Recently I attended the 2019 Florida Early Stage Capital conference, where I gained an impressive and realistic view of the early-stage entrepreneurs in Florida. The Florida Venture Forum does a great job of running these conferences. If you are an early-stage entrepreneur, this is a must-attend event each year. The education and networking opportunities for early-stage entrepreneurs are irreplaceable.
The extensive vetting of Florida-based companies seeking to present their pitch at the event means attendees meet the A-list early-stage entrepreneurs. Hearing from the represented companies about their products or services, and the problems they must solve challenged my understanding but was a great learning experience. Each entrepreneur generally has personal experience with the problem they are solving, which then drives them to develop a solution. The challenge at this stage of the game for these companies is to develop a revenue model and platform that will scale and build a recurring stream of profitable revenue.
Insights I Gained from the Conference
The conference included a strong healthcare solutions representation. As anyone who has dealt with the healthcare system in the USA knows, managing the end-to-end process of undergoing complex medical services and procedures is cumbersome and difficult to manage. A variety of innovative ideas were represented at this year’s conference that can solve each problem you may encounter in the health treatment lifecycle. One of the things that became crystal clear during the pitch contest is that if you want to build a business related to healthcare, you must answer two questions: who is going to pay for it and how will the solution meet HIPAA and other compliance guidelines? Each company in that space was asked these types of questions if they did not address them in their presentation. Given the judges’ interest in these follow-up questions, I recommend if you are pitching to investors in the healthcare space, you include this information in the pitch.
From the panel discussions I attended, I learned:
- Early-stage companies have traditionally found it difficult to acquire funding in Florida, as most of the wealth that has been obtained has been tied to the real estate industry. Entrepreneurs who made money from real estate seem to have a difficult time grasping the concept of risks faced by an early stage start-up. Angel groups are addressing this problem – high net worth individuals pool their financial resources and brain power to invest in start-ups.
- Several incubators have also been formed in Florida. These incubators are working hard to convert entrepreneurial solutions to sustainable companies.
- A theme that was consistent from investors and incubator managers is the frequency with which entrepreneurs approach them with an idea and a solution and who think that an investment of money will help solve any problems their start-up is experiencing. Whether the issues are process-related, growing pains, or personnel, they don’t understand that investors want to know the business model is sustainable and scalable. These entrepreneurs need to be willing to listen to the investors’ advice and show a willingness to adapt if they want to earn the investor’s confidence and investment.
Learning from Experience
It takes guts for a business leader to sit before an audience and discuss his mistakes along his journey. Abhi’s vulnerability and honesty about his journey in entrepreneurship and interacting with Arsenal as they built the business immediately endeared him to me and the rest of the audience. When asked what the most challenging moment in the journey was, he humorously recalled a board meeting with Arsenal Growth where it was pointed out to him that he was not listening to their advice and acting on it. Ironically, Jennifer Dunham was the Arsenal board member he was meeting with at the time, and she was frustrated by Abhi’s failure to respond to her recommendations.
He also spoke about a time when the orders were coming in so fast the company was unable to fill them within the time frame the company had committed, and how they strategically addressed the issue. Now when you go to their website https://fractureme.com/, the first thing you see at the top of the page is the expected ship date for orders placed today. Fracture has hit upon a unique and aesthetically pleasing alternative to display digital photos.
And the Winner Is…
Saferwatch won the early stage competition. This web and mobile-based security system takes “if you see something, say something” to a new level by partnering with law enforcement and first responders to help individuals, schools, corporations and neighborhoods to raise the level of safety and security within communities. The app allows individuals to report incidents in real time or to submit tips after the fact. The presenters successfully demonstrated how they solved a problem while generating revenue and building a scalable platform to grow their business.
I receive my education in a variety of ways. I love to learn from those who are on the ground walking the walk and talking the talk. By meeting hands-on entrepreneurs and hearing their stories and challenges, I become a better resource for entrepreneurs as they consider pitching to investors, as well as to C Suite executives, as they consider making investments in innovative start-ups that solve a problem with which they are currently dealing. I also think it provides a platform to understand the world better, which makes me a better person.