Raising the Stakes

The 2014 Bend Venture Conference set a record for the most cash, investments and prizes awarded at an angel conference in the Pacific Northwest. Investments in the six winning companies exceeded $1 million. The 11th annual conference was hosted by Economic Development of Central Oregon.

Jason Moyer, BVC’s fund manager, tells us how they did it.

How we got so big

We wanted it to be big this year. My personal goal was to create a step function change in perception regarding the sophistication of the conference. And to make clear it really is a venture conference — not an amateur angel conference but an event worth attending. It needed to compete on a national scale.

The five-point plan

Cultivate a well-defined framework for investor discussions.
Significantly increase expert involvement in the process: substantial contributions from venture capitalists, private-equity professionals and accomplished corporate investors.
Revise educational components for participants less experienced in angel investing: talk about fun facts, evaluation concepts, risk and reward profiles.
Put philosophical emphasis on objective-driven efficiency.
Allocating funds: having enough money to do multiple deals, vs. one deal which is what BVC would traditionally do.

Applicant quality

This is the first time since I’ve been involved with the conference that I truly considered all companies onstage to be investable companies. There was a perception that BVC only wanted to do tech companies. That’s not the case. Tech/software companies tend to have profiles that are investor friendly: scalable and capital efficient. That doesn’t mean BVC has a bias.

Goals

The BVC serves two purposes from an economic development point of view: to prepare entrepreneurs through coaching and experience and to cultivate capable and active investors. This is not a community service.

Straight talk

A lot of entrepreneurs go into this thinking they are going to raise venture capital. Statistically, they’re not. For early-stage companies looking for money, the angel venues are probably the place to get it. We wanted to up the game, to be on the sophisticated side, but I very much wanted to make it accessible to amateur angels and new entrepreneurs.

Small town, big dreams

Bend is a smaller market. It’s much easier for people to get well connected here. There’s a little inbreeding that happens with Silicon Valley, where beautiful people interact with each other, and there’s not a lot of interaction for newcomers. Some of the alternate markets may not have the volume of Silicon Valley or Boston or New York. But there are opportunities in different forms: the cost of living, the wage comparisons. You still have a chance at influencing the ecosystem in Bend.

Solving the mystery

If you go back a decade or two, starting a company was a black-box mystery nobody understood except venture capitalists themselves. But entrepreneurial activity is becoming more visible. I do think the venture capital model needs to evolve because there are more alternative funding sources for interesting ideas, whether it’s alternative angel investment or crowd funding. The visibility of this whole process seems to be improving.

Hard knocks

The downside to increased notoriety is people remember the exceptions, not the rule. There are people who start a company, get a team of six people, have no revenue and sell it for a billion dollars. Everybody remembers that. What they don’t remember are all the people who drop out of college and don’t sell for a billion dollars — who end up on the wrong side of the roughly half of companies that crash and burn. We help keep people on the right side of those statistics. Entrepreneurship means entrepreneurship done well.

The upshot

BVC concentrates its collection and review of companies within a period behind the scenes that covers several months, but from a public perspective, happens in the course of two days. So for someone who is looking for perspectives on this process, this is a very concentrated opportunity to witness that. Hopefully we’ve helped increase expectations in Central Oregon. If you can compete at BVC, you can compete anywhere.

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