Pitching

SBEC Pitch Night (August 2016)

SBEC Pitch Night was another fun, inspiring and interactive meeting of entrepreneurial minds. After a brief introduction from Executive Director Gary Polk and Lead Mentor Mike Manahan, the pitches began. All three companies showcased are currently working within the SBEC cohort program. First, Alina Ugas, co-founder of The Final Step, shared her vision for their program called The Needs Based Method. Next up, Annie Vonheim, the Chief Juicer at Smart Pressed Juice, dazzled the audience with the company’s plan for dominating the juice and cleanse market. And closing the evening was the charismatic Lonnie Wade, who explained how Eat Better Today can bring healthier, affordable meals to EBT cardholders.

Pitch Night is a friendly environment for companies wanting to improve their presentation skills and potentially raise capital (you never know who is sitting in the audience!). Those in attendance offer feedback on the presenters and presentation – and on this evening, the three pitches were outstanding.

SBEC Crowdfunding Trends in 2016 Breakfast Event Panel (Part 1 of 2)

The South Bay Entrepreneurial Center in Torrance, California presented “Crowdfunding Trends in 2016” on May 15, 2016 at the Toyota Auto Museum. Topics included new legislation around crowdfunding (JOBS Act), what entrepreneurs have learned from past campaigns and more about service providers in crowdfunding.

MODERATOR: Mark Hiraide
SBEC board member Mark Hiraide is a Corporate and Securities Partner with Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp. Mark represents companies listed on national stock exchanges and privately held businesses and defends individual officers and directors in corporate and securities law matters. During his 30-year career, Mark worked as an attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Enforcement and Division of Corporation Finance and as a Special Assistant United States Attorney. In private practice he has handled both courtroom litigation and business transactions representing entrepreneurs, startups, publicly traded companies, directors and officers, broker-dealers, investment bankers, investment advisers, accountants and investors. He is an authority on the federal JOBS Act, having testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee evaluating the law designed to help startups raise money. He is the author of a book on crowdfunding just published by Thomson Reuters. And he is working with the California Legislature to pass a state crowdfunding law he drafted

PANELISTS

James Lin
James is a co-founder of SBEC cohort company ZenMount. Having been struck by an idea for a tablet holder, James sought out and worked with local product designer Matther Tarnay to transform the abstract idea into a working prototype, initially using Kickstarter funding. ZenMount designs and manufactures device mounting systems for tech gadgets such as tablet, smartphone, and e-readers. Their “Origin” product is the first tablet mount with Simul-LockTM , which makes it easy to use and infinitely adjustable.

Taylor McPartland
In 2010, Taylor, a Northern California native, co-founded CrowdfundX, a leading crowdfunding agency which has leveraged crowdfunding technology, as well as the implementation of the JOBS Act, to raise funds for innovative organizations ranging from automobiles (such as Elio Motors) to non-profits. Assuming an advisory role in the company in 2015, Taylor refocused his energy on evangelizing the benefits of crowdfunding and how its strategies can be applied at local, state, and federal levels. Most recently, Taylor founded the Lincoln Federation, an organization focused on bringing together Los Angeles entrepreneurs with elected officials to collectively create positive change for a sustainable future.

Allen Jebsen
Allen is the Director of Business Development at StartEngine, the premier equity crowdfunding platform, connecting Millennials and aspiring investors with tomorrow’s progressive companies. StartEngine aims to revolutionize the startup business model by helping individuals invest in private companies on a public platform for the first time in history, thereby helping entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.

Dean Quiambao, CPA
Dean, a Partner at Armanino LLP helps numerous private companies, as well as private schools and social service, performing/fine arts and faith-based organizations address their tax, audit and outsourced accounting needs. Boards and finance and audit committees appreciate his laser focus on bringing to life the audit items that matter most, including his proven method of benchmarking data and key financial operating ratios.

SBEC Crowdfunding Trends in 2016 Breakfast Event Q&A (Part 2 of 2)

The South Bay Entrepreneurial Center in Torrance, California presented “Crowdfunding Trends in 2016” on May 15, 2016 at the Toyota Auto Museum. Topics included new legislation around crowdfunding (JOBS Act), what entrepreneurs have learned from past campaigns and more about service providers in crowdfunding. In Part 2 of 2, we feature the Q&A session after the panel.

