In these times of discord in America, most people still seem to agree on one thing: if you want to launch a company, you need to find some money. And the more time you spend around startups, the more it seems everyone also agrees that the key lies in who you know. Problem is, when it comes to startup capital, the right people can be hard to track down.
In Boston, the size of our market–and, depending on who you ask, a whole host of other factors–means early-stage founders often lack the networks that lead to face time with investors. They consequently struggle to make the connections to capital necessary to get ideas off the ground. Boston boasts a slew of solid organizations dedicated to helping founders on the business side. TCN, SheStarts, Venture Café, TIE Boston and MITX are just a few of those who can help refining value propositions, building technical skills, navigating the scaling process or otherwise positioning founders to lead successful companies. Still, many an entrepreneur will tell you we’ve got some serious shortcomings. All those support programs belie the fact it’s still pretty hard to find access to funding.
As a result, entrepreneurs can find themselves susceptible: willing to go great lengths just for the hint of an opportunity to meet investors. Sometimes so much so that they’re willing to pay for that chance, and unfortunately there are those who are willing to charge them for it. An outfit called YoungStartup Ventures wouldn’t say how much founders paid to pitch at New England Venture Summit (this Wednesday), but it’s been said they charge $1,500. In its nearby Mid-Atlantic chapter, Keiretsu Forum charges up to $6,000 to pitch investors. Pay-to-pitch models are nothing new, but the fact that they’re still around means we need to keep talking about them; keep making it clear that that’s not how Boston rolls.
So how does Boston roll when it comes to getting first time founders hooked up with the investor community? If founders are still paying for the opportunity to pitch, apparently we’re not rolling so smoothly. We need to keep providing an alternative.
That’s Unpitch, where investors and founders sit down together for the expressed purpose of making connections–not asking for money, or saying “yes” or “no.” Unpitch is specifically geared toward early-stage and first-time entrepreneurs, those least likely to have established the networks that typically lead to investor intros. It’s called “un” pitch, because the conversations take place over lunch (tab picked up by the investors, natch), not on a stage or a convention center floor. These days, Unpitch is an event of the New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA).
Boston has done an amazing job stepping up its game when it comes to resources for entrepreneurs. There are over 25 accelerators and incubators in operation now; if you walk around Kendall Sq. any night of the week you’re bound to run into a relevant event; and shops like General Assembly and Startup Institute are there to fill in skill gaps. It can still be tough for first-time founders, especially when it comes to raising money. So if you count yourself among those frustrated by a lack of accessibility to investors and capital, there’s a few days left to apply to Unpitch. (The deadline is Dec. 9.) The city’s VCs and angels really are all out there looking for you, you just haven’t met them yet.
Ari Glantz leads Development and Strategic partnerships at the New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA), where he organizes Unpitch alongside the original founding team of Scott Kirsner, Abby Fichtner, Jeremy Weiskotten and Phil Beauregard.