Should entrepreneurs have to pay to pitch?

The answer to this quasi-philosophical question, at least for 28 prominent Boston-area venture capital and angel investors, is a vehement “no.” Those same investors – and potentially even more – will not only lend an ear to founders and their pitches, but also provide them lunch on December 11th in a brand new, entirely free event known as Unpitch.

“It’s not about delivering an elevator pitch onstage or a ‘demo day’ presentation, or trying to grab a few seconds with a venture capitalist in a conference hallway,” reads the event description. “Unpitch is a chance to sit down with an angel investor or VC for lunch in a casual, no-pressure environment; discuss your business; and get feedback and connections that will help you get to the next stage.”

Though the seed for the Unpitch was planted a few weeks ago at MassTLC’s unConference, the event has in part been realized as a response to so-called “pay-to-pitch” conferences, in which cash-strapped entrepreneurs must lay down a flat fee – often upwards of $1,000 – to make their pitch in front of investors.

The company most recently cited for such events is youngStartup Ventures, which is based out of Staten Island, N.Y. YSV is, in fact, responsible for organizing the New England Venture Summit in Dedham, also on Dec. 11th. Registration fees for this particular event are pegged at $495 for an entrepreneur – a sum that, I imagine, likely makes up the majority of the average local entrepreneur’s monthly rent. What’s worse, to be considered a “Top 50 Innovator,” the entrepreneur must shell out $1,585.

As to whether the promised dozens of investors at the YSV Dedham “pay-to-pitch” event are legitimate or not, Atlas Ventures Partner Fred Destin speculated, “around 90 percent of them I’ve never heard of.”

Objective Logistics CEO and serial entrepreneur Phil Beauregard spoke out publicly against this event, and the questionable profit that YSV is turning off of aspiring entrepreneurs, in a compelling Pando Daily article in early November. Also involved in the push-back was Harvard Innovation Lab’s Hacker-in-Residence Abby Fichtner, who fired back an email to a YSV representative asking that he refrain from blasting emails to the lab’s entrepreneurs. You can find drafts of the email exchange and read the full story in Beauregard’s article, titled “Startup snake oil: Scamming early-stage entrepreneurs.”

Regardless of the authenticity of YSV, Unpitch certainly stands as a glowing example of the strength and solidarity within Boston’s own innovation community. In a matter of weeks, Beauregard and Fichtner, as well as Jeremy Weiskotten of Terrible Labs, the New England Venture Capital Association and TUGG, were able to rally enough support from the VC community in Boston to get the event off the ground.

For Destin, Unpitch illustrates Boston’s pay-it-forward culture. “It’s adding the more West Coast aspect of the VC and angel community, showing that they are open and available, and that we can play nice and collaborate around deals.”

The lunch meetup will be held in Cambridge at hack/reduce. Each investor will break bread with three or four entrepreneurs, who will also have the opportunity to chat with other investors before and after lunchtime. Space is limited to 60 entrepreneurs, with preference given to startups that have yet to raise funding or engage with prospective investors before.

“My work is based on serendipity,” shared Destin. “We never know where we will meet the next successful entrepreneur.”