Startups take the stage at statewide investor conference

With interest in early-stage investing heating up, more than 200 investors, entrepreneurs and service providers came together last week for the Florida Venture Forum’s Early-Stage Conference in the Orlando area.

Eighteen startup companies presented at the conference at the Reunion Resort, including five with medical devices, biotech products and  health-tech applications, and four with solutions for the bar and restaurant industry. Presenting from South Florida:   Arctico, a company offering purified ice in patented single-serving, tamper proof containers; Bookigee, which creates a new breed of tools and analytics for the book publishing industry; LearnerNation!, a cloud-based learning platform in the hot education-tech space (pictured below); Maxx Technologies, which saves bars money in liquor “shrinkage”; and, a "set-and-forget, then collect" system for small businesses to easily collect unclaimed shipping refunds. Also exhibiting at the conference: spendLO, a name-your-price platform for services. Most of the  companies were trying to raise funding of  $750,000 to $2 million, some more. 

Their goal: Turn the heads of a few investors and hopefully score a follow-up meeting or two.

The Florida Venture Forum, the state's oldest and largest statewide support group for venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, said it was a record attendance for the Early-Stage Conference, now in its sixth year. For many of the attendees --  VC members who don't typically invest in early-stage companies -- it was an opportunity to view what's in the pipeline and make connections.

For angel investor attendees, it was all that -- plus potential opportunities now.  

 “I was impressed with the presentations, and they seem to get stronger every year,” said Tim Cartwright, chairman of Tamiami Angel Fund I. In the last year, the fund has made six investments, generally $250K to $1 million, including  into, he said. “More than likely we’ll invite one if not two of the companies to present to our fund.”

Cartwright  said he’s seeing a dramatic increase in the number of education-technology business plans, and there were some presenting Wednesday, including Miami's LearnerNation! In the next week, Tamiami Angel Fund will be closing on an investment in Via Response, an Orlando ed-tech company, he said. Tamiami Angels, with 40 members, provides deal flow analytical graphs on its website, (under resources), which show a clear spike in the last year. The single most active area  is South Florida, he said, noting that nearly a third of the deals his group has looked at are from this region.

 “We’ve never seen the quality of deals we are seeing now, companies with revenue, teams that are almost complete -- it’s a great time to be an angel investor,” added Rhys Williams, president of New World Angels, a group of 38 members whose latest investment was Bioceptive. “We have two term sheets out right now and may issue a third shortly, and that hasn’t happened in a very long time. That speaks to the quality of the deal flow we’re seeing and that our members are very engaged.”

To kick off the event, winning teams from eight universities faced off for the Florida Venture Forum's annual collegiate competition. That included Chill-N Ice Cream, a team from University of Miami’s Launch Pad program that has seen steady, steep revenue increases at its first  store in Pinecrest and is actively looking for sites for its second and third locations now. Winning the collegiate competition was a team from Florida Gulf Coast University for a company called AquaRamp.

Read more entrepreneurship news on The Starting Gate and follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg

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