NJ Founders & Funders is probably one of the most popular programs the New Jersey Economic Development Authority has for early-stage tech and life-science startups. The program is based on a simple premise: startups in New Jersey need a way to obtain warm introductions to angels and venture capitalists, and angels and VCs who want to invest in New Jersey startups need deal flow. So twice a year, the New Jersey EDA puts on an event that matches VCs and angels with New Jersey tech and life-science startups.
During each event, tech and life-science startup founders have ten-minute speed-dating meetings with VCs and angels. To save everyone time, the NJ EDA prescreens startup applicants to match them with investors who can help them now or in the future. The EDA also helps the applicants prepare their pitches, so they can speak the investors’ language.
More than 150 startup companies have met with investors during the five NJ Founders & Funders events held so far. Some meetings have led to term sheets, as was the case with Bergen County-based Eventcombo, which recently received funding from NJIT Highlanders Angel Network. This is the second of a two-part story. Part one can be found here.
Umar Akbar, founder and CEO of Navinata Health, located at Tigerlabs (Princeton), spoke to us about his startup, which informs physicians about pharmaceutical products in a convenient way. Akbar explained that “during the last five years, for various reasons, many doctors have kicked out pharmaceutical reps or severely restricted access. We are looking to fill that void, making it easier for physicians” who are too busy to get the information they need about new and innovative pharmaceutical therapies.
When we met with Akbar, he had completed all of his six meetings with potential investors at the Founders & Funders event. “I think they went really well,” he told us. “I really like the way the EDA has structured the day. You know who you will be talking to, and you can do a little research in advance on them. It really helped both parties. We talked to a mixture of individual angel investors, later-stage venture capital firms and medium-stage angel groups.”
Akbar said that it was good to talk to those who might not be interested in the company today, but who might be interested in the future, as the company grows. “We were just planting seeds.” He also recounted some of the good advice he had received during his meetings. One investor told him that he doesn’t need outside investment because he already has revenue and clients, and can grow organically. Another said that, as the company does its initial pilots, the team should put its head down and do what it could to over-deliver on them, as that first set of data is what’s really going to drive the future success of the company.
Shwa connects people in need with services that can help them, said Lisa Glass Kornstein of her Edgewater startup. “Our initial product is for pediatric food insecurity, and we connect indigent patients to a portfolio of federal programs and local resources such as and local resources such as SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program], WIC [supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants, and Children], food pantries and meal programs.”” Shwa takes a portfolio approach, connecting people to “many different resources at many different institutions.”
Kornstein had a total of nine meetings scheduled at the event. “The investors were very enthusiastic,” she said. They agreed that there are good opportunities to get corporations involved in a startup in this space, and “they gave us some good advice. One in particular helped us out by giving us an idea of some institutions that would be interested in our work. Several investors viewed this not only as a business opportunity, but told us they knew people involved in our industry and gave us some direction as to where our company could go.” She added that, while Shwa was launching in pediatric-food-insecurity arena, it plans to expand into other, similar areas in the future.
Eric Bryant, cofounder of Text Engine (Bedminster), came to the NJ Founders & Funders event to pitch his search engine, which works on dumb phones and feature phones. The search engine allows users to access information from the Web through their text messaging plan; and it’s also useful for smart phone users who want to avoid overages. There are 76 million-plus people in the United States who only have feature phones, and because their phones don’t have browsers, they can’t access the Internet on the go. Bryant told us that his company has just launched a voice text engine in Mexico. Customers there can use Text Engine and get the local weather: basically they call a number, listen to instructions, press a number for each location, and listen to a woman read a two-day forecast.
Bryant characterized his experience at the Founders & Funders event as a good one. All of his meetings went well, “and I got some great feedback and ideas on how to take the company to the next level. Martinson Ventures (Newtown, Pa.) expressed serious interest, asked for our pitch deck and asked us to follow up with them next week.” The NJTC Venture Fund suggested that Bryant “look into finding a business development cofounder, someone who would not be paid a salary, but could be compensated in the form of equity. They said that this might make us look more appealing to some of the larger venture funds.”
Boaz Berkowitz discussed his startup TalkMarkets, a Highland Park-based media company with a content contributor model similar to Huffington Post’s, but with a focus on the financial marketplace. While Berkowitz acknowledged that this is a crowded content area, he said that his company has a way to gain traction. TalkMarkets strikes a balance between being too limited and two broad, and Berkowitz demonstrated this by making comparisons with two other companies: At one extreme is Seeking Alfa. With 120 million hits a month, it’s narrowly focused on the sophisticated investor and the print format; there are no podcasts or videos, and the company has only one investment philosophy. At the other extreme is Yahoo Finance, which gets a billion hits a month, covers everything for everyone, but doesn’t really connect with its users. In contrast, TalkMarkets covers the entire financial industry, but is able to create a unique browsing experience customized for each user, thereby making investing more interactive and fun, said Berkowitz. TalkMarkets also uses a different payment model for the contributors to the site: they will get some equity in the company, “so they can earn more for helping us grow.”
To date, TalkMarkets has raised a million dollars from some angel investors, but Berkowitz came to Founders & Funders in the hope of moving on to a Series A. “Now we are looking for VCs that have contacts, experience, connections and advice that we need,” plus the dollars, he said.
Ian Goldberg, founder and CEO of Manalapan-based iSport360 (covered here recently), told us that he had come to the Founders & Funders event because it’s “the best place to meet investors. I just raised my seed round, and I know that at a certain point, in nine or 12 months, I’ll need to raise money again. I thought this would be a great way to open doors with a bunch of professional, experienced investors.” Goldberg had had two meetings by the time NJTechWeekly.com spoke to him, and he said that they had gone well.
“My app is for parents and coaches, so it was great when I sat down with a potential investor and found out that they are actually the head of their Little League or their Soccer Club. And that’s what just happened.” He added that the advice he got was all good, “and it’s all for free here, so that’s another reason to listen to what everyone has to say.”