times to recognize a trend. What we were able to do was connect the dots.”

Fishidy has re-opened its Series A funding round to tack on an additional … Next Page »

Jeff Engel is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @XconomyWI

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