The venture capital conference was in full swing, and a current of excitement buzzed in the air. An entrepreneur known as "Allen" arrived, wondering about the particulars of constructing a business plan. Did he even need one? How long should it be? "I've heard everything from one page to 50 pages. One expert says the only reason a small business needs a business plan is if they're looking for investors or trying to get a loan. What should I do?"
In response, Brian Hill, co-owner of Fountain Hills, Ariz.based The Capital Connection (www.capital-connection.com), advised him to keep his plan between 20 and 40 pages, excluding the financial projections or appendix. He segregated the project into sections, with proposed page lengths for subtopics such as executive summary, historical perspective, economic and industry environment, marketing, management, operations, production and facilities and strengths and weaknesses.
In another area of the meeting, the roundtable sessions were starting to build steam. Dee Power, co-owner of The Capital Connection, hosted the introductory talk, "On the Lookout for Venture Capital and Private Investors." Leni Chavin, founder of Business Referral Exchange Entrepreneurs, spoke on "Networking Your Way to Capital." In another room presided Hill, a nationally recognized expert on business planning, dispensing winning advice to attendees like Allen.
This could have been any of the hundreds of conferences that bring together VCs and entrepreneurs, with one big difference: The attendees could have been in their bathrobes, for all anyone knew, and the seminars were held in virtual conference rooms--chat rooms.
You're On! [Line] Welcome to the first-ever Virtual Venture Capital Conference 2000, which was billed as one of the most extensive multimedia venture capital conferences ever. The online meeting, held from March 20 to 31 and hosted by The Capital Connection.com, drew 10,000 attendees, ranging from dog trainers to dot-coms, and 100 investment firms. The brainchild of Dee Power, the conference teamed entrepreneurs seeking capital with investors looking for promising business opportunities through virtual seminars, live chats, webcasts, surveys, and discussion forums. Hundreds of links to financing resources were also provided.
Entrepreneurs paid $75 to list their plans, but all other costs were offset by advertising and sponsorships. None of the 20 workshops required paid registration, and the investors and venture capital companies attended free of charge. Companies presenting had the opportunity to record a 60-second audio pitch to augment their written venture description at the conference Web site, www.virtualventurecapitalconference.com.
All business plans had an equal chance of review, and all were available for investors to browse. Then, Cap- ital Connection introduced interested investors to entrepreneurs. "Until the match-up, identities of both investors and entrepreneurs were kept secret," says Power. "Everyone wants to take advantage of the Internet, so this was exciting."
In another feature of the meeting designed to take clients inside the mind of VCs, attendees got a peek at the results of a 1999 survey done by Profit Dynamics Inc. (parent company of The Capital Connection). The survey, which went to 450 of the most active venture capital companies across the country, asked everything from how they prefer to be contacted initially to what they consider to be the biggest mistakes in business plans, to what factors they evaluate when valuing a company.
Conference participant Ken Weatherford, co-owner of KWintell Inc., an Oklahoma Citybased business with three online ventures (the primary one being My Biz Mall--www.mybizmall.com--a business-to-business Web development mall with financing, tutorial training, and Web development resource tools), found the survey to be the most beneficial part of the experience. "As a result, I made a lot of changes to my executive summary before even presenting it."
Online Experts VVCC seminars, which consisted of articles posted on the Web site, targeted different stages of entrepre- neurship. Leni Chavin presented on using networking skills to attract investors, a topic that unnerves many entrepreneurs. "Know your product or service inside out. Be able to answer any question, no matter how off the wall, with a succinct answer," Chavin advised. "Make your pitch a whine-free zone. Nobody wants to hear about the 10 banks that turned you down. They want to listen to positivity and enthusiasm."
Meanwhile, Steven Weinberg, principal of Weinberg Legal Group Global Intellectual Property and Internet Law, fielded e-mail questions from participants on a host of related subjects--particularly domain names and Web site ownership issues--and answered message board questions. He also gave the best-attended session, "Protecting Intellectual Property in E-Business." A session called "The Elevator Pitch," by Bill Tucker, CEO of TheElevator.com, gave a twist to the "What do you say if you catch your investor in an elevator?" pitch. "An Elevator Pitch is not a sales pitch," Tucker said. "When describing your market, include both customers and competitors. When they ask, 'Who are your competitors?' if you reply, 'We don't have any,' then you don't understand your business."
What's Next? Build it and they will come. That was Power's vision for this Web meeting--and they came in the thousands.
Weatherford, for one, looks forward to presenting his plan at another virtual venture capital conference, if offered the chance. "It's well worth the money for the listing. I was contacted by two interested investors by the time the conference ended, and my listing with The Capital Connection will remain active for three months. It's a lot easier than trying to find investors. This way, the only contacts you get are from genuinely interested parties."
He will get his wish for another conference, as Power plans to make the VVCC an annual spring event and is organizing a smaller, more concentrated version for early November as well.
For the next VVCC, Power wants to add live streaming video to enhance presentation capabilities for the entrepreneurs. She also plans to tweak the chat services on the site and promote the conference earlier. Except for these adjustments, she hopes to build the conference on the elements that made its debut a success: great "speakers," unparalleled networking--and bathrobes optional.