Business COVID-19 Startups Venture

Stout Street’s Spring Pitch Conference Goes Virtual

Illustration of woman on video screen.

When startups and investors interact at the upcoming UNMET Arizona 2020, they will be doing it through an app rather than in person.

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Denver-based Stout Street Capital and the Arizona Commerce Authority made the decision in March to move the May 13-14 Spring UNMET 2020 conference to the Thumbraise video pitch app as a result of COVID-19, John Francis, founding partner of Stout Street, told Crunchbase News.

“We started preparing early, so we had contingency plans,” Francis said. “In March, we discussed not being able to do it in person and what was the best way to do it.”

Certain livestream options didn’t work for the kind of conference they were planning because more than 100 companies would be pitching at the same time, which would not give investors the ability to digest that information nor enable startups to be selective about who they pitched to, he said.

“We always wanted to encourage people to get on Thumbraise, so we decided that was the best option,” Francis added.

Thumbraise enables investors and founders to meet inside of public or privately hosted networks for one-on-one meetings. Using a mobile platform, founders can create short-form video pitches that are like Instagram Stories to give a brief pitch of their company.

Based on those figures and the success of its Fall 2019 event in Denver, Francis said he expects UNMET Arizona to generate $100 million in investments.

Pitches are usually done in person, but startups and investors don’t seem to mind the switch to virtual. More than 200 venture-backed companies applied to pitch, while over 200 investors have registered, selling out the conference three separate times, Francis said.

Conference producers have decided to do the same. Moonshot at NACET announced this week that it will be teleconferencing after in-person for 20 years. In addition, Vinetta Project DC’s pitch showcase will take place May 12 as a virtual event.

For Scott Shane, managing partner at Comeback Capital, this conference will be an extension of the Zoom meetings he is already doing with companies.

“From my perspective, if I don’t have to change planes somewhere or spend a day traveling, it is more efficient,” said Shane, who is also a professor of entrepreneurship at Case Western University. “The world of venture finance loses lots of money, and for me, it is how quickly they can get to milestones, which is a bigger indicator of if they will be a unicorn or go public.”

He said two advantages of the virtual conference are being able to know which startups will be there so he can be prepared with a short list of startup pitches to watch, as well as being able to see startups from other parts of the country, which might not have been able to attend in person.

Jaime Martinez, founder and CEO of education technology company Schola, participated in the UNMET conference in Denver and also prefers the digital version of the pitch.

“Conferences are usually so back-to-back, and don’t allow either side to take a break or get to know each other a little more,” Martinez said. “With this method, I have had more meaningful conversations with investors. Plus, people can watch my pitch, but are not obligated to meet us. It also saves time because I also have to run a company.”

Meanwhile, Francis said virtual pitch conferences are “extremely scalable,” and he would like to have 10 to 15 UNMET conferences per year this way, up substantially from the two Stout Street Capital is already doing.

“Going virtual has expedited that,” he said. “We will still have in-person conferences, which are essential, but we have seen that virtual enables more people to join, and how we can conduct business without travel.”

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

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