Joe Platnick: Do They Have a Great Rolodex, Advice and Connections?

A few years ago I wrote a post about evaluating Angel groups and the criteria to use when seeking investment. The list included:

  1. Do they charge fees
  2. Do they actually have capital and a track record of investing their own personal funds
  3. How transparent is their organization and investment process
  4. How do they say ‘no’
  5. Honesty and integrity
  6. Rolodex and connections
  7. Advice
  8. Are they respectful of entrepreneurs
  9. Do they help entrepreneurs, regardless of whether or not they invest
  10. Do they support the local entrepreneurial community

Although charging fees—or pay to play—is a good litmus test for weeding out disreputable angel groups, you’ll also find that for-profit angel groups typically have a poor track record with these other criteria.

Most angel groups have money, and one group’s money isn’t any greener than another’s. Beyond cash, the other ways an angel group adds value to a startup is through great advice and personal connections.

One of the easiest ways to assess an angel investor’s ability to provide advice and connections is to read their bios on their website. High-caliber Angels with a lot of experience at both large and small companies, tend to have strong Rolodexes and skills that can be applied to helping portfolio companies. When reviewing their experience, consider both their work history and the companies they’ve backed as investors.

You can also judge the caliber of the group through your initial experiences, as many Angels provide worthwhile advice and introductions to their networks in the early stages and prior to investing. If you’re further along with an angel group, consider doing more diligence on the group and its members by contacting CEOs of their portfolio companies.

When it comes to connections, one of the most important when evaluating an angel group is links to VCs. Although many of our portfolio companies have told us the Angel round is the last tranche of money they’ll need (and they even say it with a straight face), most startups will invariably require follow-on funds.

William Quigley, a prominent local VC from Clearstone Venture Partners wrote a post years ago, Value of Certain Angel Investors:

As a VC, I divide angel investors into two buckets. The first group includes angel investors who know the space they are investing in. Perhaps they previously started a company in the same industry or were part of a successful company targeting the same market. As it happens, angel investors in this category usually know the VCs who invest in their space and can be a great help in introducing a start up to smart venture capital investors. Better still, these angels typically know the going terms for a start up in their market. Accordingly, they can help the entrepreneur get the best deal warranted given the progress of the business.

The second bucket of angel investors are those who have some spare cash to invest but don’t have any familiarity with the target market. These investors are generally not known by VCs active in the specific market the start up is pursuing. In most cases, they can’t help with follow on fund raising. Because they don’t know what the going VC terms are, they often set terms for their investment that make it harder to raise money in the next round.

VCs can’t know everything about an industry. So how do they get comfortable with a new business? They rely on smart people who are accomplished and well connected in that industry. If someone of that caliber happens to already be an angel in your business, raising venture capital just got a lot easier.

In the current environment, CEOs and entrepreneurs don’t always have a choice when it comes to selecting their investors. However, when you do, it’s important to pick an angel group that can deliver the intangibles, such as advice and network, along with the cash.

Joe Platnick: Fundraising – Do They Charge Fees

Imagine going to a bank or Venture Capital firm and receiving a bill for a few thousand dollars for your first meeting. Imagine also that the requests for payment only get worse the further into their funding process you go. By now you’ve probably figured out that I’m making this up. However, there are Angel groups that operate in a somewhat similar manner.

Here on the west coast there are angel groups that charge $3000+ for the ‘opportunity’ to present your company to them. These organizations are sometimes based on a franchise model and try to extract money from entrepreneurs any way they can. I’ve heard all the excuses from these groups, including that they have to charge entrepreneurs to cover their management expenses. Reputable Angel organizations typically cover their management expenses out of their own pockets and don’t ask struggling company founders to shoulder that burden. In reality the best Angels make money the old fashioned way—working with entrepreneurs to generate investment returns upon exit.

There are a couple of exceptions to this that are worth mentioning. Some reputable Angel organizations charge a nominal fee (~$50-100) to submit a funding application. The intent here is not to use this as a money making opportunity, but to provide a filter or sincerity test for the entrepreneur and to reduce the number of poor and incomplete business plans (aka junk) that get submitted. Secondly—and this applies to the vast majority of Angel groups and VCs—companies receiving funding (and only when that happens) will be asked to cover the investor’s legal expenses (~$15-20k) with the proceeds at the time of closing.

