Washington DC shows it can stage a pitch competition, too
At a pitch competition for early stage startups held over yesterday and today, San Francisco's Fleksy raised $250,000 in two days. The twist? That competition was held in Washington DC.
Fleksy co-founders Kostas Eleftheriou and Ioannis Verdelis made a late decision to make the trip to Washington DC to compete in Distilled Intelligence, which is in its second year and attracted a total of 1,000 entrepreneurs and investors over its two days (allowing for duplications of people who attended both days).
The guys had never considered traveling to the East Coast to look for funding, but a couple of weeks ago they meet Simon Rakoff, a general partner with Washington DC venture firm Fortify.vc, at the Empact Summit. Rakoff, one of the organizers of Distilled Intelligence, convinced Fleksy take part in the competition in order to fill out their seed round. And so they threw their name into the ring.
Fleksy's advanced smartphone keyboard app prototype didn't win the competition -- it got a top-10 placing -- but it did attract a rush of interest from investors. As a result of their presentation yesterday, their round is now over-subscribed.
"We didn't expect this from DC," said Eleftheriou in an interview at the Carnegie Library, where the competition was being held. "Not really just from DC, but anywhere outside Silicon Valley."
Fortify.vc founding partner and head organizer Jonathon Perrelli said startups came to Distilled Intelligence from a broad swath of countries, including India, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Canada, France, and the UK. Last year, the event attracted 500 people, all of whom came from within the US. This year's event was much bigger, because word had spread by word-of-mouth and particularly by Twitter, Perrelli said.
He thinks the competition can happily co-exist with, and complement, events such as Demo and TechCrunch Disrupt on the West Coast. "Pitch events are the new economy," he said. In the Silicon Valley, such events are great for getting connections to technical expertise, but in Washington DC they're great for connections to the corridors of power, he added.
William Militello, managing principal of Piedmont Investment Advisors, said the event was of value to the region, because it showed that there is a vibrant entrepreneurial culture even in one of the most conservative cities in the country. "The more attention that subculture gets, the easier it will be for good companies to get funded," he said. In the last 10 years, many good companies in Washington have starved because of a lack of capital, he said.
Piedmont is investing in two companies it discovered at Distilled Intelligence, including Fleksy and Speek (see more on it below). It had pre-existing investments in six other companies at the event, including Camp Easy (also below). The firm put in $125,000 into each company, on average, he said.
The first day of Distilled Intelligence featured Series A-stage companies, while Friday featured seed-stage startups. The winner of each day received $35,000 dollars, while second place got $10,000 and third took home $5,000. Fortify.vc also invested in each of the top six companies.
The grand prize winner on day one was a company called Speek, which has a browser-based conference-call system that replaces telephone numbers and pins with a service that takes advantage of Web services and social networks. Speek users get to own their own unique URL. The startup was founded by John Bracken, who previously founded Evite.com, and Danny Boice, who founded Jaxara. Camp Easy, a social marketplace for camps, and Tistagames, an episodic gaming platform, were the runners-up.
The winner of the seed-stage day was cont3nt.com, a real-time market for photo and video journalism that enables freelancers to sell news content to media companies over the Internet. The startup bills itself as "an eBay for breaking news."
The runners-up were Acquicore, an energy efficiency startup, and Kahnoodle, an app for couples that provides timely reminders to help improve relationships.
[Image courtesy Vinoth Chandar]