Chamber Hopes Pitches Could Boost Silicon Valley-Madison VC Deals

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$500,000, but Jensen isn’t sure if the Silicon Valley investors will put money in because the startup is on a two- to three-week timeline.

“It’s too early to tell,” Jensen said. But “I do think there was a lot of Series B possibility.”

The meeting planted seeds for EatStreet that could bear fruit in potential later funding rounds or future business deals, co-founder and CEO Matt Howard said. His company recently raised a $6 million Series B round for its online restaurant ordering platform, has grown to more than 50 staff, and announced a partnership with Yelp mere hours before the meeting with the Silicon Valley investors.

Right now, scoring more business partnerships like the Yelp deal is a higher priority for EatStreet than raising venture capital, Howard said. To that end, he has already set up two phone calls this week with potential partners thanks to connections made by the Silicon Valley VCs.

“I don’t know if [the trip] will necessarily lead to an investment down the road, but it’s already led to key introductions for my company,” Howard said.

Brandon said the chamber decided not to bring earlier-stage companies because that wouldn’t have matched the investment strategies of most of the VCs present. But if the chamber organizes another trip like this, it could set up separate meetings for early-stage and later-stage Madison startups, he said.

Ultimately, the trip highlighted “just a sampling” of the “diversity and the depth” of Madison startups, Brandon said. Now, he’d like to convince some of the California VCs to travel to Madison (which was partly how this whole thing started).

“We’re happy to continue to bring deals to them, but we also want them to come see it first-hand,” Brandon said. Part of his pitch was Wisconsin’s tax credits, including a popular break for angel investments, and the new state-backed fund of funds.

One of the challenges for boosting the flow of California dollars to Madison startups, Jensen said, is there’s no direct flight from the Wisconsin capital to the San Francisco Bay Area. (That’s a problem I highlighted recently, although the growing Madison airport could add a direct West Coast flight in the next couple of years.)

“I think that the location aspect is the only thing that’s holding us back,” Jensen said. “But I think eventually that barrier will be broken down.”

Jeff Engel is a senior editor at Xconomy. Email: Follow @JeffEngelXcon

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