The Angel Capital Association (ACA) has some good guidelines about this on their website. They also “recommend that angel groups charge entrepreneurs no more than nominal fees for applying for and/or making presentations for angel capital and that all fees are fully disclosed, ideally appearing on the group’s Web site.” Since starting in 2000, the Pasadena Angels has never charged companies fees for anything short of closing on a round of financing (applying, presenting, mentoring, etc.).

Joe Platnick: How Do Those @#$%^ Angel Groups Survive (AKA Angels Behaving Badly)

In my original Top 10 list of criteria for selecting an angel investor, there were two items that aren’t often discussed, but are worth scrutinizing during the fundraising process: (1) Honesty and integrity and (2) Are they respectful of entrepreneurs

If you talk to founders and CEOs that have gone through early-stage fundraising, many will share their personal stories about dealing with as***le angels. On several occasions I’ve observed angels (and not members of the Pasadena Angels) publicly berate entrepreneurs. Probably the most memorable was when a member of another angel group looked a founder square in the eyes and told them in an obnoxious manner they weren’t CEO material—a rather ironic comment, since this angel had probably spent their working life as a service provider and had never been in an operational role, and especially not one in a startup.

One of the key questions entrepreneurs often ask: How do as***le angels survive and why isn’t there a self-correcting mechanism that purges them from our ecosystem? In addition to losing bad angels for economic reasons, it also seems reasonable that the best entrepreneurs would avoid working with them and would force/encourage these angels to ply their trade somewhere else.

According to the Angel Capital Association, approximately 250,000 people have made an angel investment in the last two years, which would somewhat qualify them as angel investors. I suspect the majority of these individuals are decent people. As with other professions—or life in general—there will always be some bad apples.

Based on my experiences as an angel investor over the past 10 years, I have three theories about why this occurs:

1. There’s a significant imbalance between early-stage capital and good fundable companies, which means it’s a buyer’s market for investors, and companies can’t be as discriminating. I’ve talked in past posts about the funnels for most institutionalized angel groups and VCs, and that only about 1% of all the companies that apply get funded.

2. Entrepreneurs hear the hype about particular angel investors and that they’ve done the most deals and/or they’ve been around the longest, and are completely blinded by it. In many of these instances, entrepreneurs have done little/no diligence on these angels and have tended to overlook their negative character traits.

3. Money talks and entrepreneurs get blinded once the term sheets and money appear, and once again don’t do sufficient diligence on their investors.

In addition to understanding why they survive, it’s also important to understand what created the as***le angels in the first place. For the good angels it’s an opportunity to give back and they enjoy working with entrepreneurs. For the as***le angels, it’s often they’re wanna-be VCs and/or relish the opportunity to express themselves in ways they weren’t able to in their previous careers. Apparently they’ve seen some VCs behaving badly and figure acting this way will give them some VC cred. (note to these types: you’re not really a VC if it’s personal and friends & family money, as opposed to institutional—unless you happen to be Haim Saban).

Even if an angel is on their best behavior during the early stages, you should still do some diligence on their personalities and post-investment reputations. Another good barometer for predicting these behaviors can be found in your initial experiences with the admin staff-or gatekeepers—for an angel group, as these people frequently reflect the attitudes and corporate culture of the angels that employ them.

Joe Platnick: Beware of the Money Changers

In blog posts over the years, one of the topics I frequently talk about is how to evaluate an Angel group. Today’s post addresses “do they actually have capital and a track record of investing their own personal funds” and is from a story I’ve told at several entrepreneurial events. Although most people assume it’s a reference to the Bible story, it’s actually from working overseas in a previous life.

Years ago while working in a country that had heavy-handed currency laws, I always had to go to a bank or other government-sanctioned business to exchange money at a ridiculously unfavorable exchange rate. As is always the case in these locales, you could find some enterprising entrepreneur on a street cornier or back alley that would exchange your US dollars at a more favorable rate. For many that ventured to do this, the common ploy was to receive an envelope of what looked like a big wad of local currency. In reality there were some actual bills on the outside of the stack and newspaper that had been meticulously cut and placed in the middle to make it look like you were receiving actual money.

