By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
One described it as a “wonderful experience,” the other said it was a “fantastic opportunity for us.”
The two were the featured presenters at Tech 20/20’s final “Hot Topics” luncheon of 2013 in late December.
In a lively discussion moderated by Tech 20/20’s Shawn Carson, the two Chief Executive Officers agreed that they personally and their start-ups have benefitted from the opportunities.
“What we wanted was help to get us venture ready,” Hunt said of the Cleantech Open. “We already had customers, but it helped us better understand how to listen to them.”
Hunt told the attendees that he learned of the Cleantech Open less than two days before the application deadline and hurriedly completed the process. He obviously did something well initially and over the next five months. Fiveworx was one of 22 finalists for the national competition.
“It (participation) forced us to do some things we would not have done,” Hunt said.
One of the real benefits to Fiveworx was the doors it opened, a sentiment echoed by Strong in relation to a trip to the Bay Area that Launch Tennessee organized for “The TENN” in November.
“Many people told us there would not be much interest in our space,” Strong said in relation to the venture firms. “They were wrong; there is a good deal of interest in the government technology space.”
Vendor Registry’s Chris Van Beke has already returned to California to meet with prospective investors.
Strong noted the significant difference between California investors and those in Tennessee.
“They (those in California) don’t care anything about the money,” he said in reference to paid subscribers. “They care about getting users on and determine later how to make money.”
In comparison, Strong said those in Tennessee are much more focused on the number of paid subscriptions.
Hunt noted that Fiveworx is software-based, while many of the investors at the Cleantech Open were more interested in hard technologies.
“We are doing a very different thing,” he explained. Nevertheless, Hunt cited the value of a speed dating session where he met with 14 different investors.
For both start-ups, 2014 is an important year. Hunt described it as “the year of proof,” explaining that Fiveworx needs to prove that its approach can produce the savings for utilities that he believes it will. In Vendor Registry’s case, expansion beyond Tennessee into three new states is planned.
Both companies are also looking to raise outside investment in 2014.