I was pleasantly surprised by my first Innovation Bay dinner: good businesses, solid pitches and a wholly supportive atmosphere from the angel investors present …
Having attended many a pitch night (“Eeh lad, I’ve ‘ad me more pitches as ye’ve had ‘ot dinners!“) I was impressed by the Innovation Bay formula that I witnessed on a wintry Wednesday night at Kailis Bros in Leederville.
Three of the pitching companies I had heard before. Some I had written about, met for coffee, seen pitch, and had various conversations with over the years. One was completely new to me. Most of the people in the upstairs dining room were known to me too, and were already in good spirits by the time I walked in.
I’m not sure what I imagined. Well, that’s not true, I had an idea. The wrong idea as it turned out.
Out there Pitchin’
Pitching can be a tough business, as anyone who has been through months of Founder Institute or stood up after a long Startup Weekend may know.
As if the 5 minutes pitch is not scary enough, you have to endure the often posturing platitudes of judges acting as grand inquisitors. All this is done with no pre-warning and you are expected to handle everything off the cuff, live on stage as it were. (Nowhere in business, save for an ASX-listed CEO at a public AGM, would a business leader have to endure this.) Judges may be poking holes in your wonderful new startup business, and doing it in front of an audience. Egads, I would prefer to stick forks in my eyes.
I wonder about this as a real mechanism for judging whether a startup idea has legs.
How would Google or Facebook or Uber or Twitter have stood up to this scrutiny on first hearing? How can judges even have any inkling whether an idea will become a great business, no matter what successes (or failures) they may have known in their past?
If we were all so gifted at fortune telling, then surely we’d be toying with an olive in our martinis as we lazily dozed in a hammock somewhere on one of our private islands.
And as for Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den, well, don’t get me started. I have known people who have been subjected to these TV programmes, been decried (almost abusively), yet have gone on to run great businesses.
Four on the Floor
Thankfully, Innovation Bay was about as far from this ‘reality’ as you can get. The meal was lovely, the company sublime, the wine and conversations flowed, the pitches were solid and the questioning respectful and intelligent.
In my humble opinion, the ladies smashed it. Out of the park.
Both Brenda from Feedmee and Cathy from Kinchip took the mike, wandered away from the lecturn, and communicated directly with the audience. They handled questions with aplomb, and put in fine performances.
One of them did not really need the money, having already almost closed their latest funding round. They had performed not one, but two, elegant pivots over the past year and had now embraced a very big new idea.
That’s not to say the guys did not do well either. Tim from Fitout Guru had developed a very clever VR tool for showcasing new home builds, and already had a top builder trialling the system. With Chris Braine from Cellr away enjoying his Founder Institute prize attending a tech conference in Europe, co-founder Mick pitched the wine cellar management platform, which looks like it could be a very strong business. A clear addressable market, and already with restaurateurs and hotels ready to trial it.
The questioning from around the tables, when it came, was polite, direct and on the money. This was an encouraging, positive environment. The potential investors were not showing off to each other (as happens in other pitch nights I’ve been to), but seemed genuinely interested in each business, and probed the founders expertly for detail.
After each pitch, attendees participated in online feedback, which is then made available to the founders in aggregate. Excellent feedback. At the end of the night, everyone voted using casino chips placed in the company-labelled buckets. For the record, Cathy took the night and ‘bragging rights’.
The founders would have gone away feeling good about their businesses, and so they should.
I hope some deals flow from this. We all know that Perth needs more deals, and early stage ventures need more funding. Innovation Bay seems to be providing a means of making this happen.
Innovation Bay membership is free, and open to those genuinely interested in helping the early stage tech sector in WA. The WA branch is run by husband and wife team Derek and Kylie Gerrard. For more information about Innovation Bay Perth, visit the website.