The Technology Funding Alliance (TFA), which brings together technology entrepreneurs and investors, has selected its finalist start-ups and will provide a forum for them at its first quarterly luncheon on Friday, November 2. Four tech ventures will have 15 minutes each to present their business plans to potential investors.
TFA is an offshoot of the Nashville Technology Council. It was founded in June of 2001. "The Technology Funding Alliance has exceeded our expectations both in the number of investors and projects," says David Condra, president of the Council and an ex-officio member of the Alliance.
"We asked people what it would take to grow tech businesses around Nashville," Condra said, "and the number one response was: 'access to capital.' So we spent a year researching how 10 different cities around the country had aided technology investment. We based our model on that research, using what we thought would work best for Nashville."
Fifty-one angels have paid $1,000 apiece to join, and interested companies pay $300 when they submit their business plans.
Start-up companies get the chance to present their ventures to some of the area's premiere investors, and they receive expert advice on their business plans.
The investors, for their part, get to look at ideas that have already passed through a screening committee.
"We also have a secure website which currently shows four other plans, in addition to the four being showcased on Friday," said Julia Polk, director of consulting and screening for the TFA. "We don’t want people to think that the four presenting companies are the only winners. All eight are in front of a lot of people who have the ability to fund new technologies."
"Each potential company goes through an involved process," Polk said. "They have to prove that they are indeed a technology company, not just one that uses the Internet in an ordinary way. Then they have to present their business plan in a seven-page, executive summary format. We go over their plans with them, making sure they are well defined, with good concepts."
"We had 17 plans presented. Of the nine who weren't accepted, some weren't really tech companies, some got frustrated with the process, and some needed a lot of help with their business plans. We sent them a list of business consultants so they could refine their concepts."
Polk stresses that the companies who apply really are startups -- they aren't to the level of formal venture capital or institutional investors. For that reason, they are looking for "angels."
"After we get their business plan in shape, we have a roundtable discussion in our selection committee, during which they have 35 to 40 minutes each to present their companies. They find out what is confusing or weak, and then make corrections. For that reason, each company involved in the process gains," says Polk, "because they get to talk with successful entrepreneurs."
Polk makes the first pass through the plans with two second-year students at Vanderbilt's Owen Graduate School of Management and two of Owen's MBA graduates who do management consulting full-time. Then they appear before the-15 member Selection Committee, which is comprised of investors and other interested parties.
Polk is managing director of new venture consulting at Solidus, a local investment firm, which has made an investment in the NashvillePost.com. Solidus chief Townes Duncan chairs the selection committee.
One of the companies that will be presenting on Friday is eCropolis. It allows large group meetings and seminars to take place on the Internet. The company provides both the technology and the ancillary services that make for a successful session.
The application process forced eCropolis President Chuck Roberts to take another hard look at his company. "We had to circle back on our business plan and make it tighter, to refine the concept more thoroughly. In general, we felt it validated what we were doing; it showed we were on the right track. We found that helpful."
Another presenter will be QualTalk, which allows companies to do qualitative research -- research such as focus groups -- on line. "We are an application service provider (ASP)," says Jim Bryson, president of the company, "hosting everything on our servers. We charge per use."
For Bryson, the application process taught him a valuable lesson: "It was probably most helpful in honing our business plan so it speaks to investors. Before, it was a plan to run our business."
Mike Blackburn, president of Petra Capital, sat on the Selection Committee, which heard presentations from eight companies. "The business plans that were submitted were well done," he said. "Their caliber was strong. The process that Townes Duncan and Julia Polk put together was very good."
“I was very impressed with the quality of deals presented to the committee," said Laura Campbell of Laura Campbell & Associates. "It was very difficult to select four of them for the luncheon. This will benefit our city tremendously.