Guest Blogger: Lauren Bigelow
Lauren Bigelow is the CEO of the Growth Capital Network (GCN) which serves the business community by executing programs to connect entrepreneurial and growth companies with the capital to accelerate their vision. With this platform, Lauren runs the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition
, the Midwest Green Technology Entrepreneur Academy, and the Midwest Midmarket Capital Survey.
Lauren is on the advisory boards of the Erb Institute at the Ross School of Business, the Frankel Fund, and New Enterprise Forum. She is also on the advisory boards for InPore. She received a B.A. from the University of Michigan and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Northwestern University.
Post 1: Accelerate Michigan Moves its Innovation Competition to Detroit
In its third year, the largest business competition in North America, the Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, is moving east to downtown Detroit. The brainchild of Dave Egner
, Mike Finney
, and Doug Rothwell
, the competition is designed to bring local, national, and international investors together with later-stage start-ups and angel investors with Michigan's top collegiate entrepreneurs.
A tough selection process has whittled down hundreds of applicants to 50 companies that will compete for a $500,000 grand prize and 25 student teams that will compete for a $25,000 grand prize. All 75 semi-final competitors are available to preview on our website
The event on November 13-15 will allow attendees to network with innovative young companies as well as those holding billions of dollars of venture capital. In addition to local Michigan and Ohio firms, the competition has investors coming in from across North America – Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Austin, Palo Alto, and San Francisco, as well as Toronto and Vancouver. The competition is the largest gathering of venture and institutional investors in Michigan where the public is welcome and encouraged to attend. Register here. www.acceleratemichigan.org
The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition chose to move to Detroit to participate in the burgeoning community that's fostering start-up incubation, acceleration, and finance. The focus on local entrepreneurship has been growing exponentially over the last decade and we hope that placing the event in Detroit will add to that energy.
The Guardian Building, the Westin Book Cadillac, and Orchestra Hall were specifically chosen to highlight the architectural beauty of the city to a national audience. We anticipate that the strong companies and innovative student ideas will demonstrate the rich set of opportunities and great community accessible in Michigan.
The programs below are only a sample of the vibrant and diverse eco-system that we're hoping to highlight and engage in Detroit. The network supports commerce of all kinds – from tech and creative businesses to eco-friendly companies and lifestyle establishments.
has a three-month accelerator program that provides workspace, expertise, training and up to $25,000 in seed funding for a small percentage of the company.
The Detroit Creative Corridor Center
delivers business acceleration services and signature programming tailored specifically to creative professionals (film, fashion, digital media, production or architecture).
The First Step Fund
provides emerging companies with access to capital, mentoring, and a network to encourage demand and create opportunities. They give preference to businesses either owned by women and minorities or with high potential to employ them.
Green Garage Detroit
is an incubator for triple-bottom-line companies (environment, economics, community). They rent space to businesses who work together in a co-working community.
works with community organizations to provide microloans for local small businesses.
in Corktown is offering cheap or near-free rent to socially conscious entrepreneurs and artists committed to improving the community.
Post 2: Pitching for Success
You've paid the registration for an investor event, donned your best suit and have a fresh stack of business cards. How do you take the limited networking time and make the most of the opportunity?
Research and target investors.
If you know in advance the investor firms attending an event, a little homework will go a long way. At Accelerate Michigan, we put the biographies of investor judges on our website
for the competitors and attendees. Whereas it's an unusual level of detail, you can check out other events' marketing and websites to see what firms are attending.
There are three key pieces of information that you'd want to know about each firm to streamline your networking and focus on the highest value contacts for your unique proposition. VC and angels specialize by industry, often because it's their background and expertise. Firms can be broken down into early and later investment stage, with a range of minimum and maximum investment. Also, their geography is important as investors frequently prefer to place their funds in companies in their region. In most cases, you can find the answers to all three questions on their website. And, time permitting, peruse their portfolio to see if they have invested in competitors or complementary technologies.
Practice your elevator pitch.
Prepare your short pitch before you head out. You don't know how much time you'll have with someone before you're interrupted, so if you give the high level overview in 60-90 seconds, they will always walk away with a picture about your opportunity. My rule of thumb with companies is to have them put together this framework and modify it to their own style. My company (insert name) is developing/manufacturing a product (insert tech) to solve a particular problem (insert) for a specific audience (insert). Our competitive edge is (insert)
If your short pitch and early talks impress the investor, they might ask to dig in a bit further. Make sure that your deck is up to date, and if your demo requires wifi connection, make sure you have a few screen shots just in case.
Move out of your comfort zone.
Networking can be fun, but it is sometimes intimidating or just exhausting. Nevertheless – you spent money to attend precisely because you need to make new connections to get your business funded. Well networked individuals have a much easier time getting a warm lead to the right investor, so show some guts and get out of your comfort zone to approach new and potentially influential people.
Your primary goal is to convince investors you're worth talking to further. Harkening back to the pitch template, you'll start with a narrative that's perhaps a bit narrow, but you'll have some time to flesh it out. After the pitch sentences, spend time explaining what your product does and why it's great. Secondary details such as competitors or resumes should be relegated to follow-up meetings.
Venture capitalists invest in people, so having positive chemistry is an important factor for any financing to occur. Remember that taking investment is a long-term relationship with those who will potentially own a controlling stake in your business. If someone is a caustic jerk from the initial contact through the due diligence, they're going to be a challenge to work with and build a successful endeavor.
Make sure to fulfill the deliverables from your conversation. If there wasn't something specific, send an email with a two- page attachment with what you do, key metrics of the business, how much money you need and what you're going to do with it. That's all. Ditch the 50-page slide deck or your 30-page business plan.