With angel investing now popular in the US there is a similar con game for startup companies raising money, with many organizations masquerading as angel groups or individual investors. Although it could just as easily be described as the angel equivalent of the email scam from my good friend the Nigerian prince.

Several years ago one of our portfolio companies was invited to present to one of these purported ‘angel’ groups. At the presentation, the founder was approached by several members of the group who claimed to be angel investors. In reality—and after getting their legal hooks into the company and extracting exorbitant fees—were nothing more than consultants that offered to help the company raise money. At the time the Pasadena Angels invested—and many billable hours of legal time later—we were able to extricate these individuals from the company—although not until considerable damage and expense had been incurred. Unfortunately this is not an isolated instance.

Aside from making entrepreneurs aware that this goes on, the best advice I can share is twofold. Before proceeding with someone or an organization that claims to be an angel (or any other type of) investor, do some due diligence on that investor. Through websites such as SoCalTech it’s easy to access the old press releases announcing that an angel group has invested in a particular company. Call these companies and ask the tough questions—including how much of the investors’ personal funds were contributed. If you can’t find any companies, ask the investor for specific ones that you can speak with.

Lastly, the only agreements you should be signing with an investor are the typical investment documents that are prepared just prior to closing on their investment and the money going into the bank. If you’re asked to sign an agreement early in the process or long before an investor has done sufficient diligence, be wary and always seek the advice of a good lawyer. In all of the situations where we’ve had to undo the damage to a portfolio company caused by these unsavory individuals, it was because an unsuspecting company founder had signed one of these consultant’s agreements.

Student Entrepreneurs to Compete in SBEC Tiger Tank

Last week, four teams of high school entrepreneurs, two from the California Academy of Mathematics and Science (CAMS) in Carson and two from the Port of Los Angeles High School in San Pedro competed along with four college teams from California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) to have their chance to step into the Tiger Tank and pitch their future business ideas to a panel of successful local entrepreneur judges. Two teams from the high school competition and two teams from the college level competition were chosen by a panel of judges from the South Bay Entrepreneurial Center to move on to the upcoming final round at the Innovation Matters Entrepreneur Expo and Tiger Tank Competition on Thursday, November 19, 2015 at the Toyota Meeting Hall near the Torrance Civic Center in Torrance. This event is part of Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) happening in over 140 countries the week of November 16-22, 2015.

BQE Software in Torrance hosted the teams for the semi-finals. From CAMS competing was Jock Sporting Goods and Prosthe Kicks. From the Port of Los Angeles High School there was Fun Foam and Petscort. The winning teams were Prosthe Kicks and Petscort. The CSUDH teams competing in the semi-final competition were Fast Foodie, Prestige Business Consultants, Sensor This and On the Go. The two college teams advancing to the Tiger Tank competition are Fast Foodie and Prestige Business Consultants.

Come hear this next generation of entrepreneurs in the South Bay make their pitch and compete for two slots in the SBEC incubator (each a $4000 value.) Prizes will be awarded to the top high school team and the top college team pitching their business.

Join local innovative South Bay companies BQE, Inc., The Strand Brewery, Sage Goddess, The Sports Studio and Systems Technology, Inc. as they share how they founded their companies and followed their dreams. The Innovation Matters Expo will take place from noon until 4pm on Thursday, November 19, 2015 at the Toyota Meeting Hall at 3330 Civic Center Drive in Torrance, California.

The success of each of these new companies contributes to the growth of the South Bay’s economy, creating jobs and strengthening infrastructure for economic development. Global Entrepreneurship Week is the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators, who launch startups that bring ideas to life, drive economic growth and expand human welfare.

During one week each November, GEW inspires people everywhere through local, national and global activities designed to help them explore their potential as self-starters and innovators. These activities, from large-scale competitions and events to intimate networking gatherings, connect participants to potential collaborators, mentors and even investors—introducing them to new possibilities and exciting opportunities.

The cost to attend is $30 per person in advance and $40 at the door. Lunch is included. The price for students with Student ID or Senior Citizens with valid driver’s license or state ID is $15 at the door (no pre-sale tickets.)

This event is supported by BQE Software and the City of Torrance. Additional sponsors for the event are CSUDH, and the South Bay Workforce Development Board.