Florida Venture Capital Conference Recap and Best of Show

Posted by on February 19, 2007 at 12:42 pm.

It’s been a couple weeks since my last post and I feel really bad about it. I’m hoping to make it up to you by awarding a couple “Best of Show” KangaRuas in today’s post.

2007 Florida Venture Capital Conference wrap-up

Boca Resort venue was awesome, particularly for those who participated in the resort course golf tourney. For those who didn’t hit the links, there was even a manicured croquet course (sweet!). I guess the drawback of such a nice place was the $300-$500/night room cost — something I solved via HotWire (5 minutes away, $84/night).

Day 1 started well for me, thanks to my golf scramble team and a 2nd place, 62, on a blustery day. We’re also claiming 1st place because the winning score, 59, was delivered by a team including two scratch golfers shuffled together at the last minute. Jon Cole was on that team so I’m sure it was no accident ;-)

Monday night included dinner, wine tasting and gambling, aboard a yacht docked behind the resort. I was looking forward to the evening, but some late portfolio company work consumed my night (see why here). Those that did attend had great things to say, even if some of the poker tables deteriorated into who could pull off the biggest cheat. Between golf, wine, and gambling the venture banks Square 1 Bank, Silicon Valley Bank, and RBC Centura sponsored a great kickoff to the conference.

Day 2 was a whirlwind of meeting new companies, seeing old friends, and discussing existing portfolio companies. Speaking of old friends, one of the publications I remember reading when I was a kid growing up in Tampa was a presenter: Creative Loafing — kinda weird to see a 20+ year old company at a venture conference. Our lunch speaker was Florida CFO Alex Sink, who did her best fielding venture-related questions less than 30 days into office. Questions about the state’s emphasis on entrepreneurship and legislative efforts to promote venture capital were answered with a hearty “I’m supportive and want to learn more.”

The morning and afternoon company presenters did well overall, with very few needing the music to accelerate their closing slide. The opportunities were pretty diverse, with a few concentrations around business process automation, telecom services and online lead generation. My “Best of Show” KangaRua for Day 1 goes to Kelly Smith of Pasteuria Biosciences, for presenting a big but obscure opportunity (nematode control) in a clear, interesting way. Congrats Kelly! Hopefully, CFO Sink’s lunchtime reference to nematodes led to some extra investor interest.

Dinner was great, but political satirist/pianist Mark Russell could have been better. I really enjoyed last year’s Capital Steps show, but found myself checking my Treo too often this time around.

Day 3 went pretty quickly with only a half-day of activities. The morning “State of Venture Capital” panel was full of the usual fund sales pitches, but included some nice tidbits around growing exits. As a VC who typically builds with entrepreneurs to strategic M&A or IPO, it was interesting to hear how other firms have sold their positions to private equity/LBO/hedge funds. I’m not sure if that is a growing trend or a geographic anomaly for funds looking to exit quicker and raise their next fund.

The day’s presenters also did well, with a couple Inflexion companies, WiDeFi and PayPerPost, fielding significant inbound interest — maybe it was Ted’s Michael Jackson leg-flip. Taking my companies out of the mix, I’d have to give Peter Pezaris of Multiply.com a “Best of Show” Kangarua for his business-like, but compelling presentation of the company he’s built. I will share that I’m biased because I’ve covered Multiply a couple times at FVB before — they continue to grow with their focus on connecting real-world networks.

Final thoughts: This FVCC was the largest one ever, with over 1300 attendees. It was very well run, thanks to the terrific leadership of Robin Kovaleski and her team. I still believe the forum’s board payola scheme puts service provider and later-stage fund interests ahead of entrepreneurs, and I heard similar sentiments from peers at the conference. I also heard that the 3-day length was tough for many investors to commit — although I’m not sure how to shorten it without a golf/presentation day (tough) or fewer presenters. Some of the conference’s panel content could have been stronger, but overall it was a great showcase for Florida startups. I look forward to the 2008 Florida Venture Capital Conference, January 29-30, at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club in St Petersburg, FL — save the date now!

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