Coming up with a great idea is obviously the spark for any startup, but finding the funding to keep the fire going often can be a problem. Putting startups in front of the right audience can be a crucial step to getting people excited about your idea — and getting the financial backing that is necessary for growth. Fifty-five Mid-Atlantic startups found themselves in front of a room full of the right people at Distilled Intelligence 1.0 on Oct. 11, where they presented in front of angel investors and venture capital firms for the chance to win cash and prizes totaling $25,000.
Jonathon Perrelli, general partner at event-host Fortify.vc, said that now was the perfect time to launch an event like Distilled Intelligence because “the Mid-Atlantic region really needed an event to bring out all of the founders and their startups that were hiding in basements and garages, working on nights and weekends, and [who] really have a passion for their business.” More than 100 angel investors and venture capitalists showed up at the Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, Va. to see the 55 presentations, an increase from the originally slated 50. “We were pleasantly surprised at the large number of applicants, which made it quite a challenge for us to get down to 50 — such a challenge in fact, that we chose 55 companies!” Perrelli said.
In today’s dismal economy, it’s no surprise that new companies are lining up to pitch their products to investors. Perrelli said he was looking to “energize that economy of founders and investors” with Distilled Intelligence, and that the Baltimore-Washington area can look to Silicon Valley angels such as Ron Conway and his SV Angel Fund and Ian Sobiesky’s Band of Angels for inspiration. He noted that “the formulas for success vary widely. Every angel and fund has their own recipe. The trouble with our region is that not enough people are in the kitchen. They are waiting at the table to be served, and that needs to change.”
While it may need more people in the kitchen, it appears that the quality of what this region is cooking is pretty high. The day’s grand prize winner, Marz Industries, managed to stand out among the sea of tech companies and impressed the judges with its system of fuel-saving technologies designed for fleets of trucks “They were outnumbered by technology companies … and the odds were definitely stacked against them, but they did an incredible job. I think that the judges … were really bullish on the fact that they not only have a product that is doing great things — they already have revenue, they are already out on the marketplace, they are seasoned executives,” Perrelli said.
Perrelli pointed out that “what most folks seem to forget about this region is that we have some of the country’s most established universities, a culture of innovation … and a lot of really talented folks.” The problem, however, is that so many of these talented people are “quite frankly, burned out from supporting government contracts,” a problem that Perrelli understands well. “I spent over 10 years in the cyber-security business supporting DoD, Intel, federal and civilian programs, as well as large enterprises with their corporate missions. I am proud of the work that we did … but I am now fully engaged and energized in my new role as a full-time investor,” he said.
Perrelli issued a call to action to the thousands of hackers and designers who have an idea but may be sitting on it because they fear the risk of going out on limb. “More people in D.C. need to follow their dreams, find co-founders and turn their ideas into real products and services.”