Companies find capital at FIU conference

Growing South Florida and Latin American companies, hungry for capital, pitched their businesses, as investors and other professionals attended panels and mingled at the 2011 Americas Venture Capital Conference, held at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables last week.

Twelve “Top Global Innovative Ventures” were given 10 minutes each to make presentations, and six “Top Global Emerging Ventures’’ had 2 minutes each to pitch their companies to venture capitalists during the second annual conference, hosted by Florida International University’s Eugenio Pino and Family Global Entrepreneurship Center and College of Business Administration. More than 350 people attended the two-day conference that was themed “Latin America: Building on Success.”

For many of the businesses, it was their first time presenting at a venture capital conference, including Miami-based Taylannas, whose SpeechMED hand-held, portable device offers audio-delivery of medical information in any language. The company is seeking $6 million and has already received interest from a group of doctors, said Taylannas Chief Executive Susan Perry.

The conference helped, she said.

“I think it has been a great learning experience, an incredible learning experience,” Perry said, citing the three-minute video and two-page executive summary that businesses were required to create for the conference. Each company was also given a coach to prepare the presentation.

“That’s part of the value when they come here,” said Irma Becerra-Fernandez, vice provost for academic affairs at FIU, program co-chair and founder of the conference. “They have awesome presentations because we have been helping them polish their pitch.”

Other South Florida-based businesses included Coral Gables-based Shooger, which has created a platform using smartphones to help reinvent loyalty and relationship marketing, and Weston-based Stemlogix, which is bringing stem-cell therapy to the veterinary market.

Among other presenters, Business News Americas, an online source of business intelligence in Latin America, based in Chile, came to the conference seeking $3 million.

“No one really knows us in the venture capital world up here because we haven’t looked for financing here,” said Chief Executive Greg Barton. “So we’re new to the track.”

Similarly, Buscalibre.com, a Chilean e-commerce site that Chief Executive Ricardo Wurgaft said hopes to be the amazon.com of Latin America, came seeking funding for expansion.

“We’re still seeing what happens with the real money,” he said.

The conference’s keynote speaker, Wenceslao “Wences” Casares, co-CEO of Lemon.com in Palo Alto, Calif., and founding partner of a private investment firm in Santiago, Chile, said for most of the last 15 years, startup companies in Latin America were perceived as “interesting experiments, not meaningful companies.”

But now, the serial entrepreneur said, big companies are willing to partner with startups, and angel and private equity funds are popping up throughout the region. “We are beginning to see companies that have already disrupted industries — and it is just the beginning,” he said.

In fact, Dave McClure of 500 Startups, a prominent Silicon Valley accelerator of early-stage companies, said his fund has made 230 investments in the last year and a half, yet just five were in Latin America.

“We hope to do more in the region in 2012. The Latin American market has been overlooked by most,” he said.

At least one emerging business, Miami-based PasstheNotes.com, received a term sheet at the conference from the Miami Innovation Fund for a $20,000 investment, Becerra-Fernandez said.

Besides the venture presentations and networking, panels included Innovations in Global Trade, Breaking the Venture Capital Glass Ceiling, and Entrepreneurs and VCs in the Shark Tank.

In Deep Dive into B-Plans, Term Sheets and Going Public, venture capitalists said they are looking for a strong team, a good-sized growing market, and a presentation that includes a competitive landscape analysis, financial projections and capital needs.

Expect involvement from your investor, said Greg Baty, vice president of Hamilton Lane. “If you don’t want a partner, venture capital is not for you,” he said.

Next year’s conference will be Nov. 14 and 15. Said Jerry Haar, associate dean and director of the Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center: “My intent is to create an institute for venture capital.”

 

Source: Miami Herald