Local startup companies and aspiring entrepreneurs can learn about attracting out-of-state funding from some of the region’s premier venture investors at a luncheon Thursday at the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum.
Representatives from nearly a dozen venture capital firms from the Southwest will participate in an open panel discussion and question-and-answer session during the event, which is jointly organized by the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association and New Mexico’s Coronado Ventures Forum.
The luncheon includes a networking session to allow entrepreneurs to meet directly with investors, and to provide the investors a chance to learn about some New Mexico startups, said Brian Birk, managing partner of Sun Mountain Capital in Santa Fe, who will moderate the panel.
“This is an opportunity for New Mexico to showcase some high-potential startup companies to an experienced group of investors from around the region,” Birk told the Journal. “It will allow our entrepreneurs to network, get some real-life practice in pitching their companies, and, who knows, maybe even get funded. We want to intrigue investors enough to come back to New Mexico to continue looking for investment opportunities.”
That’s critical for local companies, given the decline in venture capital investment in New Mexico since the recession. Venture funding for local startups has averaged only about $40 million a year for the past two years, or about one-third the $120 million it had reached in the years prior to the recession, according to the New Mexico Venture Capital Association.
“So much is happening now, such as the efforts to build the Innovate ABQ innovation district Downtown, the launch of the local startup accelerator program ABQid, and new incubators like the Bioscience Center in Albuquerque and Fat Pipe ABQ for information technology companies,” Birk said. “It’s really important that investors get to see all that’s going on here because a lot of people outside the state don’t know about it and they should.”
As more out-of-state investors learn about New Mexico’s startup activity, more funding could become available, since venture investment has returned to pre-recession levels in other parts of the Southwest. Venture capitalists pumped a total of $1.2 billion into companies throughout the region in 2012 and another $900 million in 2013, according to tallies by the National Venture Capital Association and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Events like the upcoming luncheon can help New Mexico capture more of that deal flow, said Brian Wallace, managing director for Access Venture Partners in Colorado and chairman of the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association.
“We’re interested in New Mexico, and we’ll meet with a few companies while we’re there,” said Wallace, one of the event panelists. “Funding activity in New Mexico may not return anytime soon to the level it was before the recession, but if you have a good, compelling company, the chances are you can usually find funding.”
The Rocky Mountain association has been organizing similar events in other states to help more early-stage startups connect with venture capitalists.
The event is different from traditional venture investment forums, where a select group of companies are hand-picked from scores of applicants to present to investors, Wallace said. In the upcoming luncheon, dubbed “VCs Unplugged,” the idea is to provide many startups an opportunity to learn about how to attract funding and make direct connections with key individuals.
“The entrepreneurial community is not served very well when you have hundreds, and in some places thousands, of startups who want to present to investors and the group ends up getting whittled down to just a handful of the most-promising companies,” Wallace said. “In Albuquerque, we want to get the entrepreneurial and startup community in general in one place with experienced venture capitalists from the region to provide more perspective for everybody about getting funded.”
The panel discussion will focus almost entirely on questions and answers for investors to address the issues of most interest to participants, said Katie Szczepaniak Rice, head of the Epic Ventures office in New Mexico and president of Coronado Ventures Forum.
“We’ll keep the formal remarks by panelists brief and spend a lot of time on questions from the audience, followed by ample opportunity to network and talk,” Szczepaniak Rice said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for New Mexico entrepreneurs to connect directly with out-of-state investors.”
The luncheon costs $25 and runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 28. For more information, or to register, visit regonline.com/vcsunpluggedalbuquerque.
The Albuquerque Journal Business Outlook is the newest major sponsor of the Coronado Ventures Forum.