startups hope to
fuel fortunes at
venture capital forum
The firms, who are involvedBy Brett Alexander-Estes
with either information services
or the Internet, have no
guarantees but hold
plenty of hope
Tomorrow could be the day that six Hawaii start-up companies all pass "Go". AccessAsia.com, ECware Corp., Inovaware, Kamakura Corp., Options Technology Co. and WebNow.com all need financing to fuel their momentum.
"In this kind of business we have to get big or we'll always be little," said Marc Rapoza, CEO of Inovaware, a Manoa software firm. "We have to go fast."
The gold rush begins tomorrow morning at the second Maui Investors Choice International Equity Conference held at the Westin Maui in Lahaina.
The Investors Choice Equity Conferences, designed for and by venture capitalists, are sponsored by funding and educational institutions from both the public and private sectors and are held in the United States three times a year. Startups explain their products and business plans to an audience of investors during 10-minute formal presentations.
All six Hawaii companies at this year's conference are information brokers or Internet-based, with Inovaware and ECware offering primarily e-commerce software, and Kamakura and Options Technology providing a mix of risk management software and services. AccessAsia.com has a database of Asian companies and associated tools that facilitate international trade, and WebNow.com offers Web-site development.
While stellar performances at the podium could launch these companies skyward, conference veterans say don't count on it.
"We expected to get $2 million," said David Talisman of Monster Software Inc., a Hawaii firm that presented at the conference last year. "We didn't get any money."
Neither did Integrated Coffee Technologies Inc., ProBio Inc., or Rescue Technologies Corp., the three other Hawaii firms among the 14 who presented at last year's conference.
"Rarely are you going to have a situation where a company makes a presentation and an investor in the audience immediately pulls out his checkbook," said John Chock of the Hawaii Strategic Development Corp., a state agency working with other conference organizers. "Normally it takes months of due diligence to develop relationships between companies and investors."
Firms are guided through the process by the Wayne Brown Institute, a Salt Lake City-based nonprofit sponsor of the conference that also educates start-up companies in the successful courtship of investment capital. Mentoring begins as soon as a candidate is accepted for the conference and continues through the presentation and beyond.
"Wayne Brown has helped us in just about every way," said Edward M. Boughton of Options Technology, one of this year's presenters. "They make it possible for us to collapse two-and-a-half years of intensive work into a 10-minute presentation."
Laurent Scallie of Atlantis Cyberspace Inc., a Hawaii-based virtual reality entertainment company, said a Wayne Brown mentorship is "very difficult because they will criticize you throughout the program."
But when Scallie finally stepped onstage at the November Investors Choice Equity Conference in New York he felt his presentation was "flawless."
"You know when you've communicated the essence," he said. "It flows like pure water."
The presentation also "opened a wide area of contacts in financial assistance in New York," Scallie said, adding that he is close to securing funding.
"Wayne Brown says that over half of the conference companies get funded, but that may not be directly the result of the presentation," said Chock. "Contacts between presenting companies and investors at the conference usually prove to be pretty beneficial.
Five mainland startups will join their Hawaii counterparts tomorrow, which has attracted Japanese as well as mainland investors to the conference. Sponsors hope to add Asian firms to the mix in the near future.
"As Asia learns that Hawaii is more than just a vacation destination, they will be very comfortable with making investments here," said Debra Guerin of invencor inc., a founding conference sponsor.
Chock agreed. "This conference certainly works to expand the contacts to business in Hawaii," he said. "You never know when a deal will be struck."