Friday, December 20, 2013

An Evening with Angels



By Wyn Lydecker

It’s holiday season, so when I was invited to spend an evening with angels, how could it pass it up? Here’s the catch -- the angels I’m talking about are not celestial beings. They are investors in startup and early stage ventures, and they were all on a panel at Ultra Light Startups Investor Feedback Forum in New York.

I haven’t been to an entrepreneur pitching event in over a year, so I was really looking forward to it. I was not disappointed. Eight creative entrepreneurs gave a two-minute pitch to the panel of seasoned investors and an audience of over 200 at Microsoft’s New York offices. (Full disclosure: I was invited by one of the pitching entrepreneurs, Jim Medalia, owner of 225AM.) The panel asked questions and made insightful comments to each presenter. It was very interesting to hear the questions the panelists asked and the advice they gave not only to 225AM, but also to the other presenters. The investors saw the companies from such different perspectives than the founders.I could see how some of the comments gave new ideas to the presenters.

I was amused that during the advice portion, the hosts took the microphone away from the presenter. That forced the entrepreneur to listen and not use up time commenting on the advice. I’ve never seen that done before. Very good!

One thing that really struck me about the event was the number of women in the audience & in the mix of pitchers. In Connecticut, I only see a handful of women showing up at such events. And articles in the media would have you thinking that there’s a dearth of women entrepreneurs in the tech space. Not so last week. In fact, the entrepreneur who was chosen as the best presenter by the audience was a woman who had used technology to create new way for hard-to-fit women (ones who wear size 18+) to choose and buy custom-fit clothing. (Cynthia SchamesAbbeyPost)

Each presenter had developed an innovative solution to a genuine problem. Jim Medalia’s company, 225AM.com , provides an online service to help college and graduate students find full-time employment. Although the panelists joked about the name of the company, it captures the difficulty college students have today to fit job hunting into their demanding schedules. They only have time to work on their job search at 2:25 AM.

The need for help with finding employment is very real for college and grad students. Only 50% of college students graduate with a full-time job. 225AM acts like a mentor, guiding them through the process, organizing them, prompting them to take the actions they need to, and helping them connect to a network of referrals they didn’t even realize they had. If the student doesn’t know what they want to do when they graduate, the software helps them narrow it down. The placement offices at the University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers, the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford have all signed up to do beta tests with their students.

The other presenters had equally interesting businesses filling an incredible variety of needs:
·        Cynthia SchamesAbbeyPost
·        Raphael Crawford-Marksbonus.ly
·        Benjamin Bergsma - SeatAdvance
·        Jim Medalia – 225AM.com
·        Adam Stein-Sapir – LiveAce
·        Graham Clarke – Insight Replay
·        Pam Cooper – Boosterville
·        Kaiyi Chu – Votopin

I left feeling really excited about all the incredible energy that is going into the creation of new businesses in the New York Metro area. As a bonus, I got to see the angels and the tree at Rockefeller Center on my walk to Grand Central from Microsoft’s offices on 6th Avenue. This made for a perfect ending to the evening.
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