Startups do some fast talking for investors

The courtship between the act and the audience took three minutes, a hurried thing, about like trying to meet and size up and decide to marry somebody at a drive-up window.

But times are tough, and the Startup Riot at the Fox Theatre’s Egyptian Ballroom on Wednesday was a welcome speed-dating stimulus package in a slumping economy for startup companies looking for money, partners and business connections to grow.

The guys with the dough and connections watched from the audience. “We won’t write a check today, that’s not how it works,” said James Davis, an investor who saw 18 startups speed through pitches in the morning session, none holding his interest.

“I’m still looking,” he said. “If one appeals to me, then I’ll talk to them afterward and we’ll go from there.”

While Davis was waiting for the the next round at 1 p.m., the pitchers were in a backroom of the theater, sitting at tables with laptops, going over their notes and spiels,  getting pumped.

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Not all of them planned to have their hands out.

“We’re not hungry for funding,” said Tina Chadwick, whose online retailing company, Bee Well Wishes, sells gifts, such as pajamas, for people who are sick or recovering from illness.

“What we’re looking for are strategic partners. Our business has been great, but it’s been through word of mouth and we’d like to expand it.”

This is the second year of Startup Riot, said founder and organizer Sanjay Parekh, and it's probably only one that will be staged in the Egyptian Ballroom because, Parekh said, “I think next year it will be too big.”

Last year about 220 people attended the event staged at a hotel in Atlantic Station. This year, he said more than 400 attended. The startup groups pay nothing to pitch. Only the investors and networkers are charged, from $25 to $60 each to watch the quick pitches.

“I’m wildly against pay-to-pitch events,” which charge startup companies hundreds of dollars to get on stage to court investors, Parekh said.

Chadwick was the fifth to present in the afternoon, telling the audience her company has “infinite growth potential” and an “infinite customer base, unfortunately, of people battling health problems who could use comfort or cheering up."

Most of the companies that pitched were Internet-based, offering new ways to channel the online social network, send e-mail or organize and reduce corporate meetings, for instance.

Only one, High Road Craft, had something to sell that didn’t involve video or the Web: gourmet ice cream. The pitcher, Charles Hofer, had to stand in for the owner of the company, a chef who had a family emergency.

He told the audience the company would start selling ice cream to restaurants and resorts later this year, but, for now, it doesn't need money. He just wanted to plant the idea that it might be looking for dough this summer.

It was Hofer’s second pitch of the day. In the morning he presented for Drive Safe Glucose Monitoring Systems. “That one went better because I had longer to prepare,” he said. "I had to fall down for it because I wanted to illustrate what could happen in insulin shock. But, still, that went better."

Investor Glenn Bachman said he was paying as much attention to the pitchers and how they handled themselves on stage as he was to the business they were trying sell since, if he decided to invest, they'd be spending his money.

“In real estate it’s location, location, location,” he said. “In startups, it’s management, management, management."

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