Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Is this the best way to meet potential investors?

The Canadian Innovation Exchange (CIX) is being held in Toronto at the end of this month. If selected, a company looking for early-stage funding pays $600 to give a presentation to an audience that includes several VC firms and other potential investors.

Even though there's a Communitech logo on the site (which I had nothing to do with -- I've had no contact with anyone organizing this event), and my colleague Ron Neumann is a scheduled presenter, I have mixed feelings about these kind of events.

For entrepreneurs, it certainly seems convenient to get your company in front of several investors with just one pitch. I'm sure some would say that the amount of time saved when compared to arranging individual meetings with each investor justifies the fee by itself. And there's no question that there are some good speakers scheduled for CIX.

On the other hand, these events reinforce the myth that companies need to pay intermediaries (in this case, the event organizers) to get in front of VCs, or at least that it's beneficial to do so. It's something I mostly associate with the leeches and hangers-on who try to charge startup entrepreneurs a fee for introducing them to VCs. There aren't as many today as there were back in the bubble era, thankfully, but it still goes on.

Here's a little secret: it's not difficult to get a Canadian VC to look at your business (getting them to invest is, but that's equally true for companies that present at VC events). They aren't hard to find and contact, and it won't cost you anything.

I know people at most Canadian VC firms (including almost all of the firms whose logos appear on the Canadian Innovation Exchange site) and can guarantee you that, if you have a good investment opportunity for them, almost all of them would be happy to come to Waterloo to hear more. You won't have to hope to be selected for some dog-and-pony show in Toronto and pay hundreds of dollars. Introductions certainly help, particularly coming from someone investors believe will filter out the junk, but you don't have to pay for them. If you have a VC-fundable business, every member of Communitech's entrepreneur services team can hook you up with VCs at no cost.

I agree with Alec Saunders, who last week compared the event to a beauty pageant and said he found a lot not to like in the model. If there had been more U.S. investors participating (there are some), I might have found it to be more valuable. There are so many of them, your degrees of separation will likely be greater than one -- which won't be the case for Canadian VCs -- and most will expect you to go to them, which starts getting expensive.

But to get in touch with most of the people scheduled to be at CIX, I can't say that signing up for a beauty pageant would be the way I'd go about it.