Serial entrepreneur Todd Smith, one of the founders of 360Converge, pitches his next-generation CRM platform for auto dealerships at the Fourth Annual Investor Showcase Sept. 13. 360Converge is one of the startups coming out of StarterStudio’s most recent Seed-Stage Accelerator.
A View From the Fourth Annual Investor Showcase
More than two dozen investors from throughout Florida and beyond gathered at the GuideWell Innovation Center in Lake Nona Sept. 13 to hear pitches from 14 startups in the accelerator programs of StarterStudio, Groundswell and the GuideWell Innovation Center.
Sponsored by Withum, the Fourth Annual Investor Showcase was presented by Venture Central Florida, a collaborative network of accelerator and incubator programs and local investor partners.
“We’re getting ready to launch our product in the next 14 days, so this is a really good time for us to start our seed raise as well,” said Spencer Churchill, whose online car care services marketplace, Carnooba, is one of eight startups in StarterStudio’s most recent Seed-Stage Accelerator cohort. “We were really focused on having revenue before those conversations, and I think the timing worked out really well.”
The Investor Showcase has enabled presenting companies to raise more than $10 million in its first three years.
Among the companies that found their lead investor through the pitch event is Caribu, an app that integrates children’s books and activities into video calls, enabling families to share story time remotely.
“I was invited to speak on a panel about the female founder experience and was pleasantly surprised by the positive response we got as we discussed the difficulties and benefits that come with being a female CEO,” said Caribu’s founder, Maxeme Tuchman.
John “Coop” Cooper, founder and managing partner of Halestreet Investments, discovered Caribu as well as financial wellness platform Edukate at the showcase and went on to invest in the companies.
“Having that opportunity to share how hard we were working to get Caribu off the ground sparked his interest, and he and Donna Mackenzie quickly became our lead investors in our seed round. I’m grateful to StarterStudio for giving us the opportunity to get in front of such a great group of active investors.”
Since that time Caribu has gone to raise $3 million and has received more than 100 international and national press mentions. Meanwhile, Tuchman was named a 2018 Toyota Mother of Invention and one of the Top 100 Female Founders in America by Inc. Magazine.
“Halestreet set out to identify interesting young companies in Florida about three years ago, and we have not been disappointed,” Cooper said. “We now have eight companies in portfolio, with the majority of them here. Innovation in Florida is alive and well; the technology sector lends itself to efficient and geographically dispersed operations, and we have been pleasantly surprised with the talent we’ve been able to attract into these growing companies. Caribu is a great example of all of these indicators.”
Dan Scala, who previously worked for Channel Intelligence up until its acquisition by Google, was at this year’s Investor Showcase to pitch Forward.Online, an eCommerce analytics suite he co-founded. Forward.Online has the potential to revolutionize how eCommerce marketers utilize tech to achieve greater revenues and profitability.
Scala said the Investor Showcase provided him insight into fundraising, which is one of the few aspects of running a business he had not yet dealt with in his career.
“It was good validation for me, because I realized that pitching to investors ultimately is like any other sales pitch,” Scala said. “At the end of the day you’re explaining something you’re trying to sell and you’re trying to elicit questions, not to make sure you’ve answered every question so that there’s no conversation left to have.”
Spencer Elliott, co-founder of event-streaming company ViewStub, said the event put StarterStudio’s seed-stage cohort on the radar of the investors who attended, many of whom have indicated an interest in investing in the companies that pitched.
“A lot of them are keeping their eyes on us, waiting for us to hit certain milestones,” Elliott said. “Without events like this, there’s noway to really connect with a lot of those individuals, especially all at the same time. That’s the big value for a company like ours. We just want to make more connections, we want to meet more people, we want to have more conversations.”
Likewise, investors see the showcase as an important venue for “creative collision experiences” that lead to partnerships and investments.
“Part of being a group that operates statewide but doesn’t have a physical presence throughout the state is having a good relationship with organizations like StarterStudio – accelerators and incubators,” said Sarah Lucas, chief operating officer of New World Angels, based in Boca Raton.
New World Angels has been involved in due diligence with a StarterStudio company they met at a pitch event in 2017.
“Entrepreneurs that have had the opportunity to go through programs like the one StarterStudio offers are just much better prepared to talk with investors,” Lucas said. “Part of the process when you attend events like this and talk with investors is that you might hear ‘no,’ but that really means ‘not yet.’ Part of this is relationship building. It’s not just about getting a check today but about setting the context to build relationships in the future.”